The Myths of Vietnam

Phyllis Amenda

Contending versions of the Vietnam War and the antiwar movement began to develop even before the war ended. The hawks' version, then and now, holds that the war was winnable, but the press, micromanaging civilian game theorists in the Pentagon, and antiwar hippies lost it. . . . The doves' version, contrarily, remains that the war was unwise and unwinnable no matter what strategy was employed or how much firepower was used. . . Both of these versions of the war and the antiwar movement as they have come down to us are better termed myths than versions of history because they function less as explanations of reality than as new justifications of old positions and the emotional investments that attended them (Garfinkle, 7).

Pro-war or Anti- war. In the generation alive during the 1960s and 1970s, few, if any, Americans could avoid taking a position on the United States' role in Southeast Asia. As the above quotation from Adam Garfinkle suggests, positions taken in the 1990s, over twenty years after hostilities ended, serve both as an explanation for the U.S. defeat and justification for the positions taken during the war. The hawks' view justifies those who served in Vietnam and appears to give meaning to the deaths of the 58,000 Americans who died there. Those who protested the war or evaded the draft can tell themselves that their actions were justified because the war was immoral, unwinnable and just plain stupid.

American combat involvement ended in 1973. Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. Even though the U.S. military forces pulled out of Vietnam 25 years ago, the United States continues to be haunted by the specter of Vietnam. Even the most cursory review of the 1980s and 1990s reveals shadows of Vietnam. A few brief examples:

  • Controversy over the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D. C.
  • Frequent references to Afghanistan as the U.S.S.R.'s Vietnam.
  • George Bush's promise not to make Kuwait "another Vietnam" in 1991.
  • Bill Clinton's attempts to avoid military service and whether those attempts were justified.
  • Comparisons between Gulf War Syndrome and Agent Orange-related health problems among veterans.
  • Continuing questions about whether N.A.T.O. involvement in the former Yugoslavia could become "another Vietnam."

While the controversy over the war has often been reduced to simplistic pro-war or anti-war arguments as illustrated in the opening quotation, a more nuanced reading of post-war literature shows many more areas of controversy. All of these controversies cross over from hawks to doves and back again. Much of the post-war controversy over Vietnam can be summarized in four "myths".

The first myth is that the micromanaging civilians in Washington lost an otherwise winnable conflict. A second myth deals with the degree to which the radical, countercultural anti-war movement forced President Nixon to end the war. A third is the "Rambo" myth which claims that American prisoners of war were kept in captivity in Southeast Asia after the cessation of American military involvement and may still have been imprisoned into the 1990s. And lastly, we will examine the myth that the US government would never knowingly harm its soldiers.

These four myths have been examined in numerous books published since the end of the war in 1973. Five specific works, each of which primarily addresses one of these four myths, also comment on the other myths as well. The books are In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995) by Robert S. McNamara, former U.S. Secretary of Defense and three books by academics: Telltale Hearts: The Origins and Impact of the Vietnam Antiwar Movement (1995) by Adam Garfinkle, M. I. A. or Mythmaking in America (1992) by H. Bruce Franklin, and Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange (1989) by Fred A. Wilcox. After Wilcox's book was published, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt conducted an independent investigation into the Agent Orange issue on behalf of the Secretary of Veteran's Affairs. His original report, published in 1990, confirms the conclusions of Wilcox's study and serves as a unique source on the government's role in covering up the Agent Orange issue.

This paper will address the four myths in chronological order beginning with myths about how the war started and was fought, how it ended and finishing with the aftermath, both short and long term, for the United States and its veterans.

Micromanaging Civilians

For any myth to gain credence, it must contain a kernel of truth. In all of these myths, there is some basis in fact. This is especially true in the first myth, that of the micromanaging, meddling civilians from the Pentagon. In the American government, civilians do control the military. One of the leading civilian managers, especially during the primary escalation between 1965 and 1968, was the Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara. His memoir of Vietnam, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, was first published in 1995. McNamara's memoir of his days as Secretary of Defense and his involvement in Vietnam is a confession of the U.S. government's obtuseness and incompetence in prosecuting the war. Even though McNamara ultimately sides with the doves' argument that we should never have become involved militarily in Vietnam, he wrote his book because "I do not believe, on balance, that America's political leadership have been incompetent or insensitive in their responsibilities and to the welfare of the people who elected them and to whom they are accountable" (McNamara, xx).

