1968

1968 “No light at the end of the tunnel” after the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; Johnson doesn’t run for a 2nd term; Nixon defeats Humphrey for Presidency; and the antiwar movement becomes increasingly militant.

January Vietnam veteran Jeff Sharlet launches the first GI-run anti-war paper addressed to GIs, calling it Vietnam GI (VGI). His associate editor is David Komatsu, and the editorial board of ex-Vietnam GIs include Jan Barry, William Harris, Peter Martinsen, Dink McCarter, James Pidgeon, Gary Rader, Francis Rocks, David Tuck, and James Zaleski. A civilian conscientious objector, Thomas Barton, serves as VGI’s East Coast distributor, responsible for shipping bundles of the paper to Vietnam.

Vietnam GI quickly becomes a success among GIs stateside and in Vietnam18 where soldiers like Terry DeMott, a helicopter door gunner in the Americal Division stationed near Chu Lai, and a number of sympathetic unit mail clerks help circulate the paper surreptitiously. It is free to GIs, and requests for individual subscriptions as well as multiple copies for distribution in stateside barracks and Vietnam combat units soar, with the print run reaching 30,000 copies by fall 1968. Letters-to-the editor indicated that single copies passed through many hands.

UFO coffee shop opens in Columbia, South, Carolina near Fort Jackson as outreach to GIs. See December 1967 entry.

January 5 Operation Niagara I: to map NVA (or PAVN – Peoples Army of Vietnam — or VPA – Vietnam Peoples Army) positions around Khe Sanh begins.

Servicemen in all branches of the military are threatened with Article 15 (non-judicial punishment) if they speak out against the War.

January 15 5,000 women rally in D.C. in the Jeannette Rankin Brigade protest. This is the first all female antiwar protest, aiming to get Congress to withdraw troops from Vietnam.

January 18 While in the White House for a conference about juvenile delinquency, Black performing artist Eartha Kitt loudly criticizes First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson about the generation of young men dying in the war

January 21 20,000 NVA (or PAVN or VPA) troops attack the American air base at Khe Sanh. A 77-day siege begins as 5,000 U.S. Marines in the isolated outpost are encircled. The siege attracts enormous media attention back in America, with many comparisons made to the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu (Điện Biên Phủ) in which the French were surrounded and eventually defeated.   “I don’t want any damn Dinbinfoo,” an anxious President Johnson warns Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Earle Wheeler. As Johnson personally sends off Marine reinforcements, he states “…the eyes of the nation and the eyes of the entire world, the eyes of all of history itself, are on that little brave band of defenders who hold the pass at Khe Sanh…” Johnson issues Presidential orders to the Marines to hold the base and demands a guarantee “signed in blood” from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that they will succeed.

Operation Niagara II then begins a massive aerial supply effort to the besieged Marines along with heavy B-52 bombardment of NVA (or PVAN or VPA) troop positions. At the peak of the battle, NVA (or PVAN or VPA) soldiers are hit round-the-clock every 90 minutes by groups of three B-52s, which drop over 110,000 tons of bombs during the siege, the heaviest bombardment of a small area in the history of warfare.

January 30-February 24 The Tet (Tết) Offensive: The NLF launches simultaneous attacks on all US military bases in Vietnam and 110 cities and towns in South Vietnam, including 34 of 44 provincial capitals and 64 district capitals.

The turning point of the war occurs as 84,000 NLF guerrillas aided by NVA (or PVAN or VPA) troops launch the Tet (Tết) Offensive attacking a hundred cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. The surprise offensive is closely observed by American TV news crews in Vietnam which film the U.S. embassy in Saigon being attacked by 17 NLF commandos, along with bloody scenes from battle areas showing American soldiers under fire, dead and wounded. The graphic color film footage is then quickly relayed back to the states for broadcast on nightly news programs. Americans at home thus have a front row seat in their living rooms to the NLF/NVA (OR PVAN OR VPA) assaults against their fathers, sons and brothers, ten thousand miles away. “The whole thing stinks, really,” says a Marine under fire at Hue after more than 100 Marines are killed.

