Twelve American Wars: Nine of Them Avoidable

Twelve American Wars: Nine of Them Avoidable

by Eugene G. Windchy


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ISBN-13: 9781491730539
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/21/2014
Pages: 446
Sales rank: 701,801
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.99(d)

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Twelve American Wars

Nine of Them Avoidable

By Eugene G. Windchy

iUniverse LLC

Copyright © 2014 Eugene G. Windchy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-3053-9


Vietnam War (1965-1975)

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it—George Santayana (1863-1952)

During the Vietnam War, the U. S. Information Agency transferred me from Japan to its Office of Policy in Washington and having some background in science, I was designated assistant science adviser. In 1967, I left that position to research and write a book, Tonkin Gulf, which explained how our leaders, making a mockery of the Constitution, had blundered, lied, and schemed their way into a seemingly endless conflict. They had not learned much from our predecessors in Vietnam, the French colonialists and their German mercenaries.

Although it did not appear that way at the time, critical events had taken place in 1964, the last year of peace. It was a presidential election year, and a major issue was South Vietnam's Communist-led insurgency. For fourteen years we Americans had supported anti-Communist efforts in Vietnam, first the French campaign, which failed, and following that, desultory efforts by a series of corrupt South Vietnamese governments. Result: the Communists were growing stronger. In 1964, we asked ourselves, should we continue providing aid short of war? Or should we jump directly into the conflict and "get it over with"? Quitting was hardly an option. Neither political party wished to be responsible for losing another country to Communism, as the Democrats had "lost China." Besides, it was feared, if South Vietnam went Communist, all of southern Asia might do so in a domino effect.

Running for president were the Democratic incumbent, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Republican Senator Barry M. Goldwater. Johnson favored aid short of war. Goldwater blamed the insurgency in South Vietnam on Communist North Vietnam, and he wanted to bomb that country. That seemed a far-fetched idea. Goldwater also recommended fewer restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons. In a survey, 1,189 psychiatrists said the Republican candidate was unfit to be president.

Surprise Attack

In the midst of these controversies, torpedo boats from North Vietnam surprised the world by reportedly attacking a ship of the U. S. Navy, and soon after that two ships of the U. S. Navy. The American ships were destroyers cruising off the North Vietnamese coast in the Tonkin Gulf. President Johnson ordered a retaliatory air raid, and at his request the Congress voted its approval in what informally was called the "Tonkin Gulf Resolution."

President Johnson, the peace candidate, won the election in a landslide.

In the following year, 1965, Johnson showed his true colors. He began bombing North Vietnam, as Senator Goldwater had recommended. Next, Johnson sent marines to protect an American air base in South Vietnam. That overturned a long settled policy of not putting American combat troops on the Continent of Asia (in addition to those stationed in South Korea).

The Army chief of staff, General Harold K. Johnson, made a trip to South Vietnam, and he came back recommending the deployment of five hundred thousand troops, a number that stunned President Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. Prior to the request for marines, Johnson and McNamara thought bombing would win the war and no combat troops at all would be required. That is what McNamara said in his postwar book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. McNamara's critics said he feigned ignorance of the troop need in order to cover for the President, who during the election campaign promised not to send any ground forces. As evidence for McNamara's possible duplicity, in the summer of 1964 the State Department warned President Johnson that bombing North Vietnam almost inevitably would result in retaliation and a need for American combat personnel. How did the State Department know that in 1964 and not the Defense Department in 1965?

Joint Chiefs Stick Together

At the Pentagon, it was the Marine Corps and the Air Force that had recommended bombing North Vietnam. The Army doubted the value of bombing, and the Navy "wasn't too sure about it," according to McNamara's book. Despite dissension among them, the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously recommended bombing so that they would not have to present a "split paper" to the secretary of defense. (Remember that the next time you hear the Joint Chiefs are recommending something unanimously.) President Johnson knew the decision was split, and he knew that Secretary of State Dean Rusk opposed bombing. But South Vietnam was near collapse, and Johnson decided to go with the Air Force's recommendation in addition to sending troops. The bombing drew the North Vietnamese army full-scale into South Vietnam. Perhaps the Communist army would have come anyway, but in the eyes of the world we Americans took on the role of aggressor. Perhaps also the Air Force had been too eager to find a job for itself.

President Claims War Power

The use of both air and ground forces had been authorized by Congress in the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, said President Johnson, and that forgotten document now was seen to have taken on new meaning. It authorized the President to "repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression" [emphasis added]. Not only the torpedo boat attacks but the insurgency in South Vietnam was North Vietnamese aggression, said the Administration. The President also asserted that he had the right to make war on his own authority as Commander-in-Chief, without any authorization from Congress.

The Vietnam War dragged on for years, lawmakers complained that the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was not meant to authorize a war, and the news media cast doubt on whether anything actually had happened in the Tonkin Gulf. Information on that subject was scarce and for years no pictures were released. Actually, significant events had taken place in that far off body of water, but they were lied about and shrouded in official secrecy. The controversial summer of 1964 could be written up as a course in Deceptive War Making.

In the sea off North Vietnam, the fateful events began with a strange encounter.

