and piloted by Berry, took off around 05:00 – had Martin refused to
leave, the Marines had a reserve order to arrest him and carry him away
to ensure his safety.
The original battle-cry of this war is not in our name crowd from 10 years ago. Ira Chernus explores the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam. Shall we see a repeat of helicopter convoys leaving the US Embassy while abandoning thousands of south viet collaborators to torture and death?
At 10:48 a.m., Martin relayed to Kissinger his desire to activate “the
FREQUENT WIND” evacuation plan; Kissinger gave the order three minutes
later. The American radio station began regular play of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” the signal for American personnel to move immediately to the evacuation points.
Under this plan, CH-53 and CH-46 helicopters were used to evacuate Americans and friendly Vietnamese to ships, including the Seventh Fleet, in the South China Sea. The main evacuation point was the DAO Compound
at Tan Son Nhat; buses moved through the city picking up passengers and
driving them out to the airport, with the first buses arriving at Tan
Son Nhat shortly after noon.
The first CH-53 landed at the DAO compound
in the afternoon, and by the evening, 395 Americans and more than 4,000
Vietnamese had been evacuated. By 23:00 the U.S. Marines who were
providing security were withdrawing and arranging the demolition of the
DAO office, American equipment, files, and cash. Air America UH-1s also participated in the evacuation.
At 03:45 on the morning of April 30, the refugee evacuation was
halted. Ambassador Martin had been ordering that South Vietnamese be
flown out with Americans up to that point. Kissinger and Ford quickly
ordered Martin to evacuate only Americans from that point forward.
Reluctantly, Martin announced that only Americans were to be flown
out, due to worries that the North Vietnamese would soon take the city
and the Ford administration’s desire to announce the completion of the
American evacuation. Ambassador Martin was ordered by President Ford to board the evacuation helicopter.
The call sign of that helicopter was “Lady Ace 09”, and the pilot
carried direct orders from President Ford for Ambassador Martin to be on
board. The pilot, Gerry Berry, had the orders written in grease-pencil
on his kneepads. Ambassador Martin’s wife, Dorothy, had already been
evacuated by previous flights, and left behind her personal suitcase so a
South Vietnamese woman might be able to squeeze on board with her.
Decades later, when the U.S. government reestablished diplomatic relations with Vietnam, the former embassy
was returned to the United States. The historic staircase that led to
the rooftop helicopter pad was salvaged and is on permanent display at
the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
When George W. Bush and the neocons launched their war in Iraq,
critics coined the slogan, “‘Iraq’ is Arabic for ‘Vietnam.'” The point
was obvious: Another long quagmire of a war in an inhospitable foreign
land would lead once again to nothing but death, suffering, and defeat
That was back in 2003 and 2004, when the parallel was to the Vietnam war of 1965 – 1973.
Here’s what JFK told interviewers in September, 1963, about South
Vietnam under President Ngo Dinh Diem: “I don’t think … unless a
greater effort is made by the Government to win popular support that
the war can be won out there.”
Here’s what Barack Obama told reporters
on June 13, 2014: “Iraq’s leaders have to demonstrate a willingness to
make hard decisions and compromises on behalf of the Iraqi people in
order to bring the country together. … and account for the legitimate
interests of all of Iraq’s communities, and to continue to build the
capacity of an effective security force.”
JFK: “In the final analysis it is their war. They are the ones who
have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment,
we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it.”
Obama: “We can’t do it for them. … The United States is not
simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a
political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re
prepared to work together.”
JFK balanced his calls for Diem to reform with what sounded like a
promise that the South Vietnamese government would get U.S. aid no
matter what it did or failed to do: “I don’t agree with those who say
we should withdraw…. This is a very important struggle even though it
is far away. … We also have to participate—we may not like it—in the
defense of Asia.”
Obama sounded a similar note: “Given the nature of these terrorists,
it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well. Iraq
needs additional support to break the momentum of extremist groups and
bolster the capabilities of Iraqi security forces. … They will have
the support of the United States. … We have enormous interests
Just as Kennedy publicly denied that he contemplated any significant
troop buildup, Obama insisted, “We will not be sending U.S. troops back
into combat in Iraq.” Yet JFK continued pouring “advisors” into
Vietnam throughout his presidency, just as Obama promised that there
would be “selective actions by our military … We have redoubled our
efforts to help build more capable counter-terrorism forces so that
groups like ISIL can’t establish a safe haven. And we’ll continue that
In his 1963 interviews JFK explained
that Vietnam itself was not the crucial issue. It was more about the
world’s perception of America’s power. Losing Vietnam would give “the
impression that the wave of the future in southeast Asia was China and
Obama has not come out and said anything quite like this. Yet he must
be keenly aware that his critics at home—and even some of his usual
supporters—are urging him to make sure the world knows that the U.S.
still runs the show.
Just a week before Mosul fell to the ISIS/ISIL forces, liberal commentator Fareed Zakaria wrote that “the
world today… rests on an order built by the United States that,
since 1989, has not been challenged by any other major player.” The big
question, he said, is: “How to ensure that these conditions continue,
even as new powers—such as China—rise and old ones—such as Russia—flex
their muscles?” Now a new power is rising in the Middle East, and the
question of preserving the world order is likely central to the
conversation in the Oval Office.
Indeed another usual supporter of Obama’s foreign policy, the New York Times, says that neocon Robert Kagan’s recent article “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire”
“struck a nerve in the White House”—so much so that “the president
even invited Mr. Kagan to lunch to compare world views.” “Events in
Iraq Open Door for Interventionist Revival,” the Times’ headline declared.
So Obama is stuck in much the same dilemma that faced Kennedy:
feeling compelled, both by global geopolitical and domestic political
concerns, to bolster an ally, but knowing that all the military aid in
the world won’t help such a fatally flawed ally win the military
victory that the U.S. government wants.
How to resolve the dilemma? JFK insisted on keeping all his options
open. Obama said: “I have asked my national security team to prepare a
range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces,
and I’ll be reviewing those options in the days ahead.”
JFK sent a seemingly endless round of envoys to Vietnam to study the
situation and report back to him. Obama may well end up doing the same.
“We want to make sure that we have good eyes on the situation
there,” the current president said. “We want to make sure that we’ve
gathered all the intelligence that’s necessary so that if, in fact, I
do direct and order any actions there, that they’re targeted, they’re
precise and they’re going to have an effect.”
Have an effect? Looking back at the outcome in Vietnam, all one can say to Mr. Obama is, “Lotsa luck, buddy.”