There is a good deal of controversy about the effectiveness of the Tet (Tết) Offensive. Who won the Tet (Tết) offensive – and what exactly winning consisted of – is still a matter of intense debate. See for instance, David Hunt, Ngô Vĩnh Long: (“Remembering the Tet Offensive,” By David Hunt, 359-377 in Marvin E. Gettleman, Jane Franklin, Marilyn B. Young, H. Bruce Franklin, Vietnam and America: A Documented History (NY: Grove Press, 1995) and Long, Ngô Vĩnh, “The Tet Offensive and its aftermath”, pp. 23-45. (An updated and detached version of the realities of the Tet offensive in J. Werner and D. Hunt, eds. The American war in Vietnam (1993). The first piece vividly describes the shock and power of the 1968 Tet (Tết) offensive, which many see as the key turning point in the war, especially for American public opinion. The second describes its multiple and contradictory impacts on the National Liberation Front as well as on the Americans and ARVN. In any case, the impact on the American public was powerful, demonstrating that there was no imminent ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, no imminent victory, in sharp contrast to General Westmoreland’s November, 1967 assurance. And a reassessment of American strategy was forthcoming. The NLF, especially in the second and, more so, third phases in May and August 1968 did take heavy losses. There are also differences as to the goals of the offensive; some American historians see the political impact on American consciousness as an unintended consequence. A stated goal of the offensive was a general uprising and overthrow of the Saigon government; this did not happen. Again sources differ on how and if the NLF recovered from these losses. For the standard US view, see Don Oberdorfer, Tet!: The Turning Point in the Vietnam War.

There were also differences inside the Vietnam Workers’ Party in the North (DRV) between Le Duan (Lê Duẩn) and Ho Chi Minh (Hồ Chí Minh) and Vo Nguyen Giap (Võ Nguyên Giáp) with apparently both Ho and Giap in opposition to the offensive. This led to the sidelining of both Ho and Giap in favor of Le Duan’s faction. Le Duan succeeded Ho Chi Minh after Ho’s death in1969. See Lien Hang T. Nguyen Hanoi’s war: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam, ch. 3, pp. 87-109 for Daniel Berrigan travels to Hanoi with Howard Zinn during the Tet Offensive to “receive” three American airmen, the first American POWs released by the North Vietnamese since the U.S. bombing of that nation had begun.

January 31-March 2 In the Battle for Hue (Huế — former imperial capital and 3rd largest city) during Tet, 12,000 NVA (or PVAN or VPA) and NLF troops storm the lightly defended historical city. On the holiday morning of January 31, the gold-starred, blue-and-red National Liberation Front banner was flying atop the historic 120-foot-high Citadel flag tower. South Vietnamese troops and three U.S. Marine battalions counter-attack and engage in the heaviest fighting of the entire Tet Offensive. They retake the old imperial city, house-by-house, street-by-street, aided by American air and artillery strikes. By February 24, U.S. Marines occupy the Imperial Palace in the heart of the citadel. Estimates of up to 3,000 civilian deaths have been reported.

There is controversy over the extent and cause of these deaths. Western sources (including Oberdorfer, Gunther Lewy, and Douglas Pike in the 1970 report, “The Viet Cong Strategy of Terror) claim that 3,000 civilians were executed as part of a systematic plan. Others (including Marilyn Young and free-lance journalist Len Ackland) put the number at 300-400. NLF (National Liberation Front of South Vietnam) and DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam or North Vietnam) sources sometimes cite a loss of discipline among troops (rather than a systematic plan) or claim that other civilians were instrumental in the killings. In the June 24, 1974, issue of Indochina Chronicle titled “The 1968 ‘Hue Massacre,'” political scientist D. Gareth Porter called the massacre one of the “enduring myths of the Second Indochina War.” He asserted that Douglas Pike was working in collusion with the ARVN 10th Political Warfare Battalion to manufacture the story of the massacre at the direction of Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker. While acknowledging that some executions occurred, Porter contended that the killings were not part of any overall plan. Additionally, he claimed that Pike overestimated the number of those killed by the VC cadres and that “thousands” of civilians killed in Hue “were in fact victims of American air power and of the ground fighting that raged in the hamlets, rather than NLF [National Liberation Front] execution.” Moreover, Porter claimed that teams of Saigon government assassins fanned out across the city with their own list of targets, eliminating NLF sympathizers.

In any case, the narrative of the massacre became the basis for warnings of a massive bloodbath if the DRV and NLF triumphed throughout the country.

February The Gallup poll shows 35% approve of Johnson’s handling of the war; 50% disapprove; the rest, no opinion. [NYT, 2/14/68] In another poll that month, 23% of Americans defined themselves as “doves” and 61% “hawks.

The National Black Antiwar Antidraft Union (NBAWADU) is founded by Gwen Patton to protest the Vietnam War and the draft. They ally with two other predominantly Black social movement organizations: the Black Panther Party and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

February 1 In Saigon during Tet (Tết), a suspected NLF guerrilla is shot in the head by South Vietnam’s police chief Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan (Nguyễn Ngọc Loan), in full view of an NBC news cameraman and an Associated Press still photographer. The haunting AP photo taken by Eddie Adams appears on the front page of most American newspapers the next morning. Americans also observe the filmed execution on NBC TV.

February 2 President Johnson labels the Tet Offensive “a complete failure.”

February 7 Attributed to an unnamed U.S. officer by AP correspondent Peter Arnett in his writing about Ben Tre (Bến Tre) city on: ‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it’, a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the NLF.

