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Russia / June 21, 2011

I just picked up an old paperback copy of a Vietnam War book called SEALs: UDT/SEAL Operations in Vietnam by Tim Bosiljevac. The book chronicles the early history of the Sea, Air and Land Teams, from their founding under President Kennedy through the end of the Vietnam War. The SEALs were created to be the Navy’s superhuman version of the Green Berets: “a naval guerrilla/counterguerrilla [force] with an emphasis on direct action raids and missions on targets in close proximity to bodies of water.” I love that line, “in close proximity to bodies of water.” That could mean a puddle…or hell, when you consider that human beings are about 70% water–“bodies of water” could mean just about anything.

There are a lot of great Vietnam War books out there, mostly memoirs, as Dr. Dolan explained:

Virtually anyone who saw combat and has a decent memory can write a decent book about it — and Vietnam, a war characterized by thousands of small skirmishes, was richer in incident and gore than an inner-city basketball tournament. When next you hear that rough voice asking, “War — what is it good for?”, you tell it: “First-person memoirs, that’s what!”

…This high literary output was a delayed gift of the utter lack of strategy which doomed the American enterprise in Vietnam: a war which consisted largely of sending small contingents of infantry out into the jungle to find the enemy, usually by getting ambushed, is bound to be a military disaster — but equally bound to produce an extraordinary number of fantastic combat tales.

Unfortunately SEALs lacks this first-person immediacy–it’s a third-person history, Bosiljevic’s Navy College master’s thesis turned into a book, and unfortunately it sometimes reads like a thesis.

Still, this is Nam, Dude–and we’re talking about the SEALs here. That means page after page of ambushes and skirmishes, some of which make for some pretty amazing reading, even in the third dry person.

One such ambush stuck out–one of those rarely reported, long-rumored showdowns between our guys and the hated, invisible “Russian advisors” who were never officially supposed to be there in South Vietnam.

You kids out there who were born too late to remember the Cold War grudges probably won’t grasp the profound satisfaction that a scene like this offers your average armchair Cold Warrior. See, one thing our side could never get over was griping about how the Soviets were somehow cheating. This scene is the sort of “This is what happens when the SEALs catch you cheating” fantasy that all the armchair Cold Warriors dreamed about. It takes place in 1967–a big year for the SEALs in ‘Nam–in a province in the southwest corner of South Vietnam. Meaning, Russian advisors were operating in our own backyard, the bastuds!:

One particular SEAL ambush in 1967 in Kien Giang Province provided a surprise to a frogman force. The SEALs had been watching a reported supply route used by enemy forces on a remote canal. Late in the afternoon of the second day of their surveillance, a VC sampan floated into the kill zone. Besides the two indigenous guerrillas onboard, a tall, heavy Caucasian with a beard rode in the bow. He was dressed in what looked like a khaki uniform and was holding a communist assault rifle. Just as the craft pulled into the area, the communists became leery, as if sensing the danger nearby. Although initially startled at seeing the white man, the SEALs immediately let the law of the barroom prevail–when a fight is unavoidable, strike first, and strike hard. The frogmen unleashed a hail of fire into the enemy force. The Caucasian was hit in the chest in the initial burst of fire and went overboard. The VC attempted to jump in and assist him. Just then, a superior Vietcong force appeared and counterattacked. Outnumbered and outgunned, the SEALs fought a running gun battle to an area where they could extract. Later, they were debriefed about the incident by an intelligence officer. They were told to remain silent about the action. South Vietnamese intelligence had reported that the white man had been a Russian. It would remain a little-known fact that the guerrillas and North Vietnamese were assisted in their Third World brushfire war by a host of foreign advisers and technicians, including Soviets, Chinese, Eastern Bloc, Cuban, Korean, and other communist nationals.

