All Vietnamese hate South Vietnamese soldiers

Vietnam War: The Madness of War

Cinemas, supermarkets, go-kart tracks: the US military bases are like American cities in the middle of a war-ravaged country

The city could be Fargo, South Bend, or Witchita Falls. A place with 60,000 inhabitants, well-tended lawns and three bus routes that run every quarter of an hour. There is a shopping center with supermarkets and two gift shops, a leather shop, an optician and a workshop for handmade furniture. There are twelve swimming pools, 81 basketball courts, and six tennis courts; there are party zones, barbecue areas and an amphitheater. There are open air cinemas, a beauty salon and 40 night clubs. There's a go-kart track with boxes and hairpin turns, and there's a brothel. The food could have come from the Midwest: hamburgers and corn on the cob, french fries and cherry pie.
The vegetables come by ship from Japan, Australia or the fields of California. Every day, Uncle Jimmie's Donut Shop delivers 7,000 sugar donuts, and over 40 factories make twelve flavors of ice cream. The city could be Wilmington, Flint, or Centennial. But it's called Long Binh and is a military base a little north of Saigon. The America that she leads her people to believe is a mirage, a hallucination - a mirage in the tropical shimmer of Southeast Asia, a surreal piece of home, an unreal comfort zone, in the middle of a real war.

The Americans in Vietnam: These are only partly napalm, helicopters and marches in the jungle. Above all, there are supermarkets, production facilities, offices and service companies - a true planned economy, the third largest in the world after China and the Soviet Union. Because the vast majority of the US armed forces operate the war from the background of the stage and only know the fight from a distance. And since President Nixon ordered the "Vietnamization" of the war in 1969, the proportion of this group of craftsmen and typists has grown again. Since then America has left the real war to the soldiers of South Vietnam bit by bit. To this end, it is arming the army of the head of state Nguyen Van Thieu with rifles and grenade launchers, with helicopters, ships and fighter planes. South Vietnam's troop strength grows from 850,000 men to over a million - more than a third of all young men between 18 and 35. And within a few years Saigon's air force becomes the fourth largest in the world. But America's warriors are gradually leaving the country - in the spring of 1972 there will be just 95,000. And instead of just under a seventh, only around six percent serve in combat units. And so the everyday life of the US troops, the longer the war lasts, becomes more and more aloof from history; in man-made cities like Long Binh.
From the beginning there was something vague about this war, a strange blurring. The front was not visible, the enemy mostly invisible, hidden in the undergrowth, camouflaged between the Vietnam War farmers; an omnipresent phantom that struck out of nowhere. Even the allies were obscure, their language, facial expressions and intentions barely decipherable. And the measurement of military success in terms of body count, the sheer number of people killed, has made war a question of statistics, the abstract arithmetic of death.

So the country has also lost its reality. Has become a phantasmagoric bubble: a realm "outside the damned world," as a GI will remember. "The world" - that's what the soldiers call everything that lies beyond this bubble. But its interior is called "the Nam". The Nam: This is not a territory, but, according to the US historian Meredith Lair, a "social and psychological one Construct. ”A land as a soul space, a no man's land between peace and war, in which all orientation must gradually disappear.
Is it any wonder that some of the fighters underlay the action with music like a movie? That sometimes tanks roll like a tape to the tapes of "Let It Be"
The photographer reports, and Steppenwolf's "monster" underlines the barrage of the artillery? That some convert the slaughter into an aesthetic experience, rave about the “radiant white feathers” of a phosphor explosion or about the rising traces of light from the enemy flak?

But now, in the course of "Vietnamization", almost all of the GIs are no longer fighting at the front, but driving trucks and prescribing pills, repairing machine guns, showers and refrigerators, building roads, ports and airfields. They cook, slaughter and bake, fill On shelves, serving in bars and ice cream parlors, but most of all they work at desks: as stenographers, bailiffs and mail distributors, as clerks for administration and personnel, for provisions and finances - under neon light, between filing cabinets and "Charlie Brown" comics at the Wall they put on statistics on body counts and captured weapons, organize honors for the fallen - always in polished boots and a flawless green outfit that is often stretched over the stomach thanks to the lavish food. They kill not enemies, but time. Some brew to burn minutes, prepare coffee in half-hour rituals or read the "Encyclopedia Britannica" or indulge in "being lazy." he competitions ”in which the first loser is whoever lifts a finger. They only learn about the war from army magazines or from radio and television programs, which often come via submarine cables from the army station in Los Angeles. Since there is no current carnage, the battles of yesterday do the same: The TV world war series "Combat" is particularly popular with the troops.