February 15 Pvt. George Davis is court-martialed after refusing orders to Vietnam.

February 27 Influential CBS TV news anchorman Walter Cronkite, just returned from Saigon, in an unprecedented move, rises from his chair, points to a map of Vietnam and tells Americans during his CBS Evening News broadcast that he is certain “the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”

February 21 Olof Palme (then Swedish Minister of Education) participates in a protest in Stockholm against U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam together with the North Vietnamese Ambassador to the Soviet Union Nguyen Tho Chan (Nguyễn Thọ Chân). The protest was organized by the Swedish Committee for Vietnam and Palme and Nguyen were both invited as speakers. As a result of this, the U.S. recalls its Ambassador from Sweden and Palme is fiercely criticized by the opposition for his participation in the protest.

February 28 Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Wheeler, at the behest of Gen. Westmoreland, asks President Johnson for an additional 206,000 soldiers and mobilization of reserve units in the U.S.

March 1 – Clark Clifford, an old friend of the President, replaces McNamara as U.S. Secretary of Defense. For the next few days, Clifford conducts an intensive study of the entire situation in Vietnam, discovers there is no concept or overall plan anywhere in Washington for achieving victory in Vietnam, then reports to President Johnson that the United States should not escalate the war. “The time has come to decide where we go from here,” he tells Johnson.

March 2 48 U.S. Army soldiers are killed during an ambush at Tan Son Nhut (Tân Sơn Nhứt) airbase near Saigon.

March 8 Capt. Dale Noyd is sentenced to one year at hard labor and dismissed from the service for refusing to train pilots for service in Vietnam.

March 10 The New York Times breaks the news of Westmoreland’s 206,000-troop request. The Times story is denied by the White House. Secretary of State Dean Rusk is then called before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and grilled for two days on live TV about the troop request and the overall effectiveness of Johnson’s war strategy.

March 11-April 7 Operation Quyet Thang (Quyết Thắng—Operation Sure Thing) begins a 28-day offensive by 33 U.S. and South Vietnamese battalions in the Saigon region.

March 12 By a slim margin of 300 votes, President Johnson defeats anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire Democratic primary election, a sign that political support for Johnson is seriously eroding.

 Public opinion polls taken after the Tet (Tết) Offensive reveal Johnson’s overall approval rating has slipped to 36 percent, while approval of his Vietnam War policy slipped to 26 percent.

March 14 Senator Robert F. Kennedy offers President Johnson a confidential political proposition. Kennedy will agree to stay out of the presidential race if Johnson will renounce his earlier Vietnam strategy and appoint a committee, including Kennedy, to chart a new course in Vietnam. Johnson spurns the offer.

March 16 Hundreds of villagers in the hamlet of My Lai (Mỹ Lai or Sơn Mỹ) are massacred by members of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry U.S. Army, while participating in an airborne assault against suspected NLF encampments in Quang Ngai (Quảng Ngãi) Province. Upon entering My Lai and finding no NLF, the Americans begin killing every civilian in sight, interrupted only by helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson.

Thompson and his Hiller OH-23 Raven crew, Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn, stopped a number of killings by threatening and blocking officers and enlisted soldiers of Company C. Additionally, Thompson and his crew saved a number of Vietnamese civilians by personally escorting them away from advancing United States Army ground units and evacuating them by air. Thompson reported the atrocities by radio several times while at Sơn Mỹ. Despite these reports, nothing was done to stop the massacre. After evacuating a child to a Quảng Ngãi hospital, Thompson angrily reported to his superiors, in person at Task Force Barker headquarters, that a massacre was occurring at Sơn Mỹ. Immediately following Thompson’s report, Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Barker ordered all ground units in Sơn Mỹ to cease search and destroy operations in the village. In 1970, Thompson testified against those responsible for the My Lai Massacre. Twenty-six officers and enlisted soldiers, including William Calley and Ernest Medina, were charged with criminal offenses, but all were either acquitted or pardoned.

Thompson was condemned and ostracized by many individuals in the United States military and government, as well as the public, for his role in the investigations and trials concerning the Mỹ Lai Massacre. As a direct result of what he experienced, Thompson suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, divorce, and severe nightmare disorder. He remained in the United States Army until November 1st, 1983. In 1998, 30 years after the massacre, Thompson and the two other members of his crew, Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn, were awarded the Soldier’s Medal (Andreotta posthumously), the United States Army’s highest award for bravery not involving direct contact with the enemy. Thompson and Colburn also returned to Sơn Mỹ in 1998, to meet with survivors of the massacre. In 1999, Thompson and Colburn received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award. Thompson’s role is recounted in Trent Angers’ The Forgotten Hero of My Lai: The Hugh Thompson Story.