There’s a serious ethical contradiction that seems lost on the author here, a contradiction that’s built into our DNA: On the one hand, the SEALs (very wisely) attack and kill without warning on the barroom theory about striking first and striking hard. Which makes sense, but goes against the suburban middle-class rules of fighting. Real middle-class American bar fights go something like this: a lot of shouting, a lot of loud long well-telegraphed empty threats, even formal declarations marking the combatant’s geographical location (“I’m here! I’m here, mutherfucker!”), dramatic tearing off of one’s shirt, verbal commands expressed in the Imperative Mood (“Come on! Come on, mutherfucker!”)… All that pre-game shouting in American bar-fights establishes the combatant’s sense of “fair play” that suburbanites tend to vastly overrate. It’s as though everyone’s worrying about what the post-game highlights will look like, what they’ll say after  the fight–about securing your place in history, or in the homecoming king vote. I dunno. I remember in Moscow in the mid-90s watching a Russian and an American go at it, and there couldn’t have been a bigger fight-culture clash: The American, some ripped red-head, went through the whole tearing his shirt off schtick, screaming and yelling about his geographical location, calling his Russian opponent all sorts of names implying that the Russian was a cheater whereas he wasn’t…It seemed ridiculous to everyone watching, especially the Russian guy, who tagged the redhead a few more times, messing up his Tony Award-winning act.

American Cold Warriors, armchair and otherwise, always carried around this grudge about the “rules” and about how Americans are just too damn decent for this corrupt awful world. And at the top of the grievance list was the fact that Russian advisors operated with the Vietnamese. Somehow, that just…wasn’t fair. Those damn Russkies–always cheating!

Russian advisors gloating over a downed B-52

For anyone interested, I found a Russian site set up by Russian veterans of the Vietnam War, which features plenty of old war photos, as well as articles and short memoirs from the Russians who served. (Click here.)

Also, here’s a Russian short about the Vietnam War from the Russian perspective, with English subtitles:

About a decade ago, I was in Vietnam with a bunch of Russian friends from my old Moscow newspaper The eXile. One day, I peeled off from the group and took a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels, the setting for one of the best of all the Vietnam War books. None of the Russians gave a shit about Cu Chi and all the stories I forced them to listen to out on the beaches–they found anything military boring, they’d heard too many war stories already from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, stories that were hard to top.

So off I went on an official Cu Chi Tunnels tour. There were 10 of us in my group, all but two Americans, including a retired couple from Texas: the wife was nervous, thin, harried; the husband one of those squat military retirees who infest the American southwest, tight shirt, large gut hanging over his belt, big fat forearms and fingers. Almost as soon as our tour started, the husband let us know that he was a Vietnam War veteran. He was a real loud-mouthed asshole–it was as though he’d practiced for this moment ever since Saigon fell. He did everything imaginable that day to reignite the Vietnam War. But our guide, a respectful young Vietnamese man, kept calm, letting the sore old loser blow off his steam. It added another layer of tension and entertainment to the whole Cu Chi Tunnels tour. Actually, just  walking around the cheap victory museum dedicated to my own country’s defeat made me feel like some neutered German tourist–isn’t that what post-war German tourists do, respectfully visit monuments to their defeat?

But the real action was the toothless rematch going on right here in Cu Chi: Old Veteran Guy  versus Young Wiry Vietnamese Guide. It went something like this: Our guide would show us some half-cheesy, half-horrifying commie exhibit on, say, Agent Orange, and our guide would say something like, “Agent Orange cause many death, many deformity for Vietnamese children, American government not recognize effects of illegal chemical war, refuse to pay reparations”…and the Texan would snarl, “Nope! Nope, nope, nope! Not true! No evidence! It’s all a crock, people, I know all about this, I was there. Agent Orange never hurt anyone–they’re just trying to get money from our government, that’s all.”

Or our guide would proudly relate how underdog Vietnamese, wearing shoes made out of torn tire treads, managed to defeat and outlast the mighty American imperial army. To which the veteran would bark, “Not true! You had the Russians backing you the whole time. You had an endless supply line of Russian weapons, Russian advisors, Russian and Chinese material. Don’t whitewash this little propaganda tour of yours, I know what happened! You cheated–you had all the help in the world!”