One of the chief problems with civilian management of Vietnam was the total lack of any high level officials who possessed any real knowledge about either Vietnamese history or the Vietnamese people. McNamara writes, "I had never visited Indochina, nor did I understand or appreciate its history, language, culture, or values. . . . Worse, our government lacked experts for us to consult to compensate for our ignorance" (McNamara, 32). McNamara is sure that the generals would have fared no better than civilians if they had been given carte blanche to prosecute the war. The military commanders did not understand the war they were fighting any better than the civilians and recommended policies that were disastrous. McNamara believes that while the civilians in Washington were not as well informed about the situation in Southeast Asia as they should have been, the military leadership in Vietnam was just as incompetent and equally ignorant of the history and true nature of the situation they faced. For example, McNamara quotes General Bruce Palmer, Jr., Army Vice Chief of Staff, "Not once during the war did the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] advise the Commander-in-Chief or the Secretary of Defense that the strategy being pursued most probably would fail and that the US would be unable to achieve its objectives" (McNamara, 108).

An important principle of American democracy is civilian control of the military. The military forces exist to serve the needs of the people as expressed through their elected officials, not the other way around. McNamara makes a compelling argument for civilian control of the military even as he accounts for the monumental failure of coordination between diplomacy (the State Department) and military action (the Department of Defense) in 1968 (McNamara, 295-302). Even though the military and diplomatic bureaucracies did not mesh their objectives and strategies in the 1960s, in theory they should have. In Vietnam, this collaboration between the State Department and the Defense Department should have begun at the beginning in 1963 and determined what the fundamental objectives in Vietnam were.

The most elemental question regarding U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia is why we went in the first place. Should the President and his advisors have foreseen the futility of a land war in Asia? McNamara now believes that they should have seen at least some of the problems. He identifies five basic questions that were never asked:

Was it true that the fall of South Vietnam would trigger the fall of all Southeast Asia? Would that constitute a grave threat to the West's security? What kind of war -- conventional or guerrilla -- might develop? Could we win it with U.S. troops fighting alongside the South Vietnamese? Should we not know the answers to all these questions before deciding whether to commit troops? (McNamara, 39)

Answers to these questions would have provided a clear rationale for entering into the war and guided a coherent military strategy for prosecuting it. Without a clear rationale for involvement the government could not clearly explain the reasons for continuing hostilities. In the end, the only reason the U. S. did not withdraw appeared to be the vain posturing of two presidents, neither of whom wished to be labeled as the first American president to lose a war.

The question of goals and accomplishment leads to the other half of this myth. The first question asks whether the civilians in Washington undermined the military command in Asia. The second question also needs to be discussed, whether the war was in fact winnable. The keystone of the hawks' argument is that the war was winnable. The doves were convinced then and are still convinced that the war was not winnable, in fact they claim that "winnable" could not actually be defined. A corollary to this question is: Winnable by what means, military or diplomacy? By 1968, McNamara had come to the conclusion that a military victory was unlikely. He writes, "[t]he fact is I had come to the conclusion, and had told him [President Johnson] point-blank, that we could not achieve our objective in Vietnam through any reasonable military means, and we therefore should seek a lesser political objective through negotiations" (McNamara, 313).

While Robert McNamara ultimately saw the military effort in Southeast Asia as futile, other analysts of the conflict have different opinions. Adam Garfinkle, a scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, argues that the central problem is that the war's tactics were at odds with the stated political goal of the conflict. Garfinkle states that the U.S. had two goals in Vietnam: "to stop Communism and relatedly, to produce a self-sustaining, democratic South Vietnam" (Garfinkle, 30). The United States subverted its own aims by using search and destroy tactics which only served to drive the peasants into the arms of the Viet Cong and destroyed the nationalist credentials of the South Vietnamese government (Garfinkle, 27, 30; see also McNamara, 112). Garfinkle believes that if the U.S. had chosen tactics that truly supported the goals quoted above and was willing to put the kind of time and investment into South Vietnam that were invested in South Korea, the conflict was definitely winnable (Garfinkle, 26-30).

Garfinkle agrees with McNamara that U.S. goals for the war were unclear. He disagrees with "McNamara's Lament" and holds that the civilians did indeed strangle the military commanders on the ground. If the military commanders did not understand the goals and objectives of the war, it is because the civilians did not communicate them. The mismanagement of McNamara's whiz kids and those civilians who followed them in the Pentagon were ultimately responsible for the loss of the war (Garfinkle, 299-302).

