Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam

Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam

by James Hershberg

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Marigold presents the first rigorously documented, in-depth story of one of the Vietnam War's last great mysteries: the secret Polish-Italian peace initiative, codenamed "Marigold," that sought to end the war, or at least to open direct talks between Washington and Hanoi, in 1966. The initiative failed, the war dragged on for another seven years, and this

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Marigold presents the first rigorously documented, in-depth story of one of the Vietnam War's last great mysteries: the secret Polish-Italian peace initiative, codenamed "Marigold," that sought to end the war, or at least to open direct talks between Washington and Hanoi, in 1966. The initiative failed, the war dragged on for another seven years, and this episode sank into history as an unresolved controversy. Antiwar critics claimed Johnson had bungled (or, worse, deliberately sabotaged) a breakthrough by bombing Hanoi on the eve of a planned historic secret US-North Vietnamese encounter in Warsaw. Conversely, LBJ and top aides angrily insisted there was no "missed opportunity," Poland never had authority to arrange direct talks, and Hanoi was not ready to negotiate. Conventional wisdom echoes the view that Washington and Hanoi were so dug in that no real opportunity existed. This book uses new evidence from long hidden communist sources to show that Warsaw was authorized by Hanoi to open direct contacts and that Hanoi had committed to entering talks with Washington. It reveals LBJ's personal role in bombing Hanoi at a pivotal moment, disregarding the pleas of both the Poles and his own senior advisors. The historical implications of missing this opportunity are immense: Washington did not enter negotiations with Hanoi until more than two years and many thousands of lives later, and then in far less auspicious circumstances.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Operation Marigold is typically treated as little more than a footnote to the American war in Vietnam, but cold war historian Hershberg, of George Washington University, unalterably changes that view. This book delves into every aspect of Operation Marigold, a failed secret mission led by Polish diplomat Janusz Lewandowski, to set up peace negotiations between the U.S. and North Vietnam in the last weeks of 1966. The conventional wisdom was that the presumptive talks had little chance of success, since both sides believed they could prevail militarily and had no reason to talk, which is what President Johnson claimed to his dying day. Based on his reading of newly released documents and primary sources—including his own interviews with Lewandowski—Hershberg shows that Johnson’s decision to resume bombing Hanoi after a five-month pause caused the collapse of the talks before they began. Hershberg also convincingly shows that the Poles (along with Italian diplomats) had authorization from the Vietnamese Communists to approach the Americans to start peace talks—something Johnson and his supporters argued was not the case. This is a well-written, in-depth look at the facts of a controversial and convoluted peace effort that could have significantly altered the course of the Vietnam War. Maps, photos. (Jan.)
Library Journal
The failure of the secret talks code-named Marigold—which aimed during the second half of 1966 to jump-start serious peace negotiations between the United States and North Vietnam—was one of the great diplomatic collapses, not just of the Vietnam War but also of the entire Cold War era, claims Hershberg (history & international affairs, George Washington Univ.; James B. Conant: Harvard to Hiroshima and the Making of the Nuclear Age). This exhaustively researched investigation reveals that Marigold failed largely because the "Rolling Thunder" bombings of North Vietnam that December destroyed American negotiating credibility. Hershberg shows in fascinating detail the tireless efforts of Janusz Lewandowski, a Polish diplomat stationed in South Vietnam, and Giovanni D'Orlandi, Italy's ambassador to Saigon, to arrange the Marigold negotiations. They both gained the respect of American and Vietnamese diplomats but couldn't save the talks, which broke down 17 months before largely fruitless talks between the United States and North Vietnam began in Paris. VERDICT Hershberg has done remarkable work, piecing together the Marigold story from newly available Soviet documents, D'Orlandi's journals, and numerous interviews. He has calmed oceans of detail into a graceful narrative, an important work for Vietnam-era and Cold War historians.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Gordon M. Goldstein
…a staggering exercise in historical scholarship leveraging both established sources and a huge array of newly surfaced documentary materials and research drawn from 15 countries around the world. With his nearly 900-page cinder block of a book, Hershberg has achieved his presumptive goal of writing the definitive study of a hidden history that had been the subject of intense speculation over the years but never comprehensively told.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam delves deep into the diplomatic maneuvering that transpired in the shadows of the American war in Vietnam. James G. Hershberg offers a book that strikes near perfect balance between macro and micro history . . . Marigold is a detailed account of the diplomatic wrangling during the apogee of the Vietnam War. With a trove of primary sources from all parties, including diplomatic exchanges, interviews, and diaries, Hershberg weaves a masterful analysis of the clandestine world of Cold War-era diplomacy . . . [T]he book offers one of the most detailed retellings of a particular facet of the Vietnam War . . . [O]ne will enjoy Hershberg's detailed packed study. All students and scholars of both the Vietnam War and Cold War will want to own a copy of Marigold."—Robert Thompson, H-Net