Or our guide would show us some of the clever ways that the Viet Cong concealed the entrances to their tunnels, and how they fooled the Americans with their earthy ingenuity; our veteran from Texas would literally walk over and stand between us and our skinny Vietnamese guide, and shout, “We could have pumped in poison gas into the tunnels, and it’d’ve all been over. I asked for poison gas, other commanders asked for poison gas too, believe me. The problem was that our side played fair–we were signatories to the Geneva Conventions. The jerks in Washington cared more about the Geneva Conventions than they cared about winning this war.”

The Americans winced and cowered. But our guide didn’t seem bothered–he seemed more worried that we would be dissatisfied tour customers. I realize now, his main goal was to make sure that the old veteran didn’t lodge a complaint.

“Our hands were tied because we couldn’t use poison gas–and let me tell you, if we were allowed to use chemical weapons or poison gas on those tunnels, we’d’ve saved a lot of lives, something the do-gooders in Washington couldn’t understand. So what could we do? We used fire hoses to pump in river water into the tunnel entrances that we found. That, or tear gas. But that was a waste of time. If we could have used poison gas on the communists in these tunnels here, it would have saved a lot of lives. A lot of lives.”

That was stunning–even this jerk had to couch his little fascist plans under the guise of “saving lives.” It crossed the line from asshole Ugly American to something almost downright impressive.

I kept waiting for our Vietnamese guide to blow a fuse or shout the old Texan down, or rip the vet’s cholesterol-hardened heart out with some Bruce Lee move and chomp it down while it was still beating, Jim Carrey-style. But our guide seemed genuinely empathetic, and genuinely worried that the tour would end badly. Maybe the guide had seen a lot of these types on his tour. Whatever the case, comparing the old loud-mouthed vet with this zen Vietnamese guide, you could see, in some small way, why and how we lost that war.

At the end of the tour, ol’ Texas veteran softened up, shook our guide’s hand, and congratulated him and the Vietnamese on their victory–a victory which, he now magnanimously conceded, they’d earned.

It was like witnessing the “25-years-later” scene of what happened to the Robert Duvall character decades after he wistfully declared, “Some day, this war’s gonna end…” Which is to say, there’s a reason why Coppola never filmed the 25-years-later scene.

Speaking of military advisers and cheaters…A few years ago, I faced another side of imperial humiliation when I reported on the Russia-Georgia war in South Ossetia. This time, the rumored advisors who officially didn’t exist were the American military advisors who backed and guided Georgia’s disastrous campaign. Here’s what I reported from the ruins of the decisive battle that, I wrote, would be remembered as the high-water mark for the teetering American empire:

Tskhinvali, South Ossetia – On the sunny afternoon of August 14, a Russian army colonel named Igor Konashenko is standing triumphantly at a street corner at the northern edge of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, his forearm bandaged from a minor battle injury. The spot marks the furthest point of the Georgian army’s advance before it was summarily crushed by the Russians a few days earlier. “Twelve Georgian battalions invaded Tskhinvali, backed by columns of tanks, armored personal carriers, jets, and helicopters,” he says, happily waving at the wreckage, craters, and bombed-out buildings around us. “You see how well they fought, with all their great American training — they abandoned their tanks in the heat of the battle and fled.”

Konashenko pulls a green compass out of his shirt pocket and opens it. It’s a U.S. military model. “This is a little trophy — a gift from one of my soldiers,” he says. “Everything that the Georgians left behind, I mean everything, was American. All the guns, grenades, uniforms, boots, food rations — they just left it all. Our boys stuffed themselves on the food,” he adds slyly. “It was tasty.” The booty, according to Konashenko, also included 65 intact tanks outfitted with the latest NATO and American (as well as Israeli) technology.