Another massacre took place in the nearby hamlet of My Khe (4) where 97 people were reported killed by Bravo Company. Eventually the story of My Lai was brought to light (see chronology entries for March and September 5, 1969 and March 31 and November 12, 1970), but like most other massacres My Khe received little notice outside Vietnam.

Anti-war Senator Robert Kennedy enters the presidential race. Polls indicate Kennedy is now more popular than the President.   During his campaign, Kennedy addresses the issue of his participation in forming President John F. Kennedy’s Vietnam policy by stating, “past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation.”

March 17 A major rally outside the U.S. Embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square results in 86 people injured and over 200 arrested. Over 10,000 had rallied peacefully in Trafalgar Square but met a police barricade outside the embassy.

March 22 Announcement is made that General Westmoreland is being relieved of his command.

March 25-26 As pessimism over U.S. prospects in Vietnam deepens, President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with 14 informal advisers, known, collectively, as “The Wise Men.”   They met with LBJ after being briefed by officials at the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA. They had been informed of a request from Gen. William Westmoreland for additional troops in the wake of perceived U.S. setbacks in the Tet Offensive. They are given a blunt assessment of the situation in Vietnam, including the widespread corruption of the Saigon government and the unlikely prospect for military victory “under the present circumstances.” Present at the White House meeting are Dean Acheson, George Ball, McGeorge Bundy, Clark Clifford, Arthur Dean, Douglas Dillon, Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, Averell Harriman, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Robert Murphy, Cyrus Vance and Gens. Omar Bradley, Matthew Ridgway and Maxwell Taylor. In the words of Acheson, who summed up the recommendations from 11 of the men, “we can no longer do the job we set out to do in the time we have left, and we must begin to take steps to disengage.” Murphy, Taylor and Fortas dissent. That was a change from Johnson’s first series of such meetings, on Nov. 1-2, 1967. Then, the Wise Men had unanimously opposed leaving Vietnam. “Public discontent with the war is now wide and deep,” Bundy had said, but he told Johnson to “stay the course.”

March 28 The initial report by participants at My Lai (Mỹ Lai) states that 69 NLF soldiers were killed and makes no mention of civilian causalities.  The My Lai massacre is successfully concealed for a year, until a series of letters from Vietnam veteran Ronald Ridenhour spark an official Army investigation that results in Charlie Company Commander, Capt. Ernest L. Medina, First Platoon Leader, Lt. William Calley, and 14 others being brought to trial by the Army. News photos of the carnage, showing a mass of dead children, women and old men, remain one of the most enduring images of America’s involvement in Vietnam.

March 30 Leavenworth – Capt. Levy is placed in “disciplinary segregation” for violating mailing privileges. See entries for December 28, 1966, May 10-June 2, and June 2, 1967.

March 31 President Johnson surprisingly decides not to seek re-election. He also announces a partial bombing halt and urges Hanoi to begin peace talks. “We are prepared to move immediately toward peace through negotiations.” As a result, peace talks soon begin. The bombing halt only affects targets north of the 20th parallel, including Hanoi.

 

April 1 The U.S. 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) begins Operation Pegasus to reopen Route 9, the relief route to the besieged Marines at Khe Sanh.

April 3 Navy court-martials PO/3 Dennis Ciesielski for refusal of orders to Vietnam.

Beale AFB – Jeffrey Goldin is arrested for “not going through proper “chain of command” and any statements I make, without going through the “information office”, would result in additional charges carrying a punishment of 3 years for each statement made” after he had contacted his local newspaper to announce he was going on hunger strike to protest the war.

April 4 Martin Luther King, Jr., is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee exactly one year after his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

April 4-11 Uprisings in 125 US cities in response to King’s assassination; Army reserves are called-up.

April 5 Berlin Brigade is “locked down” to protect GIs from antiwar leafletters.

April 6 President Johnson orders 5,000 Federal troops to Chicago, at the request of Lieut. Governor Samuel H. Shapiro who told him they were needed to combat an “insurrection

April 8 The siege of Khe Sanh ends with the withdrawal of NVA (OR PVAN OR VPA) troops from the area as a result of intensive American bombing and the reopening of Route 9. The U.S. command then secretly shuts down the Khe Sanh air base and withdraws the Marines. Commenting on the heroism of U.S. troops that defended Khe Sanh, President Johnson states “…they vividly demonstrated to the enemy the utter futility of his attempts to win a military victory in the South.” A North Vietnamese official labels the closing of Khe Sanh air base as America’s “gravest defeat” so far.

April 9 Fort Ord – The Military announces they will court martial Pvt. Kenneth Stolte and PFC Daniel Amick for having passed out an anti-war leaflet to their fellow GIs. The charge is ” promoting disaffection among the troops and civilian populace,” and carries a possible penalty of three years imprisonment.

April 11 Defense Secretary Clifford announces that Gen. Westmoreland’s request for 206,000 additional soldiers will not be granted.