For most GIs, life outside, in the green hell, where far fewer front-line fighters risk their lives, is now only available as a theme park - for example in the "Nature of the War" museum, an exhibition on the "essence of war" in Long Binh. There you can have your picture taken in front of the replica hut of a Viet Cong village, complete with thatched Buddha temple, clay bunker and hay hiding place, with underground passages, mines and pit traps made of sharpened bamboo sticks. Or they buy one of the Viet Cong flags allegedly captured in battle on the black market for $ 25 a piece, which are of course forged: Green Beret elite soldiers have them sewn to hundreds of Vietnamese women and then refined with mud and chicken blood to make a war trophy .

The horror as a simulation: This is a symbol for this war after years of raging. It is a war that has lost its military goals. A war that eats itself up - and at the same time only fights for its own survival. A war that has become an "agony", as Henry Kissinger, the US President's security advisor, later noted. And like a person's agony, this agony also has its phases: times of weakness and rebellion, alternation of passivity and aggression. And that creeping farewell to reality that gives birth to hallucinations.

Nobody embodies this loss of reality as faithfully as the US President Richard Milhous Nixon, elected on November 5, 1968 with 43.5 percent of the vote. An unstable politician, battered by insecurity, mistrust, greed for power and anger. An unloved child from a small family; a paranoid character who hates Jews, communists and blacks and lives out his rage in high alcoholism and outbursts of anger. A torn man who hatches attack orders to neoclassical music in darkened rooms - and then lashes out again: "Well," he then roars and drums on the table, "fucks the wankers." Sometimes even his loyal security advisor Kissinger groans: "We've got a madman on our necks." Nixon has started as a man of peace: he would end the war within six months, he announced in the election campaign. He has already said goodbye to a "victorious" peace - but it has to be an "honorable" peace. It is only a matter of keeping face, manly perseverance in a losing position. "He feared nothing any more," Kissinger will remember, "as appearing weak." Even Nixon's predecessor Lyndon B. Johnson understood the success in Indochina to be a problem of potency: When asked in a small RunHinter de why the USA was still fighting in Vietnam despite all the setbacks, he should one day, as a US historian said, opened the fly and declared: "That's why." But Nixon elevates the irrational to a strategy. In front of confidants, he describes his calculus as madman theory, a "theory of the crazy": It is about appearing unpredictable. The opponent should believe that one is literally ready for any madness.

It is a theater of madness that Nixon stages in increasingly unrestrained bomb attacks. The decisive factor is not to show any consideration, neither to the civilians who might be hit, nor to the concerns of one's own officials, whom Nixon insults as “impossible fagots”: “Just bomb off,” his pragmatic motto is, “and we'll save ourselves the dispute. ”So in February 1969, against the advice of Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Foreign Secretary William Rogers, he ordered the bombing of Cambodia, where the Viet Cong should maintain a headquarters. US bombers carried out 3875 attacks in 14 months. But the headquarters remain undiscovered. The bombs have also had little impact on the jungle paths on which the North Vietnamese transport weapons and supplies. Instead, they are driving the Viet Cong inland, where it is causing far more dangerous unrest. Nevertheless, Nixon sends his bombers at ever shorter intervals - not only via Cambodia, but also via South Vietnam, where the number of bomb flights tripled in 1969 compared to 1967, and via the (actually neutral) neighboring country Laos. It no longer seems to be about strategic goals, but about a lesson in madness - which, as Kissinger explains, is intended to strengthen America's negotiating position. "They'll say, 'This guy is getting irrational now, let's get to an agreement with him'."