The civilians in Washington did often try to manage the war, perhaps too minutely. They believed that they were looking at a global picture, whereas the generals on the ground often were looking only at their limited tactical picture. But the United States did not lose the Vietnam War due to inept civilian control of a brilliant military command, but at least in part to a failure of both civilian and military leadership to understand the nature of the conflict and to match military tactics with political goals and assumptions. The failure of the American military and civilian leaders to mesh tactics and politics not only resulted in military failure in South Vietnam, but also in political opposition from a vocal segment of the American people.

The Anti-War Movement: Prolonging the War?

Segments of the population have vocally opposed military involvement in all of the United States' foreign wars. Vietnam was no exception. The Vietnam anti-war movement raises several interesting questions for historians. Did the radical anti-war movement inspire President Nixon to end the war and bring the troops home? Even before Nixon's presidency, what impact did protesters have on President Johnson and his advisors? What impact did the movement have on average Americans and did it influence their opinions about the war?

Popular belief credits the anti-war movement with ending the war. To call this a myth does not deny that there was a vocal anti-war movement, which had captured a fair share of media attention from the late 1960s until the war's conclusion in 1973, or in any way cast aspersions on the sincerity of the beliefs of those who participated. While popular wisdom, glazed with the patina of 30 years of memories might argue that the movement ended the war, Adam Garfinkle believes that popular wisdom does not square with the facts. Telltale Hearts: The Origins and Impacts of the Vietnam Antiwar Movement argues that in fact the anti-war movement probably extended the war and increased the number of casualties. Garfinkle argues that the anti-war movement was a fringe hysteria with no real political power. The protesters alienated the majority of Americans and any politician who seemed to be pandering to the "hippies" would have lost, not gained, political power. The anti-war protesters were a nuisance to be ignored or swatted, not a serious political movement to be courted and listened to.

Garfinkle outlines a number of reasons for this nuisance theory and why the movement remained a fringe movement instead of forming a coalition with working class Americans that could have commanded serious attention from Washington politicians. The myth that the movement ended the war arises from the incontrovertible fact that in the end, the American people did register vocal opposition to the war and urged Nixon to get out. The facts that first there was a radical, countercultural movement and then the citizenry registered opposition is taken to be cause and effect. To counter this cause and effect reasoning Garfinkle argues that "the war would have been even more unpopular than it was, sooner than it was, among a broader and more politically salient segment of the American people had radical protests not occurred" (Garfinkle, 13, emphasis in the original). He concludes that ultimately, the television coverage of the war which allowed Americans to see the futility of the war and the ineptness of the political and military authorities moved President Nixon in spite of the activities of the radical fringe. He even goes so far as to state "in the broadest sense, the war was lost because the American ship of state itself had lost its bearings" (Garfinkle, 267). Given the events of the ensuing two years after the war ended, as Watergate unfolded and brought down a president who had been elected in a landslide, Garfinkle's judgment is sound.

The real impact of the anti-war movement was not in ending the war, but in dividing the American people over the nature of government itself. By repudiating 200 years of workaday democracy (and by extension, alienating the people who believed in their government) in favor of a communal, utopian nirvana, extremists helped elect Richard Nixon to the presidency twice and set the stage for the election of Ronald Reagan (Garfinkle, 18, 214-215).

The counterculture of the 1960s and '70s is still influencing American society and politics as the U. S. closes out the 1990s. Examples include Bill Clinton, the first president from the Baby Boom generation, a lightning rod for all the Vietnam-era controversies. History courses at SUNY-Binghamton on the Vietnam conflict enjoy high enrollments. Such examples occur in our culture over and over. Vietnam and the controversy over the war is such a deep part of America's collective consciousness that it will take at least another generation for the specter of Vietnam to recede into the woodwork of American history. Even as the controversies over Bill Clinton's military service and other issues continue, there is yet another myth of Vietnam which needs to be examined. What happened to those men who did go and fight? Did all of those alive at the end of the war come home? Another vocal segment of the American public thinks not.

Rambo vs. the Bureaucracy

The third myth concerns the fate of the MIA/POWs in Vietnam. It asks a legitimate question: At the conclusion of hostilities in 1973, did the U.S. government knowingly abandon U.S. servicemen imprisoned by communist forces anywhere in Southeast Asia? This was not merely a question for the military or civilian authorities, but for a large number of American citizens. Since the end of the war, occasional news reports of supposed POW sightings in Southeast Asia continue to reinvigorate the controversy. Movies such as the Rambo series have created an entire mythology of government cover-ups and perfidy. H. Bruce Franklin examines this myth in his 1992 book M. I. A. or Mythmaking in America.

