Dối trá lớn nhất trong cuộc chiến Việt Nam
Vietnam War’s Great Lie
sao những người cộng sản và Phạm Xuân
Ẩn giành được chiến thắng trong
cuộc chiến tranh tuyên truyền?
những năm sau Tết Mậu Thân, một trong
những chiến dịch quân sự lớn nhất trong
cuộc Chiến tranh Việt Nam, lễ kỷ niệm 50
năm được tổ chức vào cuối tháng 1
vừa qua, người Mỹ sẽ lại phải
tự vấn. Làm sao họ có thể sai đến như
vậy? Cuộc nổi dậy của Cộng sản trên
toàn miền Nam Việt Nam đă cướp đi sinh
mạng của hàng ngàn người và điều
được cho là thành công của họ đă xoay
chuyển ư kiến công chúng, khoảng giữa năm
1968, theo hướng chống lại cuộc chiến
tranh, một bài học trong lĩnh vực tuyên
truyền và biểu hiện sau này của nó, “tin
Cuộc tấn công Tết Mậu Thân 1968 là cuộc "chiến tranh truyền h́nh đầu tiên" đầu tiên. Người Mỹ không thể tin vào những ǵ họ đang nh́n thấy.
người quan trọng đă tham gia vào việc
lập kế hoạch. Trong số đó có Phạm Xuân
Ẩn, một phóng viên nước ngoài trở thành
Cộng sản trong giai đoạn Thế chiến II,
rồi nổi lên trong hàng ngũ của họ và
trở thành một trong những điệp viên vĩ
đại nhất của Hồ Chí Minh.
War’s Great Lie
the Communists and Pham Xuan An won the propaganda war.
the years that followed the Tet Offensive, one of the Vietnam War’s
largest military campaigns, which saw its 50th anniversary commemorated in
late January, Americans would torture themselves. How could they have got it
so wrong? A Communist uprising across South Vietnam claimed thousands of
lives, and their perceived success had turned public opinion against the war
by the middle of 1968, an abject lesson in propaganda and its latter day
manifestation, “fake news.”
were many key people involved in the planning. Among them was Pham Xuan An,
the foreign correspondent who had joined the Communists during World War II
and risen within its ranks to become one of Ho Chi Minh’s greatest spies.
track record – a secret that would remain hidden for decades to come –
was already formidable. In 1962, while working for the British news agency
Reuters, he mapped out information of a pending strike by U.S.-led South
Vietnamese troops near a hamlet in the Mekong Delta, southwest of Saigon,
called Ap Bac.
for victory were dashed as the Viet Cong were well armed, well entrenched,
and fought back, culminating in one of the biggest U.S. defeats of the
Vietnam War, and in hindsight a devastating case study of what was to come.
Chi Minh awarded two Liberation Exploit medals, a high honor indeed,
following that battle. One went to the Viet Cong battlefield commander, the
other to An.
would receive another three years later for his reports outlining the
American landing of troops at Danang. At about the same time, he began
working on his outline for a massive Communist offensive to be launched
during the Vietnamese New Year.
would be broken, and the Communists would hold the element of surprise by
launching the offensive under the cover of the millions of firecrackers that
are traditionally lit to welcome in the new year.
idea of unleashing a sprawling campaign to achieve “decisive victory” by
overwhelming the perpetually tottering government in Saigon was not new to
planners in Hanoi. But the actual military plan, shepherded through the
opposition of more cautious elements within the Politburo by Party General
Secretary Le Duan and the military chief of staff, Van Tien Dung, was only
finalized late in 1967.
many in Hanoi feared overreach. Among the ambivalent, who were sidelined and
ultimately overruled in the debate over strategy, were the ailing Ho Chi
Minh and as well as General Vo Nguyen Giap, famed architect of the victory
at Dien Bien Phu against the French in 1954.
from the intrigue roiling Hanoi, however, the southern Communists – the
Viet Cong – were key players and charged with fine-tuning the operational
details and leading the attacks, including leaders like General Tran Van Tra
and the ruthless political commissar Tran Bach Dang.
the southern guerrillas absorbed the brunt of the urban combat, they were
backed by the military heft of the regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA), and
it was main force NVA units who would launch and maintain the four-month
siege of the isolated U.S. Marine outpost at Khe Sanh, intended initially as
a feint to pull U.S. resources away from South Vietnamese cities and towns.