And while the president demonstrates his unpredictability to the enemy with bombs, the war is also becoming less and less tangible for the GIs. Many have long since realized that this is not a heroic struggle for freedom in which an honest American boy can prove himself. It is true that the "Vietnamization" means that fewer GIs die: The number of those killed falls from 4,200 in 1970 to 1,300 the following year. The sense of the mission, however, only vaguely recognizable from the start, is visibly dwindling in front of the soldiers' eyes. They feel like the rearguard whose days are numbered - and as a placeholder in a campaign that no longer believes in victory. "In the US Army you will learn what it means to feel like a man", promised them an advertising slogan of the troops - in the service army of "the Nam" they see themselves now being degraded to cleaning women. Your life in the stage is constrained in the daily monotony of ridiculous duties, in the monotony of getting up, working and eating times, between the roll call in the morning and the beer and the television program in the evening. In the "petty nuisances of an organization that has little to do and too many people for it," as a photo reporter reports, who documents everyday life in the military bases. "This place," explains a disappointed newcomer, "just isn't John Wayne." Many are desperately trying to save their self-image as fighters. They carefully batter their boots so that they look like they have been torn to pieces in a jungle march, refusing to replace worn-out uniform trousers with fresh ones. When the work as a lifeguard is done, they can be photographed in awkward warrior poses with the submachine gun in their laps - “to impress the girls at home”, as one of the would-be fighters frankly admits. Others take refuge in ridicule. Badges are sewn onto the uniform, on which two large round ears hover over the edge of a sword - the standard of the "Mickey Mouse War" that the event appears to be. Or they engrave the famous four U’s on steel helmets and lighters: "We are the unwilling", that means, "led by the unqualified to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful."
"You are not just bitter," said a general in 1971, summing up the mood. "You're bored too."

Fill with a leisure offensive unprecedented in war history. If not militarily, the deployment should at least be worthwhile in terms of tourism. Troop manuals transform the theater of war into a destination for wanderlust, rave about the "hustle and bustle" of Saigon, the boats on the Perfume River and the royal tombs near Hue, and recommend "sightseeing" in the mountains of Da Lat. Animators organize "cultural tours" to temples and churches, offer fishing cruises with dinner and a cinema program.
And so the soldiers stroll through Saigon, the "Paris of the East", with its French architecture, its parks and its wide avenues vaulted by tree tops. You gondola on rickshaws through the crowd of trucks, jeeps and herds of bicycles, through the trellis of street boys who change money, sell marijuana and slippery photos, through the billows of incense from the churches and the ringing of bells from Buddhist temples. They go water-skiing on the river on Sunday mornings, splash around in the swimming pool of the "Club Nautique" at lunchtime, bet on the racecourse in the afternoons, and play billiards in the "Hotel Victoria" in the evenings. You can feast in the "Brodard", in the "La Pagode" or in the floating restaurants on the Saigon River. Have a sundowner on the terrace of the "Hotel Continental", on the roof of the "Caravelle" or in the bars and brothels on Tu-Do-Straße between the cathedral and the bank, where the animators can buy colored water as "Saigon Tea" and Vietnamese country and western bands play "Green, Green Grass of Home". Or if they are black and therefore undesirable at the whites' drinking places, they move to the rhythm ’n’s blues bar on Trinh-Minh-Straße, the "Soul Alley". For the short break in between there are holiday resorts all over the country with long-term names like "Waikiki East". The armed forces have their own bathing resorts with hotels, palm-fringed pools and bus excursions, with silky beaches where the soldiers surf and sail, snorkel and water-ski - and sometimes even watch real war events from a safe distance as an enraptured spectacle. "It was like being at home in Drive-in cinema ", a sunbathing soldier is amazed after being shot down by a helicopter on the horizon. "I wondered what they would play tomorrow."