…During my visit to Georgia in 2003, if someone had told me that in five years American military advisers would be hightailing it from their main base in Vasiani to avoid getting slaughtered by advancing Russian forces, I would have slapped him with a rubber chicken for insulting my intelligence. Yet there they were: gasping for air in the lobby of the Tblisi Sheraton, insisting off the record that the conflict was all the Georgians’ fault, not theirs.

Some day, these wars are all gonna end. That day may come sooner than we care to think–and when it does come, it will likely be just one facet of a full-spectrum meltdown that will leave a lot of Americans holding bitterly fond memories of the wars that we were sure would never end.

The battlefield ruins of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.

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  • 1. DrunktankDan  |  June 21st, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Fuckin great piece man. As someone who was still swimmin in their dad’s balls during while he was fighting in ‘Nam, it’s nice to hear a little different perspective now and then. The description of the angry old white guy fits my pops to a T

  • 2. matt  |  June 21st, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    bravo sir. I would have slapped that fat fasc….aw who am I kidding, I would have looked away and pretended to be lost in thought.

    but bloody hell, complaining about “unlimited aid” from the Russians going to the NVA? That takes a lot of balls when you’re part of an entire army sent over to back the guys you’re rooting for to win.

    And the term you’re looking for when he complained that they had to flood the tunnels instead of using WMD is not impressive, it’s genocidal asshole.

    I think Doug Stanhope said it best describing Iraq.

    “[can’t have weapons of mass destruction] it’s against the rules. What rules? its war. no rules in a street fight”

  • 3. JohnFigler  |  June 21st, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Doubt Late Roman Germanic Alae vets complained bitterly about how they could have smashed those Hun bastards if they had just played by the book…

    But nice take, would serve as War Nerd fix for a while.

    I’m planning a trip to Vietnam so I’ll try to remember to ask my war-related tours to be American-free, thanks for the advice.

  • 4. motorfirebox  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 1:41 am

    Sweet pic.

    You have to laugh–or cry, I guess–at the almost unimaginable amounts of pure, uncut fail that soaks every inch of the South Ossetia clusterfuck.

  • 5. wYSe Guy  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 2:00 am

    Never mind this Ames, your old nemesis Steven Spielberg just put a movie out called Super 8 that channeled his most famous works. What do you and your amgazine have to say about it?

  • 6. empire in decline  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 2:34 am

    It may drive you insane trying to figure out what led that Vietnam vet to being tortured over his ridiculously stupid idea of saving people by gassing others to death, but it’s very easy to understand.

    Here’s the problem: most people think they’re part of some special race, family, tribe or group. Anyone outside of that race, family tribe or group is subhuman if they are weak and poor, can’t look, act or sound like you, and are openly hostile to your nation’s national, strategic or security interests.

    Aside from nationalism you can believe you’re superior based on your skin color, what family you’re born into, as well as your political or religious affiliation. This particular Vietnam vet has chosen nationalism, a classic choice which goes back to the Roman idea of superiority based on citizenship.

    I remember Erik Prince, CEO of Xe (formerly known as Blackwater), referring to the Islamists as barbarians out of 1200 AD but his and most current soldier ideology goes back to the Roman era and makes them look like primitives to me.

    All this being said I will probably genuinely feel bad for that Vietnam vet and other dumbass soldiers like him when the glorious empire they fought for crumbles around them. These mistakes have been going on for thousands of years and he seems to be a victim of attitudes, sentiments, mindsets and behaviors that have been around before he ever opened his mouth or before he was born. Even if he and his soldier brethren were against what happened it’s all coming down no matter what so I find it hard to be angry at people like him or inclined to really blame them. I much prefer to blame everyone who lives in rich powerful countries that could fix these problems but just don’t give a shit. Keep in mind people that these monumental fuck ups are team efforts and everyone deserves blame.

    That being said, I hope Erik Prince gets kidnapped and has his head hacked off by barbarians. Seriously, he’s earned it.

  • 7. Stephen  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 9:34 am

    What the fuck happened to that tank you’re stood on in the last picture? It looks like it got flattened by something very big.