April 17 National media films the anti-war demonstration that breaks out in Berkeley, California. The brutal reaction by the police in Berkeley is shown in Berlin and Paris, sparking reactions in those cities.

April 18 PO/3 Dennis Ciesielski is sentenced to one year at hard labor and given a bad conduct discharge for refusing to board a Vietnam-bound ship.

April 19 Fort Sill – Pvt. Andy Stapp is given undesirable discharge. See entries for June 1, July 31 and December 25, 1967.

April 23 Beale AFB – Jeffrey Beale is given an “undesirable discharge” for statements he made to the press announcing his hunger strike in opposition to the Vietnam War. See http://www.sirnosir.com/timeline/popups/gi_movement/hunger_strike.html for his statement.

April 23-30 Student demonstrators at Columbia University in NYC protest Columbia’s institutional ties to the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a weapons research think-tank affiliated with the U.S. Department of Defense (as well as Columbia’s plan to construct a gymnasium in city-owned Morningside Park with limited access through a back-door for the Harlem community. The project becomes known as “Gym Crow”).   Despite tensions between Black and White student demonstrators, eventually 5 campus buildings are occupied. On April 30, the NYPD violently quashes the demonstrations, with tear gas, and storm both Hamilton Hall and the Low Library. Hamilton Hall is cleared peacefully. The other buildings are cleared violently as approximately 132 students, 4 faculty members and 12 police officers are injured, while over 700 protesters are arrested. The protest attracts both considerable support and opposition both on campus and around the city. Eventually Columbia withdrew from IDA and plans for the gym were scuttled. At lest 30 of the protestors were eventually suspended. A follow-up series of actions from May 17-22 resulted in 177 more arrests and injuries to 51 students.

April 26 A million college and high school students boycott class to show opposition to the war.

April 27 An anti-war march in Chicago organized by Rennie Davis and others ends with police beating many of the marchers, a precursor to the police riots later that year at the Democratic Convention.

In New York, 200,000 students refuse to attend classes as a protest against the war.

April 30-May 3 The Battle of Dai Do or Dong ha (Đông Hà) occurs as a battalion of U.S. Marines nicknamed “the Magnificent Bastards” under the command of Lt. Col. William Weise engage an NVA (or PVAN or VPA) division along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The US defines this as a victory as an invasion from the north is prevented; the NVA claims a victory as their division is not dislodged.

May 1    Air force sentences George B. Edwards to a year at hard labor and a dishonorable discharge for refusal of orders to Vietnam.

May 5 The NLF launches “Mini Tet,” a series of rocket and mortar attacks against Saigon and 119 cities and military installations throughout South Vietnam. The U.S. responds with air strikes using napalm and high explosives.

May 10 Peace talks between US and the DRV open in Paris. The DRV wants a halt to all American bombing missions over their country and the participation of the NLF in a coalition government in the South, while the Americans insist on a de-escalation of NLF activities in South Vietnam as well as the withdrawal of NVA (or PVAN or VPA) troops from the South. This marks the beginning of five years of on-again off-again official talks between the U.S. and North Vietnam in Paris.

 An NVA battalion attacks the Special Forces camp at Kham Duc along the border of Laos. The isolated camp had been established in 1963 to monitor North Vietnamese infiltration. Now encircled by the NVA, the decision is made to evacuate via C-130 transport planes.

May 17 The Cantonsville Nine, Catholic activists, enter the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, take 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured home-made napalm over them, and set them on fire. The Nine are: Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, Philip Berrigan, a former Josephite priest, Br. David Darst, a De La Salle Christian Brother, John HoganTom Lewis, an artist, Marjorie Bradford Melville, Thomas Melville, a former Maryknoll priest, George Mische, and Mary Moylan.

May 22 Fort Ord – Ken Stolte and Dan Amick are convicted after a 3-day general court martial. The charges against them are “attempting to conspire” to commit an offense and engaging in acts prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the Army, including uttering disloyal statements with intent to arouse disloyalty and disaffection among the troops and civilian populace. They are sentenced to four years at hard labor and given dishonorable discharges.

June 4 Robert Kennedy wins the Democratic primary in California, with 88 percent of the votes going to him and rival anti-war candidate McCarthy. That night Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles.

June 6 Navy court martial, hearing case of Fred Patrick, rules that conscientious objection to war is a valid defense against charge of being AWOL.

June 14 A Federal District Court jury in Boston convicts Dr. Benjamin Spock (the famous obstetrician and author of numerous influential parent guides) and three others, including Yale University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr., of conspiring to aid, abet, and counsel draft registrants to violate the Selective Service Act.  The conviction was overturned in 1969.  Spock also authored Dr. Spock on Vietnam with Mitchell Zimmeman.

 

July 1 General Westmoreland is replaced as U.S. commander in Vietnam by General Creighton W. Abrams.