"Marigold offers unprecedented attention to the ICC, its members, and its internal dynamics . . . One cannot question Hershberg's intimate knowledge of the wide range of characters one encounters in this book."—George Dutton, Journal of Asian Studies

"James Hershberg has produced a truly admirable work of diplomatic history that will undoubtedly stand as the definitive account of the courageous but unsuccessful joint Polish-Italian effort to bring Hanoi and Washington to the negotiating table in 1966 and bring the Vietnam War to an early end. It is a major feat that the author was able to discover such a substantive, original subject matter in the crowded field of Vietnam War scholarship, and the favourable attention this work has drawn is well-deserved . . . Marigold is essential reading for advanced students and professors of the Vietnam War, the Cold War in Asia, and peace history/conflict resolution studies."—Sean J. McLaughlin, Canadian Journal of History

"James G. Hershberg's book is a valuable addition to the discourse that the Vietnam conflict was far more complicated than originally assumed. . . Hershberg traces Marigold from its inception to the end in minute detail, using archival evidence from numerous countries and interviews of key individuals. His research is not only revealing on marigold but sheds further light on the international dimensions of the Vietnam War."—Eugenie M. Blang, American Historical Review

"[Marigold] is, in short, the very best kind of scholarship in international history . . . Historians of the Vietnam War, and the Cold War more broadly, will learn much from this remarkably fresh and revealing historical account."—Andrew Preston, International Affairs
"Hershberg superbly details a singular event of a highly controversial era—the Vietnam conflict . . . Highly recommended."—Choice
"The result of a massive amount of research, this voluminous book delves as deeply as seemingly possible into virtually every aspect of the multinational effort to bring the warring sides together just before the huge American build-up in Vietnam . . . This massive book is a well-written, in-depth look at the facts surrounding a controversial and convoluted abortive peace effort that, had it taken place, could have significantly altered the course of the Vietnam War."—Marc Leepson, The VVA Veteran
"The product of Hershberg's inquiry is Marigold, a staggering exercise in historical scholarship leveraging both established sources and a huge array of newly surfaced documentary materials and research drawn from 15 countries around the world . . . Hershberg has achieved his presumptive goal of a hidden history that had been the subject of intense speculation over the years but never comprehensively told."—Gordon M. Goldstein, Washington Post
"An extraordinarily well documented account of battling leaks appears in Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam, a new book by George Washington University history professor James G. Hershberg. Professor Hershberg's exhaustive book . . . draws on declassified diplomatic cables, foreign archives, countless interviews, and reporters' private notes to recount the breakdown of secret Polish-Italian efforts in 1966—code-named 'Marigold'—that hoped to coax the United States and North Vietnam into direct peace negotiations."—Jack Shafer, Reuters
"This is a superb piece of scholarship, a study that will make a major contribution to our understanding of the Vietnam War in general and the Marigold peace initiative in particular. The research base is simply astounding and what is more, Hershberg shows a marvelous ability to take this mass of material and render it into a gripping and powerful narrative. Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam is history-writing at its best—evocative, elegant, well-organized, deeply researched, and authoritative."—Fredrik Logevall, Cornell University, author of Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam

"The book will be, I believe, a blockbuster addition to the scholarship of the Vietnam War and, more generally, to Cold War history. Hershberg has produced a remarkably engaging study, a novelesque work of non-fiction that succeeds brilliantly in evoking the feel of 1966 Saigon, Hanoi, Warsaw, Austin, and Washington, It will rank among the finest and most ambitious examples of the 'new Cold War history' and be nothing less than a model for historians and graduate students of how to conduct research in international history and how to weave research drawn from multiple nations into a compelling narrative."—Mark Atwood Lawrence, University of Texas at Austin, author of The Vietnam War: A Concise International History and Assuming the Burden: Europe and the American Commitment to War in Vietnam

"This is a well-written, in-depth look at the facts of a controversial and convoluted peace effort that could have significantly altered the course of the Vietnam War."—Publisher's Weekly

"Hershberg has done remarkable work, piecing together the Marigold story from newly available Soviet documents, D'Orlandi's journals, and numerous interviews. He has calmed oceans of detail into a graceful narrative, an important work for Vietnam-era and Cold War historians."—Karl Helicher, Library Journal