The kernel of truth in this myth is that there were over 2,000 servicemen who never returned from Southeast Asia, dead or alive. As wars go, this number of unaccounted soldiers for is relatively low, for example, over 78,000 are unaccounted for from WWII and over 8,000 from the Korean conflict (Franklin, 11). At least half of the Vietnam unaccounted for were known to be dead, but for various reasons their bodies could not be recovered and sent home. Most of the others could be reasonably assumed to be dead as soon as they were classified as missing in action. The military services kept separate records of men classified as MIA and POW. Only cases with documentable evidence of capture were labeled POW. Franklin argues that Richard Nixon changed the definition of "missing in action" and also changed the rules of war to generate domestic support for his war policy. President Nixon conflated these two separate categories to attempt to inflate the numbers of those who might be held by the Communists. By increasing the numbers, it would be easier to arouse public support for efforts to free those men, i.e. generating more support for continued military operations (Franklin 96-99).

After campaigning on a "secret plan to end the war," Nixon used the POWs as hostages to convince the American people to back continued escalation of hostilities. Franklin writes,

The POW/MIA issue served two crucial functions in allowing Richard Nixon to continue the Vietnam War for four years, even though he assumed office almost a year after the nation had shown its desperate desire for peace. It was both a booby trap for the anti-war movement and a wrench to be thrown into the works of the Paris peace talks. (Franklin, 74)

It attempted to derail the anti-war movement by changing the objective of the war. Americans were no longer fighting to save the Vietnamese from Communism; they were fighting to free their sons, brave men captured by Communist forces in Asia.

This change of objective also worked in Paris. Nixon required that the North Vietnamese and all other combatants release prisoners as a condition of peace. Conventional peace negotiations usually call for prisoner of war releases as a result of ceasing hostilities. By claiming that the POWs were "hostages" of the North Vietnamese, Franklin argues that Nixon stalled peace negotiations. The counterweight to this scenario was built in its very premise. As one wife of a POW stated, "[i]f it is true that they [the POWs] will not be released until the U.S. gets out, then why don't they set a date and get out now? . . . Why should one more man die on the battlefield or in the prisons?" (Franklin, 60-61)

Once the Paris Peace Accords were signed, Operation Homecoming was staged to welcome home the POWs. President Nixon received the returned POWs at a White House dinner to boast the all the prisoners of war had been returned. (Franklin, 75) As far as Richard Nixon was concerned, the POW/MIA story was finished. He had been reelected, the war was over and the prisoners were home. But myths like POW/MIA are like Pandora's Box, once created they tend to take on a life of their own. The myth of abandoned servicemen in Asia was only just building steam in 1973. In the 1980s, the myth reached its zenith in popular culture, especially as seen by the "Rambo" movies starring Sylvester Stallone as a Vietnam veteran on a mission to rescue his abandoned brothers in arms.

The rise of the Rambo myth in popular culture is another phenomenon examined by Franklin. By pitting decent, brave American GIs against their own government, the American people could acknowledge that the war was a mistake, but still not feel guilty about their own involvement. This myth works for the American people in the same fashion as Hiroshima works for the Japanese, it turns aggressors into victims. The American POWs are double victims, captured by the "evil Vietnamese communists" and then abandoned by their own government. The American people are only guilty of believing their own officials (whom they elected), not of destroying an entire culture and of killing thousands of innocent civilians.

Media attention to mythical POWs in Vietnam during the 1980s diverted attention from a very real group of abandoned servicemen. In the 1970s and '80s significant numbers of Vietnam veterans began to fall ill with cancers and other diseases and found they were begetting deformed children at an alarming rate. When they turned to the government that flew the MIA/POW flag and had pledged to go to any lengths to return even one POW from Asia, these equally brave men were told to get lost.

The Aftermath of Vietnam

Fred Wilcox's book, Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange, discusses the fate of those who thought they survived 'Nam only to come home and develop cancers, give birth to deformed children and suffer other bizarre health problems. The myth that the government would care for war-connected illnesses is based in fact. There is a cabinet secretary and a whole government bureaucracy devoted to veterans' affairs including veterans' hospitals in most major cities. Truth turned into myth as the government sought to avoid all responsibility for health problems associated with use of the defoliant known as Agent Orange. This herbicide contained dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to man.