  • 8. Hannibal  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I don’t really like calling America an empire in decline, for the simple reason that I don’t think it was really much of an empire to begin with.

    Rome? 500 years; okay, cool. That’s empire-status right there (which was preceded by a 500 year Republic, also worthy of respect.)

    British empire? around 300 years, give or take; not too shabby.

    Shit, even the Mongol Empire was around for 150 years.

    Whereas our ’empire’ probably started after WWII? So that’s, what, 60 years, barely? And we’re already on our way down?

    Definitely not worthy of being put next to the true Empires of the last 5,000 years.

    I will say this; we coulda been a contender, had we not had extreme fuck-ups at the helm; after Eisenhower, the talent pool went to shit.

  • 9. Plamen  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 11:13 am

    hate to break it to you but these wars are never gonna end. As a matter of fact they will get bigger and more frequent. No way the military industrial complex will let all those sweet deals get away. Look at how Vienam and The Fillipines right now are trying to start up a fight with China over some islands and water rights. This sh*t’s been going on for thousands of years and will never end but just get worse.

  • 10. doug  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    @ Hannibal 8

    Perhaps our bloody, genocidal wars to conquer and control a large portion of the North American landmass could be considered our “Empire.”

    We also wrested control of the Philippines and Puerto Rico from the Spanish at the turn of the 20th century, in an effort to be a big bad world power like the Imperial Europeans across the Atlantic.

  • 11. pmx?  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Great article, Mark!
    I half-remembered your articles on the South Ossetian war after watching an awful pro-georgian/american/west movie about it called “five days of war”.
    Watch it. It is unapollogetical propaganda Goebbels would be proud of.

  • 12. Ryan Backwater  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I think I finally understand – I’m a resentful retard. I’ve always assumed that the urine-scented basement bedroom at my parent’s place is the real war zone, not that place where Ames is photographed. Hell, I could have done that too if I wanted to but then who would get into the shit in my parents’ house, if not I?

    So, what role did I play defending and protecting American power while Ames was out reporting on its demise? Answer: I was a decorated anonymous commenter, baddest-assed commenter in my parents’ entire house. I mean, look at me and look at Ames. What’s he doing there? Is he a Journalist, or RUSSIAN ARMY COMMANDER? Look at how he gloats over the defeated tank. Add a uniform and a bandaged arm and you have Igor Konashenko! Ooooo, that Ames varmint, Ooooo! He makes me very very angry, oooOOOoo!

  • 13. chuck0  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Nerve gas wouldn’t have been effective because the tunnels were designed with water locks and vents that would make use of the gas impractical.

  • 14. captain america  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    exiled censor, isn’t just living in his parents’ basement enough? did his bedroom have to be urine-scented? although who am i to question thee, o wise censor!

  • 15. Revisionist  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    I agree that the American was an arsehole, but he was just a frustrated Hitler – ballsy smallshot from the frontline of the lost war who can’t accept defeat.

    But really, he can’t be blamed for being annoyed at those boring Communist Vietnamese tour guides. The problem was that he was too dumb to answer properly and like a good soldier should have kept his mouth shut.

  • 16. super390  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    @ #6:

    The problem with the disgruntled old veterans is, they’re punishing the rest of us for America’s overseas collapse the same way that the German veterans of World War I punished the Weimar democracy to death. The ol’ “Stabbed In The Back” smear, repeated ad nauseum by those we are conditioned to respect until we vote for darkness.

  • 17. wengler  |  June 22nd, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    I think that suburban concept of fighting fair is more of a empty recapitulation of “just war” theory rather than a guidebook to be followed. Remember these bastards not only thought that torture was awesome but they did it themselves using what they thought were excellent texts–the Soviet interrogation and torture guide. In all the other wars since the Philippines SOP was to give over the prisoners to be tortured to your native allies.

    What that US suburban mentality today stands for is sucker punching a guy surrounded by 5 of his friends while you got nobody on your back. Yeah you’re tough, stuffed with cash to hire lackeys and you don’t bleed easily, but one by one they are going to wear you down until you are nothing but a bloody pulp.