De Soto Patrol

In July of 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox proceeded to the Tonkin Gulf in order to carry out a previously established routine called the "De Soto patrol." The ship reached the gulf early in the morning of Friday, July 31 (the same day that the State Department warned President Johnson about bombing North Vietnam.) The American destroyer began refueling from an oil tanker, which the Navy calls an "oiler." While the Maddox was in that vulnerable position, hooked up to the oiler, the ship's radar detected four fast boats rapidly bearing down from the north. The destroyer's Combat Information Center (CIC) identified their radar "fingerprint" as friendly and sent a messenger to inform the captain and one other officer, Commodore John J. Herrick.

In visual distance, the approaching craft were seen to be flying no flags and still traveling at a very high speed, 50 knots. On Maddox's bridge, Lieutenant William Buehler grabbed an intelligence book and tried to identify the speedsters, but with no success. He felt relieved when Commodore Herrick hurried up to the bridge, taking a fall on the way, and told him, "Those are friendly. They're Nasty-class patrol boats." The Nasties were 80-foot Norwegian torpedo boats converted to gunboats. The ones approaching had been up north during the night shelling North Vietnamese military facilities.

A Friendly Greeting

Two of the four boats veered toward the Maddox. Emerging from CIC to get a look, Lieutenant Dale Evans examined the nearer of the two. A Caucasian man with reddish brown hair was standing up, and he waved at the destroyer. Apparently the skipper, he wore a khaki uniform like Evans's but no headgear, which would have blown off at high speed. Later, Evans wondered whether the auburn-haired adventurer was Norwegian. For the gunboat operations, which were initiated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Norwegians and Germans were hired to command boats with South Vietnamese crews. This was supposed to establish plausible deniability for the U. S. Government's involvement. Reportedly the Norwegians left South Vietnam in May. At some point the Navy fired the Germans for drinking beer on duty, although the Germans objected that they had contracts with the CIA. Since it would make no sense to hire Germans for plausible deniability and give them American uniforms, perhaps the man Evans saw was American.

During their advance briefings, the Maddox's officers had envisioned a scenic coastal cruise. After encountering the gunboats, they wondered what they were getting into. For one thing, they were going to collect information useful to the gunboats, as the North Vietnamese surely would assume. The American warship also would constitute a threat. To Communist eyes, the gunboats already represented a threat, and the Maddox, with its 5-inch guns, would represent a bigger threat.

Skipper of the Maddox was Captain Herbert L. Ogier. He and Commodore Herrick, who had higher responsibilities, were old friends and Naval Academy graduates. Commodore is an honorary rank usually given to an officer commanding more than one ship. We will get to that.

Near the entrance of the gulf cruised the carrier USS Ticonderoga, whose aircraft carried out reconnaissance operations in South Vietnam and southern Laos. Communist forces, the Pathet Lao, were active in Laos. The CIA operated aircraft in northern Laos, and they attacked Communist soldiers on sight. Thinking to rescue a downed Navy pilot, a CIA man set down his helicopter and was shot between the eyes.

Maddox Heads North

After refueling, the Maddox headed north, toward where the Nasty bombardments had taken place. The day was peaceful, the scenery beautiful. Stony cliffs rose abruptly from the sea, festooned with green foliage. The crew took hydrographic soundings, which the French had done already, and they looked for North Vietnamese soldiers who might be headed for South Vietnam. None was observed. It all seemed like busywork. But some people, not regular crew members, apparently had plenty to do. They were an intelligence team monitoring North Vietnamese communications. The strangers, both sailors and marines, used a van installed on the ship especially for this patrol. They called their facility the "comvan." Maddox sailors called it the "mad box." The monitors were picking up "good stuff," as one later informed me. There ought to have been plenty of radio traffic, since the Nasty boats were blasting military facilities.

In charge of the comvan was Lieutenant Gerrell Moore, a quiet and soft-spoken Texan. Some of Maddox's crew members called him the "hair ball man." They had seen a moving picture about a witch doctor who worked magic with a ball of hair, and they noticed that every time Moore went to the bridge with a piece of paper in his hand, something happened.

Air Attacks on North Vietnam

Probably the monitors caught word of combat operations over near Laos. On Saturday, August 1, CIA propeller aircraft strafed and bombed two North Vietnamese military posts. The CIA's aircraft were marked as Laotian Air Force, but the North Vietnamese viewed them as American. The aircraft were two-seat T-28 trainers armed for counter-insurgency operations.

The Maddox encountered many fishing craft. Whole families lived aboard them. The destroyer was patrolling peacefully, but the fisher folk had a sullen look.

On Saturday night Lieutenant Moore gave Commodore Herrick three messages which, taken together, indicated that the North Vietnamese intended to attack the ship. Herrick interpreted the messages to mean that some small craft with explosives aboard was ordered to pull alongside. With a kamikaze threat in mind, the commodore ordered the ship away from the coast when radar showed a large number of fishing junks massing in the darkness up ahead. At 4 a. m., Herrick sent a message to higher command. The message said he had received intelligence indicating possible hostile intent on the part of the North Vietnamese.