The highlight of war tourism, however, is the long-haul overseas trip, which every soldier is entitled to in the course of his year of service - to dream destinations such as Bangkok, Taipei or Hawaii. An escape that more and more GIs eagerly seize as the war wore on: From 1969 to 1971, the number of accommodations at the airfield of the army's own "Camp Alpha" tourist center quadrupled. But more than a pent-up wanderlust, it's homesickness that gnaws at morale. And since the men are not allowed to go home, the army brings home to them: Stars from America's dream factories soar from the sky in military planes, bring glamor to the amphitheaters of the bases or to improvised stages in the jungle. Comedian Bob Hope comes to visit, golf club under his arm; the pop singer Nancy Sinatra sings about boots that are made for walking ("These Boots Are Made for Walking"). Screen heroes like John Wayne, football stars and fold-out beauties from "Playboy" go on a handshake tour, distribute autographs and pose for photos. Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. dances in front of GIs, hung from chains, in checked pants and a glitter shirt, swirled around by go-go girls in mini skirts and hot pants. Or hover in a helicopter to sing a cappella hits in a circle of crouching soldiers on the red earth of a jungle camp. The majority of the entertainers are of course not stars, but newcomers who show their skills for ten dollars a day plus 150 dollars a week in Vietnam - and are not too good to mimic the sound of the bass guitar with their mouths when the power goes out again .

Exactly 5559 shows were put on by the troop freaks from the "United Service Organizations" during the war - and their entertainment continuous fire pounded so reliably that the audience at the larger locations often only received less prominent talent with a yawn. Because no matter how tirelessly the spectacle machine rotates, it cannot compensate for the loss of meaning. The GIs will soon re-spell the army advertising slogan "Fun, Travel and Adventure", abbreviated to FTA, as "Fuck the Army".And the Animals hit roars in continuous rotation from the stereo systems: "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" - we have to get out of here. Since Nixon's "Vietnamization", the song has long been official policy: In 1970 the US Army withdrew another 175,000 soldiers. Americans only took part in the ground war around April 1970, when they marched into Cambodia together with Saigon’s troops Attacking supply lines of the Viet Cong. But the South Vietnamese army is a less efficient comrade. Corruption and nepotism paralyze its clout; the hatred of the population and the distrust of the political leadership, which constantly lives in fear of a military coup, make their life difficult. And so This attack also fails. Once again it is not possible to locate the Viet Cong headquarters - and the conquered areas cannot be held without a permanent presence. However, after the end of the invasion 344 GIs and 818 South Vietnamese soldiers died and 130,000 Cambodians were on the run Fiasco - for Nixon, as his chief of staff will later judge, the "beginning of his downward trend." sfahrt "introduces. The US Congress has now decided to ban American ground operations in Laos. The South Vietnamese army, which is supposed to march into the neighboring country on its own in order to track down North Vietnamese positions there, has no chance: senseless commands, strategic mistakes and a lack of morale make the campaign a disaster. In the Laotian city of Tchepone, the South Vietnamese soldiers come under fire from active communist fighters and begin to retreat. US helicopters have to intervene to save them: some of the overwhelmed soldiers, in order not to lag behind, cling to the helicopter runners in a panic.

And when, in April 1972, twelve divisions of Hanoi marched into South Vietnam, occupied large parts of the Quang Tri province and advanced to the city of An Loc, around 100 kilometers to the west
of Saigon, the troops of the south are unable to defend themselves effectively despite their superior numbers. At the end of the month, the North Vietnamese conquer the provincial capital. Even General Creighton Abrams, commander in chief of the US troops since June 1968, now suspects that “the whole thing may be lost”.
Success is only a question of will, insists Nixon - and continues the air war even more brutally. "We are going to level this goddamn country to the ground," he announced. "Now, damn it, we have nothing more to lose." For a further six months he rained 155,000 tons of bombs on Vietnam's north, including computer-controlled smart bombs for the first time - but without creating "insurmountable difficulties for the North Vietnamese regime," as a report by the CIA soberly notes. There are still 140,000 soldiers in Hanoi in South Vietnam. And they hold more territory than ever before. Nixon's "honorable peace" is a long way off - and the motivation of the GIs is sinking into the abyss. Even high-ranking officers can no longer suppress their skepticism: Almost 70 percent of US generals in Vietnam are wondering, according to a survey, what the aim of the war is at all. More than 50 percent of them believe the US should never have interfered. While the superiors doubt, many of their subordinates have long since given up. The morale of the troops, complained a colonel in the "Armed Forces Journal" in 1971, is approaching "collapse" - especially in the Potemkin world of the stage. Nowhere are so many complaints written as in the remote support units. Many of the frustrated people keep themselves safe with petty thefts, turn off kerosene, tin, oil, cement or hand grenades, which then end up on the black market on Saigon's shopping street Le Loi, in Da Nang or Nha Trang - and not infrequently with the Viet Cong. And the less meaning this war has in store for the GIs, the more eagerly they seek their purpose in familiar territory: in consumption. In huge shopping centers, which are in no way inferior to the malls at home, the army not only sells everyday goods in order to boost morale, but also jewelry and watches, china and silver tableware, stereos, cameras and televisions - all tax-free and cheaper than at home.