    Also cavorting with morons like the President of Georgia is always going to get you beat.

  • 18. Ro  |  June 23rd, 2011 at 4:29 am

    I really appreciate this piece because it gives me a fresh perspective on a war I have read and thought a lot about, even though I was born a couple of years after Ho Chi Minh City was secured by North Vietnamese forces.
    I told my homicidally inclined friend before he left for Iraq that if a Vietnam memorial wall with an identical footprint to the one in D.C for the Americans had been built for the Vietnamese who died in that war it would be 70 stories high, and full of civilians. He was unphased by the magnitude of slaughter that nation experienced at the hands of the Americans. 2-3 out of 18 million. By comparison, Americans’ level of grief for their own loss in that war seems not only absurd but downright sociopathic. How could we kill so many people who wanted nothing from us other than to be left alone, only to completely ignore all of the suffering we caused after it ended?
    With regard to the Vietnamese I have always been mystified at how a people can collectively find the ability to maintain control of their destiny under such testing circumstances. But it seems that once an example is available for imitation, the process is much more apt to occur in the future. Many an Iraqi insurgent has drawn inspiration from the Viet Cong.
    We as Americans take for granted that we are the world’s greatest protectors and purveyors of freedom and humanity, not only currently, but in all of history. We consider ourselves really the final word in the evolution of nations. It is an assumption that is rooted deep in our psyche, yet we remain so ignorant of this trait that we successfully use it as a tool to contradict all of the values that we supposedly stand for, and I’m not talking about presidents, I’m talking about everyday people. Let’s take for instance my friend, the homicidal one I was talking about earlier, let’s call him Bill. Bill was part of a Marine unit in Ramadi, Iraq in September of 2005. Heavy fighting had taken a toll on even the best trained and equipped U.S forces. Tension between Marines and the local population was at a high, and the base port-a-john had scribblings like, “When we got here it was about hearts and minds, now it’s about two in the heart and one in the mind”. It was in this atmosphere that Bill and his squad, led by Gunnery Sgt. Miller conducted a successful counter-ambush against an insurgent mortar team that had been attacking the morning chow delivery vehicle. After laying down an intense barrage of fire that killed several men, including the escaping driver, they approached the bodies to inspect them. As it so happened, one of the men was still alive and in need of immediate medical attention. The rules that U.S military personnel are expected to follow clearly state that a wounded and disarmed enemy is now your prisoner and your patient. These rules were not followed with this man. The squad corpsman drew his weapon to deliver the fatal shot. Miller commanded him not to do so, and to place the man in a body bag while he was still very much alive and continued to live for another 20 minutes stacked with dead bodies because, “He was shooting at Marines”.
    At this time, I was not at the point of maximal shock. I don’t even know how the rest of Bill’s family felt, as they were all in the room at the time that he was telling this story. The point of maximal shock came when he said, “That was the only good thing” that the unpopular Gunnery Sgt. Miller did. That’s right. I was sitting next to him when he said this, and at the moment I heard it my blood ran cold and I felt paralyzed, kind of like in those bad dreams I had when i was a kid and couldn’t breathe or move or scream. I felt like I was sitting next a ball of pure evil that would swallow me if I even moved a hair. That was 6 years ago, and I have thought of that moment, and that man every week since then. What was his story? Why was he shooting at Marines? What was he thinking in those last painful suffocating 20 minutes it took him to die in the summer heat? Does his family know? Who else knows what happened to him?
    Then there was the policy of killing the male members of a household if any weapons like RPGs were found in the house, apparently after considering the possibility that they were holding those weapons for insurgents under the threat of death. He didn’t tell me this himself though, his mother relayed it to me later.
    This really shook me to my core. I spent so much time with Bill. What happened to him? What was the moral underpinning that allowed him to descend into such a deep depravity? What was it that allowed him to believe that they are “not even human to me”. I’ll tell you what I think it is, besides the military brainwashing. It is in fact what makes the brainwashing so easy that it is almost unnecessary. I think it is that assumption that an American life is worth so much more than any other life that it is only our suffering that matters. It makes it so easy for us to dehumanize everyone who isn’t us, and lower their status to that of a cockroach, so that destroying them as a matter of caution is no problem and only concerns to the extent that it leaves a mess.
    I feel a lot of shame at myself for supporting Bill with my friendship before his murderous adventure, even though I did try to talk him out of it. I thought I was helping a friend in hopes that he would remember to act like a human being. So much for that.
    It was doubly disturbing to see a month later Bill’s mom tell her small grandson, who was wearing camo, that he was going to be a Marine someday. When did ruthless become so normal? It’s enough to make me want to cry.