Agent Orange and other herbicides were used to clear vegetation around U.S. positions and to clear mangrove forests in order to deny the enemy jungle camouflage. This military objective was designed to help the soldiers by protecting them from jungle ambushes. This strategy undoubtedly saved the lives of many American and South Vietnamese soldiers. Agent Orange was sprayed from airplanes, helicopters, boats, and backpack sprayers over South Vietnam from 1962 to 1971. There was no attempt to avoid human contact during or after spraying because "the Department of Defense (DOD) did not consider herbicide orange toxic or dangerous to humans and took few precautions to prevent exposure to it" (Zumwalt Report, 4) In a blistering report to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. estimates that 4.2 million American soldiers might have been exposed to Agent Orange during the nine years that widespread spraying took place.

Admiral Zumwalt's report deals with the macroscopic picture of Agent Orange. On a microscopic level, Wilcox's book documents numerous cases of Vietnam veterans who went to Vietnam determined to do their duty and serve their country (most were volunteers, not draftees) who survived the immediate horror of combat only to come home and get sick. Veterans such as Ray Clark came home determined to put the war behind them and get on with their lives. When he became ill, he went to Veterans Administration for help. As an example of the treatment Clark and other veterans received, Wilcox reports that when Clark's urine tests contained blood, the doctors accused him of mixing ketchup with his sample. (Wilcox, 9-10) In Wilcox's work, repeated tales of VA indifference become a refrain as case after case of cancers, birth defects in veterans' children and other serious health problems escalate to a chorus of rage and frustration by the end of the book.

Given the emotional intensity of the Waiting for an Army to Die, one might wonder whether Wilcox's impassioned polemic against government indifference is substantiated by other sources. After Waiting for an Army to Die was published, a retired member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued his own scathing indictment of the VA's callous indifference to the needs of Agent Orange sufferers. Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., USN (ret.) commanded U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam from 1968 to 1970 and later joined the Joint Chiefs during the Nixon administration. In 1989, then Secretary for Veterans Affairs, Edward Derwinski, appointed Admiral Zumwalt as a Special Assistant to examine the Agent Orange controversy (1995 Congressional Testimony). His report, initially submitted in 1990, excoriated the VA and other government agencies, especially the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for using poor science as well as succumbing to political pressure in order to justify denying medical and disability benefits to Agent Orange victims. The report found "evidence of political interference . . . by Administration officials" (Report, 9) and "the perpetration of fraudulent conclusions" (Report, 10)

Admiral Zumwalt recommended that the VA should grant full benefits to any Vietnam veteran or their children who exhibited symptoms of over 20 illnesses linked to Agent Orange. His study concluded that "it is as likely as not" that Agent Orange was a contributing factor to these illnesses and therefore under the Veterans' Dioxin and Radiation Exposure Compensation Standards Act (Pub. L, 98-541, Oct. 24, 1984, 98 State. 2727), the VA should give all benefit of the doubt to the veterans and take care of them. (Report, 15)

The controversy over Agent Orange illustrates what might be termed the "Vietnam Syndrome": The public waits and watches while the government tells them obvious lies and then these same leaders wonder why no one believes them when they do finally tell the truth. All of these myths were fueled in part by outright lies or at the very least, callous duplicity by government officials.

These myths did not affect only the United States back in the 1970s. These myths have had a direct impact on America's former enemies and allies in Southeast Asia and continue to affect both countries as a new century dawns. A discussion of the issues raised by these myths is necessary to resolve American and Vietnamese relations a generation after the war.

What About the Vietnamese?

All of these myths are focused strictly on Americans and ignore the Vietnamese. "Vietnamese" includes all of the peoples of Vietnam, North and South including the Viet Cong. The first myth dealt with the American management of the war, ignoring the Vietnamese governments and military forces. By discounting both America's enemies as well as her allies, any analysis of what went wrong in Vietnam begins to sound like the "Who Lost China" arguments of the 1950s.

The anti-war movement myth deals only with American involvement in someone else's conflict, a fact not understood very well by either doves or hawks. The hawks completely misunderstood the nationalistic desires of the Vietnamese and the doves ignored the geopolitical implications of abandoning American allies in the South. Both hawks and doves painted overly simplistic portraits of the Vietnamese people. The Vietnamese were not all evil, sadistic butchers even though some were, both North and South. The plight of the boat people and tribal peoples such as the Hmong in the years following the war demonstrate that the Communists were not magnanimous heroes who forgave their enemies and forgot the costs of war.