The Phoenix program (preparations for which had begun in1967) is established to crush the secret NLF infrastructure (VCI) in South Vietnam. The VCI is estimated at up to 70,000 guerrillas. The Phoenix program, which is controlled through CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support) under the direction of Robert Komer, generates huge controversy in America concerning numerous alleged assassinations of suspected NLF operatives by South Vietnamese trained by the U.S. The controversy eventually results in Congressional hearings. Testifying in 1971 before Congress, Komer’s successor William E. Colby states, “The Phoenix program was not a program of assassination. The Phoenix program was a part of the overall pacification program.” Colby claims that 20,587 NLF had been killed “mostly in combat situations…by regular or paramilitary forces.” According to US sources, between 1968 and 1972, 81,740 VCI members were neutralized. Of those, 22,013 defected, 33,358 were captured and detained and 26,369 were killed.

After war North Vietnamese foreign minister Nguyen Co Thach (Nguyễn Cơ Thạch) said the CIA’s assassination program slaughtered far more than the 21,000 officially listed by the U.S. In some parts of the south 95% of NLF cadre were assassinated or compromised by Phoenix (Manning, R., (ed.), (1988), War in the Shadows: the Vietnam Experience, 72).

In July, 1969 a State Department publication states that a target of elimination of 1,800 VCI per month had been set (Frazier, H. (ed.)(1978), Uncloaking the CIA, 97). According to a Defense Department official, 26,369 South Vietnamese civilians were killed under Phoenix (January, 1968 thru August, 1972 ). Another 33,358 were detained without trial. All Phoenix statistics fail to reflect U.S. activity after “official” U.S. Control of operations was abandoned (Counterspy magazine spring/summer 75 8). In 1975, Counterspy magazine described Phoenix Program as “the most indiscriminate and massive program of political murder since the Nazi death camps of World War Two” (Counterspy spring/summer 75 6).

There are also reports that a team of CIA psychologists set up shop at Bien Hoa (Biên Hòa) Prison outside Saigon, where NLF suspects are being held after Phoenix Program round-ups. The psychologists perform a variety of experiments on the prisoners. In one, three prisoners are anaesthetized; their skulls opened and electrodes implanted by CIA doctors into different parts of their brains. The prisoners were revived, placed in a room with knives and the electrodes in the brains activated by the psychiatrists, who were covertly observing them. The hope was that they could be prompted in this manner to attack each other. The experiments failed. The electrodes were removed, the patients were shot and their bodies burned (http://uncensoredhistory.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-phoenix-program-eliminating-vietcong.html).

Methods of alleged torture are said to have been used at the interrogation centers include: Rape, gang rape, rape using eels, snakes, or hard objects, and rape followed by murder; electric shock (‘the Bell Telephone Hour’) rendered by attaching wires to the genitals or other sensitive parts of the body, like the tongue; the ‘water treatment’; the ‘airplane’ in which the prisoner’s arms were tied behind the back, and the rope looped over a hook on the ceiling, suspending the prisoner in midair, after which he or she was beaten; beatings with rubber hoses and whips; the use of police dogs to maul prisoners ((Blakely, Ruth (2009). State terrorism and neoliberalism: the North in the South. Taylor & Francis, p. 50. ISBN 978-0-415-46240-2.)

Military intelligence officer K. Milton Osborne purports to have witnessed the following use of torture: The use of the insertion of the 6-inch dowel into the canal of one of my detainee’s ears, and the tapping through the brain until dead. The starvation to death (in a cage), of a Vietnamese woman who was suspected of being part of the local political education cadre in one of the local villages … The use of electronic gear such as sealed telephones attached to … both the women’s vaginas and men’s testicles [to] shock them into submission ((Allen, Joe & Pilger, John (2008). Vietnam: the (last) war the U.S. lost. Haymarket Books. P. 164. ISBN 978-1-931859-49-3).

The alleged torture was supposedly carried out by South Vietnamese forces with the CIA and Special Forces playing a supervisory role (Harbury, Jennifer (2005). Truth, torture, and the American way: the history and consequences of U.S. involvement in torture. Beacon Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-8070-0307-7).

July 5 US Marines, proclaiming a major victory, withdraw under fire from the besieged base of Khe Sanh.

August 5-8 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach nominates Richard Nixon, who pledges that he will end the Vietnam War as soon as he takes office. A line of tanks has sealed off Miami Beach from demonstrations taking place in Miami.

August 23 Killeen – 5 Oleo Strut coffee house staff members are charged with possession of illegal drugs.

August 23-24 Over a. hundred Black GIs at Fort Hood, Tex., gather at a main intersection of the Fort to protest being sent on the so-called “riot control” duty to Chicago where the Democratic convention was being held.