"A thoughtful and well-re

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Product Details

Stanford University Press
Publication date:
Cold War International History Project Series
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.90(d)

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Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2012 James G. Hershberg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7884-8

Chapter One

Dong Chí Lewandowski's Secret Mission The Players Take Their Places, February–June 1966

Touching on the current potential usefulness of the Commissioners individually as a link between Hanoi and Saigon he spoke with some enthusiasm of what an achievement it would be if any one of us could be instrumental in opening the door to a settlement. —Canada's ICC commissioner on meeting Janusz Lewandowksi, April 1966

The Americans are not to be kicked in the balls. —Lewandowski to Pham Van Dong, the spring of 1966

Do you think they are masochists? —Lewandowski to Henry Cabot Lodge, June 1966

I hope you Americans are not escalating to a new peace offensive. —Canadian ICC commissioner Victor C. Moore to Lodge, June 1966

Adam Rapacki was disappointed but not discouraged by the failure of his peace diplomacy during the thirty-seven-day pause. As Washington resumed bombing, the Polish foreign minister sought to position Warsaw to maneuver more effectively. Secretly sending Michalowski all the way to Hanoi had been an exceptional step, not easily repeated, and Rapacki wanted someone on the ground in Vietnam able to probe continuously to discern whether conditions were ripe to try again, and to seize any opportunity that might appear.

Coincidentally, he had before him a concrete opening to advance this objective. Poland's ambassador in Hanoi had only narrow room to maneuver, dealing with just one side of the conflict; he was also a rigid neo-Stalinist who instinctively exhorted the Vietnamese Communists on to total victory over the imperialist aggressors—not toward the kind of compromise settlement that would be the aim of any secret peace diplomacy.

However, Poland's delegate to the International Control Commission, who was also of ambassadorial rank, was another story. Henryk Wendrowski was deeply frustrated as he neared the end of his year-long term. Initially, he had imagined that the commissioners, uniquely able to shuttle between enemy capitals, might act to restrain the conflict. But by December 1965, he had concluded that neither Hanoi nor Washington was ready to compromise, and that negotiations could not start until both lost faith in military victory—maybe in a year or so. Originally slated to stay until June 1966, Wendrowski happily told a British diplomat that he would be "leaving here for good" in March. "He said he was personally glad because, contrary to the expectations which had been entertained when he was first appointed here, there was nothing in present circumstances which he or the Commission could usefully do."

Nevertheless, Rapacki calculated that Hanoi's stridency would one day yield to a more sober approach—and then Poland's ICC delegate might again be eligible to conduct peace feelers. Gossip put a veteran diplomat in line to succeed Wendrowski, but the foreign minister opted to gamble on a less experienced but perhaps more energetic figure, the head of the United Nations desk at the Ministerstwa Spraw Zagranicznych (MSZ, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Janusz Lewandowski, who was cosmopolitan despite his youth (he was not quite thirty-five years of age).

But first, in line with standard Communist procedure, Rapacki had to vet Lewandowski's appointment with the Ministerstwa Spraw Wewnetrznych (MSW, Ministry of Internal Affairs), the secret police overseer, keeper of the most sensitive files. So on February 3, the MSZ's human resources director informed the Interior Ministry's Foreign Operations Department that it wished to send "citizen Janusz Lewandowski" as the new ICC delegate but needed MSWs "opinion" before acting.

* * *

In early February 1966, as the air attacks resumed, President Lyndon Baines Johnson fled Washington to confer in Honolulu with South Vietnam's two top military rulers: Prime Minister (and Air Force head) Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky and chief of state General Nguyen Van Thieu. The hastily arranged summit's ostensible goal was to stress political, economic, and social reforms aimed at expanding popular support for the Saigon regime. But it also afforded a chance to review plans for the war's escalation, ratifying the Johnson administration's secret intent to double the number of troops by the end of the year (from about 200,000 to more than 400,000) and step up offensive operations in South Vietnam and against infiltration routes in Laos.

Even if most Americans still backed the war, LBJ knew the renewed bombing would provoke international and domestic censure. To blunt it, he resumed not "with a large and dramatic bang" but with less "noisy" strikes which he could then ratchet up far beyond the pre-pause level. He also asked the UN Security Council to take up the war—a transparent public relations ploy, because with "Red" China and North Vietnam not even in the world body, and Moscow aloof, the UN could hardly act effectively; Hanoi blasted the proposal (Vietnam "falls within the competence" of the Geneva Conference, it said, not the UN), echoed by Communist allies, and it quickly perished.