The Rambo myth relies on demonizing the Vietnamese and completely exculpates the Americans of any guilt for the damage done to Vietnam. If all Vietnamese are "gooks" and all G.I.s are heroes epitomized by Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris, then Vietnam becomes the modern incarnation of the old fashioned western where the Indians are always evil and the Seventh Calvary will always save the day in the last reel. That model was inaccurate and racist in the case of the Old West, and the same problems exist in the case of Vietnam.

The fourth myth is no different. In seeking to insulate itself from responsibility to Agent Orange victims, the American government has not only avoided responsibility for the effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people, but it has also ignored evidence of Agent Orange damage on soldiers from Australia. If anyone doubted that apparent government policy has been to deny or ignore the long-term aftereffects of war on veterans, the Gulf War Syndrome controversy in the 1990s has served to confirm the callousness and ineptitude of the Department of Veteran's Affairs

After examining these myths, the American people need to examine how they work together to shape public opinion. These myths are connected and continue to shape American culture in many ways. The Rambo myth believes that the US government conspired to abandon G.I.s in Southeast Asia. Once that belief has been planted in the collective consciousness, it is only logical to believe that the government might by conspiring to keep other information from the American people. Such events as the assassination of President Kennedy prompt heated debates as to the government's knowledge and actions. The actual and documented lies told by government officials combined with speculations about other lies that may have been told by seemingly all-powerful leaders breeds acceptance of outrageous conspiracy theories such as those promulgated by The X-Files.

Even if one does not go as far as taking The X-Files for gospel, government intransigence in the Agent Orange issue breeds a distrust of authority. The Agent Orange episode is like a bureaucratic squid covering the poor veteran in a cloud of black ink as it swims off to avoid confrontation. One might think that after the Agent Orange mess, the military services and the VA would have learned a lesson, but in the next war, the government was still making the same mistakes as in Vietnam. An article in the May 1999 issue of Vanity Fair argues that Gulf War Syndrome is indeed a real condition, given to the soldiers through experimental vaccines. Just as the use of herbicides in Vietnam was meant to help the soldiers by preventing enemies from using the jungle as camouflage, the use of experimental anthrax vaccines in the Gulf War was meant to protect soldiers from real danger of biological warfare. But just as in Vietnam, when the measures that were meant to help soldiers backfired, the bureaucrats (both civilian and military) ran for cover and denied everything. In an open society such as the United States, the paper-pushers' mistakes eventually catch up with them and they have to admit they were wrong. But in the meantime, many innocent people have become gravely ill and have even died before these mistakes were exposed. In the end, these situations reinforce perceptions of a callous government which lies routinely to its citizens.

The answer to the Agent Orange and Gulf War controversies lies in the very mechanism that allows the myths to grow, an open society. Careful scholarship published in academic and popular media are the only way to distinguish the kernel of truth in the cloud of popular mythmaking. In both the university and the marketplace of ideas, scholars should study Vietnam and all that relates to U.S. involvement there and bring that information to their students and to the society. Each of the four books discussed have made a valuable contribution to this goal. They have been widely available, in fact, McNamara's book was a best seller. Franklin published an articles summarizing his conclusions in The Nation, The Progressive and The Atlantic. Admiral Zumwalt's report, which attempted to find out the truth about the effects of Agent Orange, has been published on a number of sites on the Internet. As passions about the Vietnam conflict fade with time, hopefully the clouds of myth will clear away and the truth embedded in them will become the standard wisdom about the war.

Sources Consulted

Franklin, H. Bruce. M.I.A. or Mythmaking in America. Brooklyn, NY: Lawrence Hill Books, 1992.

Garfinkle, Adam. Telltale Hearts: The Origins and Impact of the Vietnam Antiwar Movement. Paperback edition published in 1997 by New York: St. Martin's Griffin, originally published in 1995.

Matsumoto, Gary. "The Pentagon's Toxic Secret," Vanity Fair, No. 465 (May 1999), pp. 82-98.

McNamara, Robert S with Brian VanDeMark. In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. Vintage Books Edition published by Vintage Books, New York, 1996. Original hardcover edition published by Times Books, New York, 1995.

Wilcox, Fred A. Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange. Cabin John, MD: Seven Locks Press, 1989.

Zumwalt, E. R., Jr. "Report to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs on the Association Between Adverse Health Effects and Exposure to Agent Orange." May 5, 1990. The edition used for this paper was published as an addendum to Admiral Zumwalt's testimony before the House Science Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, December, 13, 1995. Statement and addendum published by the Federal Information Systems Corporation Federal News Service and accessed through the LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe computer database.

Last Updated: 12/4/14