  • 19. ballsy  |  June 23rd, 2011 at 6:58 am

    It’s funny how much loyalty petrol sniffers from rural infestations have for those who think they’re worth less than dirt. Not all Vietnam vets are like that. Just the loud and stupid ones. Look up James Glaser.

  • 20. Mutinous Navigator  |  June 23rd, 2011 at 7:37 am

    I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the American Vietnam “vet” was never in combat. Hell, there’s a good chance that he was never in Vietnam…..or even in the military. I’ve run into literally hundreds of these clowns over the years.

    A cop employed by the town where I live….now thankfully retire….would never miss the opportunity to tell you that he was a Vietnam War “era” vet. Catch that “era” bit? He was in the Marines back in 1967-68, but he never left the USA, spent his entire time in service as a member of the USMC band. To listen to this bloviating asshole, you’d think that he personally strangled Ho Chi Min to death.

    Been my personal observation that most real combat vets don’t care to talk much about it. In any case, next time you run into some “vet” loudmouth who claims to have personally shot Hitler, ask him to see a copy of his DD214. I doubt he’ll actually let you see the thing, that is if he actually did serve.

  • 21. swummyfushes  |  June 23rd, 2011 at 8:44 am

    vietnam was a proxy war with the russians behind the scenes, as was afghan in the 80s with us behind the scenes, this is constant

    el salvador

  • 22. Alexius  |  June 23rd, 2011 at 8:47 am

    If we could have just used poison gas for the sake of God and democracy … that’s classic Americana right there.

    I’m curious how un-aided Vietnamese peasants against pretty much the full weight of the US military could be construed as “fair?” And would the vet have felt sorry for supporting the mujaheddin in Afghanistan because it wasn’t “fair” to the Soviets?

    Hell, we still hear it. If those sneaky bastard Taliban would just some out in the open with their pickup trucks and small arms and fight “fair” we’d win for sure.

    Had my grandfather been on Ames’s tunnel tour, he probably would have looked at the vet and asked, “Who ever told you that life was fair?”

  • 23. Zenostar  |  June 23rd, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Funny you should mention “The Tunnels of Cu Chi”, as i’m currently looking for some good Vietnam books.

    Can anyone give me a rundown of some of the best ones?

  • 24. franc black  |  June 23rd, 2011 at 10:03 am

    With posts like that, I might not even miss the War Nerd persona …

  • 25. Strelnikov  |  June 23rd, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    All I want to say about the SEALs in Vietnam is that they were occasional “contracted labor” for the Phoenix Program, our CIA-US Army-South Vietnamese National Police anti-NLF Gestapo, especially when a target village was near a river or the ocean and the PRU goons or the ARVN were too afraid to go into the village themselves.

    @20 It’s not just “vets” who were stateside or in West Germany in 1965-73, but there are scads of scammers, i.e. old men in faded uniforms who show up at Vietnam War events who were either never in the war, or who were kicked out of the military in 1968 for whatever cause. This shit has been going on as long as being a “`Nam Vet” was popular and cool, and that started in the 1980s (remember TV shows like “Tour of Duty” and “China Beach”? I think the “Lethal Weapon” movies started the whole thing, because Mel Gibson’s character was a Vietnam Vet.) Sometimes the scammers ask for money, others get on the payroll of police forces and the like. I would expect in twenty years to see fake vets from the Iraqastan war/s.