Poland and the rest of the Soviet Bloc predictably issued "harsh, sometimes violent" condemnations and forecast Hanoi's ultimate victory. By arrogating to itself the right to bomb a small nation, Rapacki asserted, Washington "was creating a dangerous and deplorable precedent in international morality." Hinting at a sinister Chinese role, he told London's envoy that the war did not serve U.S., Soviet, British, or Polish interests, and "daily" exacerbated the risk of a broader conflict. U.K. ambassador George Clutton felt Rapacki's "highly emotional" views reflected his "Western liberalism," while Michalowski was "essentially a pragmatist and a realist and sees at once the American quandary," because an unconditional halt risked a domestic backlash if it exposed U.S. troops to intensified Communist infiltration. Yet both Poles dismissed suggestions that the situation called for new peace efforts through the Geneva cochairs or the ICC. They reiterated the need to stop the bombing first and echoed Hanoi's line that the only item to negotiate was the modalities of a full U.S. withdrawal and Vietnamese reunification.

To U.S. and U.K. diplomats, Rapacki and Michalowski lamented Washington's failure to use the Warsaw channel to resolve authoritatively the confusion over Ho Chi Minh's letter before restarting the air raids. Yet despite chagrin that its efforts during the pause had "shipwrecked," Warsaw remained poised to mediate when circumstances eventually compelled the combatants to seek peace. "Michalowski was far less pessimistic and bitter about the future than I had expected, and to my surprise there was no word of disengagement on the Polish side," Clutton reported. Secretly, the Poles had not given up hope of acting as peacemakers. In early February, Wendrowski paid a farewell visit to Hanoi—and took a far more moderate line than Washington might have suspected.

Lunching with Pham Van Dong on February 4, Poland's ICC delegate gave an appraisal of the military and political situation that could hardly have comforted his host. Citing "detailed information" from U.S., journalistic, and diplomatic circles in Saigon, Wendrowski told the premier that

1. The Americans are currently preparing very carefully to eliminate the NLF [National Liberation Front] (the building of the bases and the home front, doubling the number of planes, aspiring to cut the "Ho line" [Ho Chi Minh Trail] simultaneously from the side of Siam [Thailand] and [South] Vietnam).

2. The society of the South are against the governance of Ky, but at the same time they are anticommunist for the most part, and they do not always want to topple the military regime and facilitate the victory for the NLF.

3. Further development of the military situation in the South will not be easier for the DRV, it will only become harder.

4. Prolonging the conflict makes it easier for the "hawks" to transform the war in Vietnam into a wider dispute.

Dong, who "listened to the information with great interest," must have grasped that Wendrowski's analysis implied that Hanoi should negotiate with the Americans rather than rely solely on military means to vanquish them. Cautiously, he promised to relay his "assessments and fears" to the Politburo. However, he reassured him (as he had Michalowski and Alexander Shelepin) that the North Vietnamese would do their best to keep the war limited, could fight a long time because right was on their side ("They are prepared for the worst"), and even if Washington redoubled its troop strength in 1966, their "Marxist analysis of the situation" guaranteed eventual triumph.

Still, Dong sensed that his arguments were not wholly convincing. He stressed Hanoi's readiness to engage in contacts with Washington despite their futility as well as with fraternal Communist delegations to explain the DRV's stance, as "sometimes even the friends cannot understand it." Throwing a bone to Soviet Bloc criticism that the DRV's failure effectively to counter LBJ's peace diplomacy had cost support in what was then called the Third World, he also "finally" agreed to permit a visit by Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, a leading figure in the Non-Aligned Movement, though Hanoi did not expect any significant results. Dong remained carefully neutral in the Sino-Soviet split, and thus he avoided mentioning China despite an acute awareness that Moscow put the onus on Beijing for egging Hanoi along the military path.

Two days later, General Giap invited Wendrowski for a de facto reply to the Pole's pessimistic statements to Dong. Radiating confidence, the military commander argued that the Americans, like the French, were doomed. In a mirror image of Wendrowski's assessments, he cited successful past DRV and NLF military operations and predicted total failure for future U.S. attempts to subdue Communists in the South or intimidate the North. "We have losses," he admitted, "but they are significantly smaller than what the Americans are writing about. The bombings of the North are giving us difficulties, but they will not break our country. Even if all our cities are destroyed, our country will not fall. We cannot let the South become a great American prison." Giap put "great emphasis" on the socialist bloc's "unity and help," rather blithely, given its rampant discord. "There was no word uttered on the subject of China," Wendrowski noted.