Because nothing tastes as intensely of home as shopping. According to a survey by a military sociologist, America is not so much freedom and democracy for the GIs in Vietnam as it is cars and refrigerators. And so the army is expanding the system of its PX shops, which has been supplying US troops on site with modest goods such as magazines, shaving cream or canned goods since 1895, to become a cornucopia for luxury goods in Vietnam. It feels like a secret command: If you don't come home with a TV, stereo or camera, you can't claim to have been to Vietnam. Generous baggage regulations ensure free transport to Ohio or Texas. And there are always discounts. In any case, the fun is cheap in this country: Sex costs just two dollars in one of the "massage parlors"; for one dollar you get a case of beer. And so 88 percent of soldiers do not go without their drink while on duty, according to a study by the Ministry of Defense. Around two thirds are considered to be "heavy" or "problem drinkers". And those who prefer the illegal smells of marijuana or heroin will find their paradise in Vietnam. It is true that the GIs did not first learn to be intoxicated in Vietnam: around a third of the soldiers, fueled by the counterculture of the 1960s, tried drugs at home. But nowhere is the product so strong, so cheap and so ubiquitous as in Vietnam: taxi drivers and street vendors offer a package of joints for less than a dollar; a quarter of a gram of heroin costs twice as much. And some soldiers actually say in questioning that they only came to Vietnam because of the drugs.

Fleeing paradises is uncertain. Various studies estimate the proportion of heroin users in 1971 at eleven to 28.5 percent of all soldiers stationed in Vietnam. And the number of those who occasionally smoke marijuana varies between half and two-thirds of the soldiers. America's media state an "epidemic". Reporters tell of doctors addicted to heroin, of GIs who appear on duty with fresh syringes in their arms, of tank drivers who suddenly roll towards their comrades in a frenzy, of rapt infantrymen who fire at their own people. They tell of the GI round of stoners that fired at a helicopter and of the intoxicated person who jumps out of a helicopter at a height of 300 meters believing he can fly. Skeptics will later declare many reports to be exaggerated: Above all, they should have ammunitioned the "war on drugs" that the President declared in June 1971 - not least to hit the anti-war-minded counterculture in the USA.
But even the GIs will often remember "the Nam" in retrospect as a "wet dream", as a "psychedelic orgy", as a "journey to a country without coercion or remorse". As a Schlaraffia from "Schnaps, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll and Whores", as a veteran enthuses: "For me the war was nothing more than a carnival." An unlawful space - in which the discipline of the troops must dissolve. Mutinies and insubordination are increasing, the number of deserters is increasing, and many are imprisoned. More and more GIs declare themselves homosexual or emotionally unstable in order to escape the army.

Soldiers come to service with long hair, three-day beards, colorful bracelets or peace medallions. And in July 1971, around 1,000 GIs gathered at the Chu Lai air force base for an anti-war demonstration - which, as one participant reported, was "the biggest pot party in the history of the Army".
"The Nam" is also affected by black protests: Afro-American GIs parading through the streets of Long Binh with ebony walking sticks, the pommel shaped into a black power fist. They wear "slave bracelets" made of laces around their wrists and the slogan "Black is Beautiful" on their steel helmets. They greet each other with a complex ritual of handshaking, finger wrestling and thrusting hand to hand, which often lasts for several minutes - and many superiors are so unnerved that they finally forbid it. Because the equality in the face of the enemy, which some black people hoped for from military service, turns out to be an illusion for many. Black soldiers repeatedly complain that they are punished more severely for offenses than whites; that blacks make up 58 percent of the inmates in military prisons - although they only make up nine percent of the troops in Vietnam. Some African Americans are already closer to the Vietnamese enemy than their white comrade: For the blacks in his unit, for example, explains a black marine, Ho Chi Minh is one soul brother. Race riots broke out in Cam Ranh Bay and two white officers were injured; in Da Nang and Long Binh, black inmates of military prisons rebel against the humiliation of the white guards. And especially in the stage where no danger welds the men together, black and white suspiciously keep their distance, rednecks scribble racist slogans on the barracks walls, conflicts break out again and again, in which stones sometimes fly. It looks as if the violence that the enemy can no longer see has only one outlet: its own people.