After an all-night assembly of protest (during which the general of the division (1st Armored) comes out to plead with them to disperse) 43 were arrested.

August 24 Fort Dix – Allen Myers charged with violating Fort Dix regulation prohibiting the distribution of any written material, which “is in bad taste, prejudicial to good order and discipline in the command, subversive or otherwise contrary to the best interests of this command.”

August 26-29 Democratic National Convention in Chicago nominates Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, although he has won only 2.2 percent of the delegates in the state primaries, which were swept by McCarthy and Kennedy. Outside, police battle anti-war demonstrators who march and demonstrate throughout the city. Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley brought to bear 23,000 police and National Guardsman upon 10,000 protestors. Tensions between police and protesters quickly escalate, resulting in a “police riot.” The brutal crackdown is covered live on network TV. 800 demonstrators are injured.

Eight leading antiwar activists (Rennie Davis, Dave Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Lee Weiner, and Black panther Bobby Seale) are charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges. After a trial (beginning in 1969) resulting in both acquittals and convictions, followed by appeals, reversals, and retrials, there were some final convictions of the other seven, but none of them were ultimately sentenced to jail or fines. Seale was eventually sentenced to four years in prison for contempt of court.

The United States is now experiencing a level of social unrest unseen since the American Civil War era, a hundred years earlier. There have been 221 student protests at 101 colleges and universities thus far in 1968.

An August Gallup poll shows 53% said it was a mistake to send troops to Vietnam, but polls also show that a majority of Americans support Chicago Mayor Daley’s tactics. Nonetheless, many antiwar activists celebrate the convention actions as a victory.

September Vietnam GI reports that the stockade at Fort Leonard Wood is so overcrowded that there’s a waiting list! Same story as elsewhere — GIs are going AWOL in ever-increasing numbers. There are 135 men awaiting trial who live in regular barracks, pulling soft duty — and they’re even getting passes.

September 21 Fort Hood – five of the Ft Hood 43 found guilty of failure to report for reveille. Four [Pfc. Reginald Thompson, Pvt. Donald Bias, Spec/5 Rudolph Bell, Pfc. Charles Arline] were sentenced to six months confinement, forfeiture of $63 a month and reduction to the lowest rank. One [Pvt. Steve Suswell] was sentenced to three months confinement, forfeiture of $63 a month for six months and reduction to the lowest rank. c

September 28 Two of the Fort hood 43 [Plc. Dwayne Wilcoxson, Sgt. Thomas Dominick] are found guilty of breaking restriction and sentenced to one month at hard labor, forfeiture of two thirds of their pay and reduction in rank; not guilty of failure to obey the order of a superior officer; one [Pvt. Carl Bynum] is found guilty of failure to obey an order and sentenced to six months at hard labor, forfeiture of two thirds of their pay for six months and reduction in rank; one [Specialist Alfred Delone] was found not guilty and one [Plc. Leroy Beauchamp] does not appear for his court martial and is listed as AWOL. See previous entry and entry for August 23-34.

September 30 The 900th U.S. aircraft is shot down over North Vietnam.

October Operation Sealord begins the largest combined naval operation of the entire war as over 1200 U.S. Navy and South Vietnamese Navy gunboats and warships target NVA (OR PVAN OR VPA) supply lines extending from Cambodia into the Mekong Delta.

Tacoma’s Shelter Half coffeehouse, the fifth such coffeehouse in the nation, is set up. A shelter half is a 3-by-5-foot piece of sticky canvas, issued to every soldier in the field: one shelter half is useless, but when two are joined together, it creates a comfortable two-person tent. Tacoma’s coffeehouse was conceived to serve the same purpose, of getting people together to construct something useful. The civilian and veteran staff of the coffeehouse worked with active-duty soldiers to produce the next two newspapers to come from Fort Lewis, and in addition, provided movie showings, cheap dinners, and a place where soldiers who were not yet part of the active GI movement could become involved.

Supreme Court Justice Douglas gives Lt. Hugh Smith a stay against the transfer order because of the “serious First Amendment question involved in the transfer”. The stay was granted two hours before Smith was to have left for Seattle on route to Taiwan.

The GI Civil Liberties Defense Committee issues an appeal for telegrams of support on behalf of antiwar GI’s Pfc. Walter Kos (Fort Bragg, NC), and Pfc. Edwin Glover (Fort Benning, Georgia).

Larry Freidberg threatened with “general discharge” for signing petition calling for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam published in The New York Times.

October 1 Fort Dix – Spec/4 Allen Myers is acquitted of charges that he had distributed leaflets and other printed matter that was “in bad taste,” “prejudicial to good order,” or “subversive.”

October 5-9 The Catonsville Nine are tried in federal court. The lead defense attorney William Kunstler. They are found guilty of destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967. They are also sentenced to a total of 18 years’ jail time and a fine of $22,000. Several of the nine—Mary Moylan, Phil Berrigan, Dan Berrigan and George Mische—go “underground” when it comes time to show up for prison. Father Dan Berrigan causes considerable embarrassment to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover by popping up and giving sermons and then fading back into the “underground”.

October 14 The Presidio mutiny: a sit-down protest is carried out by 27 prisoners at the Presidio stockade in San Francisco, California. The stiff sentences given out at courts martial for the participants (known as the Presidio 27) attract attention to the extent of sentiment against the Vietnam War in the armed forces. Two events set the stage for the protest. The first was the death of Richard Bunch, a prisoner in the stockade, who was killed on October 11 with a shotgun blast after walking away from a work detail. Other prisoners state that he taunted guards to shoot him. That evening there is a vocal protest against the killing. The stockade is overcrowded, with up to 140 prisoners housed in a space intended for 88, and there are charges of mistreatment by guards.

October 1 Fort Dix – Spec/4 Allen Myers is acquitted of charges that he had distributed leaflets and other printed matter that was “in bad taste,” “prejudicial to good order,” or “subversive.”

October 5-9 The Catonsville Nine are tried in federal court. The lead defense attorney William Kunstler. They are found guilty of destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967. They are also sentenced to a total of 18 years’ jail time and a fine of $22,000. Several of the nine—Mary Moylan, Phil Berrigan, Dan Berrigan and George Mische—go “underground” when it comes time to show up for prison. Father Dan Berrigan causes considerable embarrassment to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover by popping up and giving sermons and then fading back into the “underground”.

October 14 The Presidio mutiny: a sit-down protest is carried out by 27 prisoners at the Presidio stockade in San Francisco, California. The stiff sentences given out at courts martial for the participants (known as the Presidio 27) attract attention to the extent of sentiment against the Vietnam War in the armed forces. Two events set the stage for the protest. The first was the death of Richard Bunch, a prisoner in the stockade, who was killed on October 11 with a shotgun blast after walking away from a work detail. Other prisoners state that he taunted guards to shoot him. That evening there is a vocal protest against the killing. The stockade is overcrowded, with up to 140 prisoners housed in a space intended for 88, and there are charges of mistreatment by guards.

October 14 The Presidio mutiny: a sit-down protest is carried out by 27 prisoners at the Presidio stockade in San Francisco, California. The stiff sentences given out at courts martial for the participants (known as the Presidio 27) attract attention to the extent of sentiment against the Vietnam War in the armed forces. Two events set the stage for the protest. The first was the death of Richard Bunch, a prisoner in the stockade, who was killed on October 11 with a shotgun blast after walking away from a work detail. Other prisoners state that he taunted guards to shoot him. That evening there is a vocal protest against the killing. The stockade is overcrowded, with up to 140 prisoners housed in a space intended for 88, and there are charges of mistreatment by guards.

October 27 In London, 50,000 protest the war.

October 31 Operation Rolling Thunder ends as President Johnson announces a complete halt of U.S. bombing of North Vietnam in the hope of restarting the peace talks.

Throughout the three and a half year bombing campaign, the U.S. dropped a million tons of bombs on North Vietnam, the equivalent of 800 tons per day, with little actual success in halting the flow of soldiers and supplies into the South or in damaging North Vietnamese morale. In fact, the opposite has occurred as the North Vietnamese patriotically rallied around their leaders as a result of the onslaught. By now, many towns south of Hanoi have been leveled with a U.S. estimate of 52,000 civilian deaths.

During Rolling Thunder, North Vietnam’s sophisticated, Soviet-supplied air defense system manage to shoot down 922 U.S. aircraft during 2380 sorties flown by B-52 bombers and over 300,000 sorties by U.S. Navy and Air Force fighter-bombers.

 

November William E. Colby replaces Robert Komer as head of CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support) – the group responsible for the Phoenix Program (see July 1 entry).

November 5 Richard Nixon narrowly defeats Hubert Humphrey for the US Presidency.

November 27 President-elect Nixon brings on Harvard professor Henry Kissinger as his National Security Advisor.

 

December Fort Dix – Brass post a regulation prohibiting distribution of any literature at Fort Dix “without the prior approval of the Adjutant General”.

 

By year’s end, U.S. troop levels reach 495,000 with 30,000 American deaths to date. In 1968, over a thousand per month were killed. Although the U.S. conducted 200 air strikes each day against the “Ho Chi Minh” trail in late 1968, up to 10,000 NVA (or PVAN or VPA) supply trucks are en route at any given time.

Ramsey Clark’s Justice Department is prosecuting 1,500 draft refusal cases.

One Response to 1968

  1. Doug Rawlings says:

    Wonderfully comprehensive and insightful at the same time. Any student studying this war should begin her or his research with this timeline. Thank you!!!

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