while ideologues like Dang believed that an overwhelming show of military
force was necessary to shatter the U.S.-backed Saigon government and their
“puppet army,” their primary objective was political: to create the
conditions necessary to spark a spontaneous insurrection among the southern
populace, an uprising against their government and in support of the
the overall success of what the Communists called their “general
offensive-general uprising” strategy is a subject of endless debate. But
as for the anticipated rebellion – the South Vietnamese every-person
instinctively throwing off the shackles of U.S. neocolonialism – Dang and
his compatriots were clearly very wrong.
southern populace didn’t rise up, but still, it was quite a fight. When
the Tet Offensive launched on January 30, more than 100 cities across South
Vietnam – including Saigon – and military outposts came under attack.
The worst of the fighting was in Hue, where 150 Marines died and around
5,000 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed, mainly in airstrikes.
the brief occupation of the ancient capital, the Communists proved how nasty
they could be.
bodies of more than 2,800 people were discovered, and another 3,000
residents of Hue were missing. They also set about razing Hue’s treasured
heritage; palaces, temples, and monuments from the distant past were
the counteroffensives were as vicious as they were successful. As the
attacks subsided, the U.S. intensified its Phoenix Program, designed by the
CIA to neutralize the infrastructure of the Viet Cong and its political
wing, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, through
“infiltration, capture, counterterrorism,
proved highly successful, neutralizing 81,740 suspected Viet Cong
operatives, informants, and supporters. Of them, somewhere between 26,000
and 41,000 were killed between 1965 and 1972, many after Tet.
initial Tet attacks were followed by two other waves, in May and August, and
because of this Communist forces stayed entrenched close to the cities
during the interlude between these rolling campaigns.
tactic, driven by decisionmaking in Hanoi, proved lethal for Viet Cong
survivors because it allowed South Vietnamese and U.S. troops to leapfrog
over Communist positions and attack their main forces that were dug in from
Communist ranks were devastated, especially the southern fighters. 1969 and
1970 were dark years, during which resentment of Hanoi burbled among
southern leaders who felt they had been cannon fodder for Hanoi’s quixotic
public opinion in the United States of what the Tet Offensive meant
reflected a different perspective of a complicated reality: the yawning gap
between what their own leaders were saying about an enemy on the ropes and
the waves of Communist attacks that rippled across South Vietnam, and across
their TV screens. Far from impending defeat, there seemed to be a Communist
soldier under every rock.
where An, who had a college education and interned with U.S.-based
newspapers a decade earlier, stepped in. He sought to reinforce an American
public in its mistaken belief that the Viet Cong remained a strong, viable
force capable of defeating the mighty U.S. military.
from his office, this time at Time magazine, he concocted stories that
worked to that end. As a fixer, he organized bogus interviews in the dead of
night along dark side alleys with Communist plants masquerading as
authoritative leaders who spun fairy tales about Viet Cong strength.
was important because Hanoi did not want to be seen as militarily weak in
the South while negotiating with Washington in upcoming peace talks. An’s
absolute comprehension for how the media worked at a domestic and
international level was key.
one Saigon bureau chief for Time noted: “An understood the dependency
between news organizations on each other and played this wonderfully well
– like a Stradivarius.”
picked up another military citation for the Tet Offensive and carried on his
secret work until the fall of Saigon in 1975. His double life was the
subject of much speculation with details trickling out of Vietnam –
sometimes officially – over the subsequent decades.
the early years after the war, Hanoi would eventually concede how much it
had lost because of the Tet Offensive and how precarious its true military
capabilities were at that time, contradicting the story An had sold to the
West. Yet when public opinion turned, U.S. politicians were forced to settle
for a negotiated withdrawal, leading to the eventual collapse of South
the Communists raised their glasses to toast the 50th anniversary of the Tet
Offensive, An – who died a brigadier general in 2006 – no doubt deserves
to be remembered as one of the great heroes of the state.
opinions differ. Of the journalists and photographers who worked with An,
some saw him a traitor and others as a nationalist who simply followed his
the students of propaganda and its deployment in warfare in the current era
dominated by fake news, An, however, was much more than that; he was indeed
a master of the art.
Hunt is the author of a new book on Vietnam The
Punji Trap: Pham Xuan An – The Spy Who Didn’t Love Us. He can
be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt.