- Why South Vietnam Fell by Anthony James Joes
Why South Vietnam Fell attributes the outcome of the Vietnam War to a wide range of factors, including generous foreign support for the Communist forces in Vietnam; inadequate U.S. support for the Republic of Vietnam (RVN); a deficient fundamental strategy of attempting to defend the borders that had been established for South Vietnam in 1954; the U.S. decision to encourage a military coup against RVN President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963; gross irresponsibility by the U.S. media; and the inadequate training and poor leadership of the RVN armed forces.
Anthony James Joes, a political scientist and a specialist on insurgency and counterinsurgency, is intensely anti-Communist. He lays great stress on the brutal and dictatorial character of the Communists. He is exaggerating somewhat, but not much. Vietnamese Communism was in fact brutal and dictatorial.
Joes’s exaggeration of the amount of Soviet-bloc and Chinese assistance to the Communists, and his underestimation of U.S. assistance to the anti-Communist forces, represent a more serious problem, especially in regard to the final stage of the war, from 1973 to 1975.
Joes states that in June 1948 France recognized the independence of the State of Vietnam with Bao Dai as its head and suggests that France from this point on was so clearly committed to independence that the Vietnamese no longer had any need to fight for it (p. 5). Joes thus is able to deny credit to the Viet Minh as nationalists for the remaining six years of their war against the French. “Ho Chi Minh made war not for an independent Vietnam but for a Stalinist Vietnam” (p. 164), he writes. Joes also avoids, in his chapter on the reasons the French and their Vietnamese allies lost the war against the Viet Minh, any acknowledgment that Vietnamese who supported the French might to some extent have been compromising their credentials as nationalists. In this chapter he treats the State of Vietnam as “an independent state” (p. 7) with its own army (the Vietnamese National Army) and ignores the way the French kept command of the Vietnamese National Army firmly in their own hands and in general kept the State of Vietnam weak and helpless because they feared it might attain actual independence if allowed to grow too strong. Only in a later chapter, when Joes is describing the accomplishments of Ngo Dinh Diem from 1954 onward, does he abruptly notice that the position of prime minister of the State of Vietnam still carried no real power when Diem took that post in mid-1954.
Joes’s endorsement of the democratic character of the various elections held in South Vietnam is based more on statements by other authors praising those elections than on factual details. Thus, in discussing the 1955 referendum that made Diem chief of state, Joes avoids mentioning the official vote figures, which seemed to most observers absurd on their face: a 97.8 percent turnout of eligible voters and 98.2 percent of the votes cast for Diem. Instead Joes claims (though the source he cites does not support this claim) that U.S., Australian, British, and French representatives believed the figures had been “reasonably accurate” (p. 39). In other places as well, Joes’s sources, if checked, turn out not to say what he claims they say.
Probably the worst parts of the book are Joes’s extended denunciations of the way the U.S. media covered the war, especially the turmoil that culminated in the [End Page 296] coup that overthrew President Diem in 1963 and the Tet Offensive of 1968. Joes wildly exaggerates the negative tone of the media. Thus he says of the Tet Offensive, “Apparently, not even one positive story on the fighting performance of any ARVN [South Vietnamese Army] unit appeared in any American newspaper” (p. 109). His statements are based too often on quotations from other authors who share his view of the media and far too seldom on actual examples from the media of...