“Why South Vietnam Fell” by Anthony James Joes, Paperback, 218 pages, Lexington Books (May 25, 2016)
I must have read hundreds of books about the Viet Nam war, especially the period from 1954 to 1975 when the war ended. The latest, “Why South Vietnam Fell” by Anthony James Joes, was a surprise. It is a well researched and cogently written book that runs counter to much of what has been written about the subject by mostly liberal, anti-war American authors over the past 50 years.
Anthony James Joes is professor emeritus at St Joseph’s University in Philadelphia where he has taught since 1969. He has been Chairman of the International Relations Program there since 1972. He is also a visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College and has given presentations at places such as the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the RAND Corporation, the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He has written many books and articles on various topics, the Viet Nam war being one of them. According to him, three main factors contributed to the fall of South Viet Nam.
The first was the “risky wager” that President Kennedy took in 1963 to actively encourage South Vietnamese generals to overthrow President Ngo Dinh Diem, the first duly elected President of South Viet Nam. President Diem and his brother were assassinated in the coup. Disarray ensued in the civilian government and in the military, forcing President Johnson to send over increasing numbers of American troops to prevent a total collapse of South Viet Nam.
This escalation in turn gave rise to the US anti-war movement which benefited greatly when the 1968 Tet Offensive was trumpeted by American media as a communist victory. That ignored the fact that the Viet Cong suffered such severe losses that they were no longer an effective fighting force after 1968. The North Vietnamese from then on had to openly shoulder all of the fighting, dropping any pretense that it was the Viet Cong who led the fight against the southern regime.
Meanwhile the anti-war movement, actively supported by the international communist propaganda machine, succeeded in turning the American public against the war. American troops were recalled home. Aid to South Viet Nam was drastically reduced, before being completely cut off after the forced resignation of President Nixon in 1974. Without sufficient ammunition, fuel, and spare parts for its equipment, South Viet Nam could not defend all of its territory. However, disastrous redeployment maneuvers in early 1975 led to panic as civilians fled and mingled with soldiers and their own families, and thus entire divisions disintegrated. South Viet Nam fell in three months under an all-out invasion by the entire North Vietnamese military, amply supplied and equipped by the Soviet Bloc and Red China.
In laying out these themes, Professor Joes quotes numerous sources from all sides, including communist ones. Each chapter is richly footnoted, without distracting the reader from the main arguments the author was making. In spite of that, without the appendix, the book is only 171 pages long and makes for an ultimately provocative and intellectually stimulating read. Liberals will probably hate it, but in this age of “fake news” it is good to know that someone is presenting hard facts and his own informed opinion on a matter which has long divided Americans.