As a result of the evasive move, Captain Ogier learned that the ship had steam in only one of its four boilers. He ordered another to be fired up in case there was a requirement for more speed. Besides suicide junks, the Americans had to be wary of torpedo boats. Naval Intelligence said the North Vietnamese had twelve of them. They were Russian boats with aluminum hulls and Chinese boats with wooden hulls. The North Vietnamese also had approximately forty gunboats. Somebody remarked that Maddox could not take on the whole North Vietnamese navy, and Ogier snapped, "What's the matter? Are you afraid to die?" Ogier had a reputation for being sarcastic. But it was his duty to quell such talk.

Come daylight, the Maddox was still in one piece, and it moved back toward the coast. About an hour after sunrise, Herrick sent another message. This time he confirmed that the earlier report was accurate, and he recommended that the patrol be canceled. Herrick's exact words:

Consider continuance of patrol presents unacceptable risk.

Admiral Roy L. Johnson, commander of the Seventh Fleet, ordered that Herrick continue the patrol but deviate from the planned route as might be needed. The planned route consisted of moving from one point of military interest to the next.

The "Laotian Air Force" raided another North Vietnamese position.

Torpedo Attack

On Sunday afternoon, Herrick again had threatening intelligence from the comvan, and Maddox's radar showed three motorized craft heading toward the ship. Moving fast, they had to be either gunboats or torpedo boats. The torpedo is a powerful short range weapon, and if three torpedo boats came too close to the destroyer, they could blow it to smithereens. Maddox turned away from the coast, testing the North Vietnamese intentions. The boats followed. They and the destroyer speeded up. Radar operators could see that the pursuing craft were too fast for North Vietnamese gunboats. They had to be torpedo boats. As such, they were much faster than the destroyer. Maddox turned southeast. So did the boats. The torpedo craft started a three-boat weave to confuse the Americans' fire control radar. Then they formed a column and began zigzagging. Their bow waves shone white in the sun and at the stern each boat featured a "rooster tail" thrown up by its powerful engine. The North Vietnamese were doing 50 knots; they were faster than what Naval Intelligence had reported. Maddox was doing 27 knots.

"General Quarters, General Quarters," rasped the loudspeaker. "This is not a drill. This is not a drill." The crew rushed to combat stations, and CIC called Ticonderoga for air support.

As a warning to the North Vietnamese, Maddox fired a salvo of four shells. (Three shells were intended, but a gunner misunderstood.) The boats were commanded by three brothers, and they kept coming. Maddox began rapid fire. Braving all that shellfire, the North Vietnamese made a surprisingly determined attack. At least three torpedoes were launched. One of them could punch a hole in the ship thirty feet wide. Maddox evaded the bubbly wakes. The North Vietnamese fired machine guns. Their aim was poor. One bullet put a half-inch hole in Maddox's after fire director. Shellfire prevented the third boat from getting close enough to launch. All three boats turned back toward the coast. Four jet planes arrived and briefly chased the Communist craft. The boats were damaged but did not sink. On the radar, two boats appeared to be towing the third. Their original V-shaped formation now was inverted. Four North Vietnamese had been killed and six wounded.

Commodore Herrick decided to leave well enough alone. As he told me, Herrick did not know "how far they would want us to push this thing." The decision was taken from his hands when higher command ordered the ship to retire from the gulf.

The Maddox's Luck

Early warnings helped the ship to survive, and so did poor tactics by the North Vietnamese. The high-speed, daylight charge was a warning in itself and, with advance information, it was easy to fend off. If the North Vietnamese had not broadcast their intentions and if the boats had approached slowly after dark, among fishing craft, the destroyer might have been sunk with all hands. "Remember the Maddox!" would have been the war slogan. The Pentagon would have flooded the media with pictures of the victims, and President Johnson would have made a dramatic speech.

Back home the skirmish was big news and the Navy was praised for defending itself successfully from a surprise attack. The Pentagon said the Maddox was on a "routine patrol" and the attack was "unprovoked." Few took notice of the fact that, although the Johnson Administration as a rule preferred to release important news in Washington, the sensational Tonkin Gulf report came from an Air Force colonel in Hawaii, as if nobody in the Navy or in Washington wanted to be responsible for it.


Excerpted from Twelve American Wars by Eugene G. Windchy. Copyright © 2014 Eugene G. Windchy. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments, ix,
Preface, xi,
Chapter One Vietnam War (1965-1975), 1,
Chapter Two Quasi-War (1798 to 1800), 40,
Chapter Three First Barbary War (1801 to 1806), 48,
Chapter Four War of 1812 (1812 to 1815), 55,
Chapter Five Second Barbary War (1815), 68,
Chapter Six First Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848), 71,
Chapter Seven Second Opium War (1856 to 1860), 112,
Chapter Eight Civil War (1861 to 1865), 129,
Chapter Nine Spanish-American War (1898), 193,
Chapter Ten Philippine-American War (1899 to 1913), 227,
Chapter Eleven Second Mexican-American War (1914 to 1917), 243,
Chapter Twelve World War I (1917 to 1918), 251,
Chapter Thirteen Afterthoughts, 389,
Bibliography, 405,

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