Wendrowski's soundings in Hanoi reinforced his already-bleak assessment. Back in Saigon, he observed that despite alleged signs of "greater flexibility on the question of negotiations," Hanoi still felt it could win militarily, so peace appeared impossible, at least for now, "because the positions of the two sides were irreconcilable."12 As Poland's commissioner prepared to make his escape, Rapacki confirmed the identity of his successor. On March 5, a senior Interior Ministry counterintelligence official notified the Foreign Ministry that he had no objection to appointing "citizen Lewandowski" to replace Wendrowski; an MSW official noted blandly that he had already worked at diplomatic posts abroad and received "a positive opinion," and recommended consent.

Mystery Man: "A Very Serious Fellow"

The first word of Lewandowski's new job came out of the blue in early March. Lewandowski was working at his office when one of the deputy foreign ministers, Josef Winiewicz, poked his head in and said, "Rapacki wants to talk to you.... He wants you to go to Vietnam."

The foreign minister had not plucked Lewandowski from the UN desk for the ICC job to engage in frivolous charades. The main reason no one had yet terminated the moribund ICC had been the slim hope that it might one day play a useful role in peace diplomacy—and the awareness that with its mixed composition and residual travel rights between Saigon and Hanoi, it constituted a unique potential communications link between the belligerents, who lacked direct normal relations.

Such calculations undergirded the secret mission Rapacki now gave the young diplomat. Recounting Poland's past efforts—Harriman's visit, Michalowski's odyssey, and so on—he instructed Lewandowski to probe aggressively for any opening toward peace, and to exploit to that end his unique status as a Saigon-based Communist diplomat shuttling to Hanoi, should the opportunity arise. "Look, we think that probably the time is now coming that something useful may happen on this Vietnamese question," he said, "so if you go to Saigon keep open your ears and your eyes and if any sort of possibility would exist there, do not overlook it." The briefing on prior contacts with Hanoi struck Lewandowski as "hopeless" regarding the DRV's obduracy toward peace talks. While offering no specific or concrete plan, Rapacki flashed him a "green light" to latch onto any chance, even a minuscule one, to ameliorate the conflict.

The surprise ICC assignment excited Lewandowski. It put him in the midst of the globe's most acute international crisis, in a setting that promised intrigue, adventure, a possibility to contribute to peace, and the chance to explore a new part of the world after posts in Africa and the Middle East. It was a challenging and prestigious, if risky, plum for an ambitious junior diplomat. Though generally familiar with the conflict, he plunged into reading on Vietnamese history, culture, and politics. Besides reviewing cable traffic going back to the French colonial period, he received a "colorful" briefing from Michalowski, who, over coffee in his office, described Harriman's visit and his own "mission impossible" (Lewandowski's term) to Hanoi. He also got a military intelligence report—to acquaint him with espionage considerations running an outpost in a hostile capital, and the military setup he would oversee—and an appraisal of the military situation from the Polish general staff, which was doubtful that Hanoi could defeat the U.S. war machine. His predecessors filled him in; Romuald Spasowski, now a foreign ministry division chief, described the persons he would encounter, including Henry Cabot Lodge, and in East Berlin on his way to Paris to wrap up UN affairs, he had a short (and not especially illuminating, he felt) chat with Wendrowski.

After these whirlwind preparations, Lewandowski headed for Southeast Asia in early April 1966. He was, he later recalled, newly "free." His marriage of nearly a decade—to an "attractive blonde," cultured, well-educated, and fluent in English—had recently dissolved, childless. Alone, Lewandowski embarked on a new phase of his life and career. Bypassing Moscow, he flew Czechoslovak Airlines via New Delhi and Rangoon to Phnom Penh, where he checked in with Poland's small Cambodia-based ICC staff before boarding a rickety commission plane for the hop to Saigon.

* * *

Many years after the clandestine affair in which Lewandowski played the lead role, "an air of mystery" still surrounded him, a distinguished historian of the Vietnam War would write. "At the time," George C. Herring observed nearly two decades later, "Americans knew virtually nothing about him, and frequently confused him" with another Polish Foreign Ministry official with the same last name. Nor would time clarify his identity or motives. Lacking any better source, Herring quoted an ex-Hungarian diplomat, János Radványi, who had defected to the United States, as calling Lewandowski "a high-ranking officer in Polish intelligence and a hard-liner consistently hostile to the United States." Subsequent accounts—until now—have failed to clarify his identity, motives, actions, or affiliations.


Excerpted from Marigold by JAMES G. HERSHBERG Copyright © 2012 by James G. Hershberg. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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