Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Halberstam's folly

It is sad that David Halberstam died in an auto accident the other day. It is even sadder that his reporting on Vietnam was as faulty as it was. And perhaps saddest of all is that, despite the massive evidence to the contrary, he never re-evaluated the erroneous conclusions that he had reached about the war. America is much the worse for his folly.

Mark Moyar has written a book about how wrong Halberstam's reporting was and how much damage it caused. Here is an opinion piece with a short summary of his book.

Halberstam's Vietnamese interpreter turned out to be a colonel in North Vietnam's intelligence service. When Halberstam was informed of this years later, he wasn't bothered by the news. One has to wonder how much the spy was able to use Halberstam to place misinformation in the NY Times and how much Halberstam got wrong on his own.

One of the standard talking points employed by anti-war activists was that the war in Vietnam was a war of liberation from colonialism which was supported by the South Vietnamese peasants. While the communists in the North hoped it was true, their Tet offensive, which depended on local uprisings to join them, was smashed when the people did not. Several years later, John Kerry's testimony to the Senate repeated the obviously false claim. Kerry claimed that only the elite, upper class people in South Vietnam were interested in the survival of the South and only a few thousand would be required to flee if the North conquered the country.

Kerry was wrong, of course. Millions died and even more were tortured and repressed.

Somehow, decades later, Halberstam still clung to the notion that Vietnam was really just a war of independence. How he could do so, in light of what happened following the fall of Saigon, causes one to wonder at his ability to comprehend.


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