    @7 What happened to that tank was a Russian HEAT round hit it near the engine compartment and the suspension partially collapsed (notice the road wheel that’s hanging at an odd angle. Notice that the turret is slewed to the left; it was hit in the middle of a fire fight with Russian armor or possibly with Russian infantry wielding anti-tank rockets. The great irony in that picture is the tank itself is a either a T-72 or T-80, which is a Soviet/Russian design.

  • 26. joe  |  June 23rd, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    How hard would it be for the vietcong to install a gas countermeasure like plastic bags and a positive pressure system. River water seems like a much more effective solution.

  • 27. Neil Templeton  |  June 24th, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Thank you for the well written article. I am no literary savant, but I feel as if I am observing a shell game with articles written by W.N., Dolan, Ames. What gives?

  • 28. pat b  |  June 26th, 2011 at 9:44 am

    we tried pumping water into those tunnels.

    there is a problem, don’t think of them as some dirty little crawlspace under your house, think of them fairly major civil engineering efforts, much like the tunnel system in a major college campus. So these had pretty extensive spaces
    and were designed to allow ventilation and drainage from the numerous tropical storms.

    So it’s not like you could stick a garden hose in them and flood them out like a gopher hole, these were massive engineering works and you were going to have to pump in water not in 4″ firehoses, but in 48″ water mains. That means serious piping, serious pumps and areally good sized river nearby.

    Second, the Viet Minh were not stupid idiots, they had put in drain lines and communicating lines to other people. While you are sitting there running a mile or two of pipe and setting up a massive pump station, their littlebuddies are lobbing mortars at you the sitting duck and all that expensive gear. a couple of 88mm Mortars can sure ruin the days of the CB’s out there.

    Also it takes time, and teh VM would just slip out an exit,
    and put on a straw hat and blend in with the locals.

    Poison Gas wasn’t tactically effective in WWI, what makes bozo think it would be effective there? Maybe
    the War Nerd needs to write on gas warfare.

  • 29. pat b  |  June 26th, 2011 at 9:51 am

    the russian advisers in that photo, look more like scientists. They are wearing suits, ill fitting, they don’t look all buff and rough, they aren’t warriors, i bet they are measuring wing thickness, analyzing construction techniques, taking paint samples, that sort of thing.

  • 30. Mudhead  |  June 28th, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    If Ames’ Ugly American was really in ‘Nam, he’s probably undergone a dramatic change in his thinking as he’s gotten old. I was just young enough to miss getting drafted, but I grew up in a military family, in a military town (San Diego) during the war. I knew many guys who went to Vietnam, grunts and REMFs alike, and over the years I knew many vets of the war. I never met one Vietnam veteran, during the war or in the years immediately after, who believed that somehow we could have “won” the war if only the gloves were taken off. Those who were really there saw that the situation was hopeless, saw that no matter what we did we’d never “win”. All of them were very bitter that their comrades had died or been wounded for nothing. Many were proud to have served, and were proud of their comrades for having served, but they had few illusions of victory denied. The “stabbed-in-the-back” story was around during the war, but it really got traction during the Reagan years, and has increased since. And none of them ever bragged about their combat exploits.

  • 31. American Woman Are Fat  |  July 1st, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    If something may have DU on it, it’s not a good idea to go climbing around on it.

  • 32. darthfader  |  July 3rd, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Agreed, Mudhead. The “We coulda won!” story was cooked up by the pointy-headed neoconservative nerds who ran the Reagan, Bush, and Bush II administrations.

    To promote further wars of choice, they needed to provide a narrative to pretend that there were no practical barriers to an undefined “victory” in Southeast Asia.

    This is also where we get the propaganda myth of “Vietnam syndrome”: the “illness” of believing that stupid crusader shit is always going to fuck up sooner or later and so we should stay out of it.

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