The fragging, the assassinations of superiors or comrades with fragmentation hand grenades (fragmentation grenades) or other weapons, is spreading: An investigation report later came to the conclusion that after 1969 alone there had been around 1000 (mostly non-fatal) attacks. But there were probably many more: Justices of the highest judicial authority of the US armed forces estimate that only ten percent of these incidents came before a court martial. Every month underground soldiers' newspapers elect a particularly unpopular officer to be shot down. For the killing of Lieutenant Colonel Weldon Honeycutt, who ordered the bloody but pointless storming of "Hamburger Hill" in May 1969, survivors even offer a bounty of 10,000 dollars (Honeycutt is said to survive seven attacks). And for fear of attacks, some officers only sleep with a loaded pistol under their pillow or barricade themselves in the bunker. While the war is sliding into paranoia, the president's Madman strategy suddenly seems to be working: Hanoi, it seems, is losing its nerve. On October 8, 1972, North Vietnam offered a new armistice - without, as before, insisting on the removal of Saigon's head of state Thieu. Instead, a joint committee is to prepare general elections for South Vietnam. For Kissinger, this suggestion means: the north has finally surrendered. To celebrate the day, Nixon opens a bottle of the precious 1957 Château Lafite-Rothschild. Only the allies are cross: Thieu fears that after the withdrawal of the Americans, his army will not have much to oppose to North Vietnam's armed forces. And since Nixon does not dare to alienate his governor in Southeast Asia, he sends Kissinger to the negotiations that began in Paris in 1968 - with 69 new demands. As the security advisor later admits, these are "so absurd" that North Vietnam's negotiator Le Duc Tho can hardly help but reject them - and is now withdrawing the concessions that have already been made. Nixon knows that he no longer has any support for a new escalation. His government, the Senate, parts of the economy and even the General Staff are pressing hard for the exit. Nevertheless, he wants to try again "to win the war by military force". Four days later, his B-52 and F-111 launched an unprecedented assault on North Vietnamese cities. They devastate residential areas in Hanoi and Haiphong, destroy the Bach Mai hospital and damage eight foreign embassies. For twelve days, the bombers fly almost 3,500 sorties around the clock; only twelve percent of the attacks are military targets. The fact that Hanoi has no more than 2,200 dead and almost 1,600 injured is only due to the fact that half of the residents were evacuated from the capital during the attacks in the spring. Nixon, however, boasts that now Beijing and Moscow must finally consider him crazy. And Kissinger praises the “brutal unpredictability” of his president. (This unpredictability also includes the fact that Nixon, the tough Cold Warrior, has been orchestrating a policy of détente towards the Soviet Union and China for some time, initiating secret diplomatic talks and even visiting Beijing and Moscow in the spring of 1972 - not least to find out about the two major socialist powers to build up further pressure on North Vietnam.)

America's press laments the “rain of death”, the “new madness”, the “American shame” after the heavy US bombing of North Vietnam. Pope Paul VI expresses mourning, the governments of Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Belgium protest. And all NATO allies are turning their backs on Nixon's policies.
Indeed, the political results of the bombing are poor. After the pilots have withdrawn, the negotiators meet again in Paris. On January 11, 1973, after more than four and a half years of negotiation, they agree on a contract to which Thieu reluctantly agrees - which, of course, hardly differs from the one that North Vietnam had already offered in October. For this result, 15,315 American, 107,504 South Vietnamese and an estimated 400,000 North Vietnamese soldiers have died since Nixon took office alone. The bombed areas are in ruins. But for that Nixon has his “honorable peace”. His face, his pride, his masculinity are intact. And so now, twelve days after the agreement, he can boast in front of his cabinet that "we have stood our ground".