The Vietnam War Remnants Museum

October 21st, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The War Remnants Museum in Saigon ranges from the interesting to the horrific. It is hard not to be affected by the photos of those deformed by Agent Orange.

They say that winners in war get to write the history books, and that is true here.  The museum naturally highlights the excesses of the South forces and the US and French, while not mentioning the 720,000 South Vietnamese civilians who were killed, including at least 100,000 executions.

However let’s not pretend there were not atrocities on all sides. Unlike WWII where there was pretty well defined good and evil, Vietnam was not treated well by its French colonial masters, and both the US and South Vietnam bear some responsibility for reneging on the 1954 Geneva Conference accord to have a national referendum in 1956. To be fair to them, they had never accepted the referendum, but that was the basis on which there was a truce.

Vietnam seems to have been a choice between worse and worst when it comes to the leadership of both South and North Vietnam. Having said that when we look at South Korea, their leadership used to be pretty malignant also, but they have matured into a reasonable democracy  Vietnam remains a one party state – nominally communist – but in the China sense, rather than the USSR sense. The Government may be communist, but from what I have observed very few of the locals are.

The museum courtyard has a number of planes that were used by the US in the war.

You don’t realise how big those choppers were until you see one up close.

If you ever want to be convinced why chemical warfare is wrong, then tour the museum. There is a whole section showing the effects on not just those alive at the time, but future generations. It is heart-breaking.  War is sometimes a necessary evil, but chemicals should not play a part – whether targeted directly against humans, or on the crops.

A chart of combatants by country and year. Note New Zealand down the bottom.

As I said at the beginning, the museum is obviously slanted to reflect the views of the Vietnamese Government. However that doesn’t mean it isn’t a must see if you are in Saigon. If nothing else, a stark reminder of the brutality of war.

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25 Responses to “The Vietnam War Remnants Museum”

  1. metcalph (1,293 comments) says:

    The US and South Vietnam never agreed to have a national referendum. The 1954 Geneva Accord was made between the French and North Vietnam.

    https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/genevacc.htm

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  2. Dave Mann (1,127 comments) says:

    Thanks for the excellent piece on the museum, DPF. I was there last year and I agree with your brief summary and like the pics. I’ve said it before…. you really should start a travel blog!

    Try to go to the Mekong delta. It is a pretty good day or three day experience!

    I have to say that I didn’t find Vietnam worthwhile going to. I’ve traveled widely throughout the world and enjoy traveling, but Vietnam is one of the few places that I generally regret having wasted my time and money on as the people seem to have only one aim which is to rip off foreigners every way they can.

    That having been said, everybody is different and your experience might well be completely at odds with mine. Bon voyage :)

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  3. Redbaiter (6,478 comments) says:

    Thanks for the great pics Mr. Farrar, but really the rest of this post has a few comments that demonstrate an amazing submission to left wing propaganda-

    “Example 1-

    “not mentioning the 720,000 South Vietnamese civilians who were killed, including at least 100,000 executions.

    However let’s not pretend there were not atrocities on all sides.

    Morally equivalency in all its glory. Y’know, those commies weren’t so bad really, and wouldn’t have executed all of those civilians if only the bad bad west hadn’t forced them to do it.

    Example 2-

    “If you ever want to be convinced why chemical warfare is wrong”

    It wasn’t chemical warfare in the sense that term is reasonably and usually applied. You say yourself it was used on “crops”, but its purpose was to defoliate jungle where communists were hiding. Side effects were unknown at the time.

    The US and its free world allies did not use Agent Orange the way (for example) Saddam Hussein used mustard gas.

    I hope you’re not going to come back from this trip waving a red flag and singing “the Internationale”.

    [DPF: I don't think the two sides were morally equivalent. But I don't think the South Vietnam Government was particularly benevolent.

    And as I said the Agent Orange was yes intended for crops, but nevertheless the effects were devastating, and horrific]

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  4. kowtow (6,705 comments) says:

    WWII pretty well defined good v evil. Agreed. However dismembering Germany (Prussia) and gifting it to Poland and the Soviet Union,together with the millions of displaced,starved and frozen to death,and outright murdered by the communists in the East and throughout their new central European empire,gained in 1945 would arguably amount to war crimes. Almost enough to rival that of the Nazis.

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  5. Will de Cleene (485 comments) says:

    Be sure to visit all the landmines left in the land to this day.

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  6. Rightandleft (574 comments) says:

    That was one of the most interesting and shocking museums I’ve visited. I was surprised to see they had a whole section on their improved relationship with the US since, showing off photos of visits by Robert McNamara and other US dignitaries. There was also a section on protests against the war from around the world.

    The North certainly committed numerous atrocities and their policies in the late 70s crippled the country and caused starvation and emigration but the South was barely any better. Even with massive US financial aid Ngo Dinh Diem presided over a country with near 50% unemployment, a prison camp system with 150,000 political and religious prisoners, and a crack-down on religious groups condemned around the world. The US was using the South Korean model in supporting an oppressive dictator to avoid a communist dictator taking over. In Korea this worked and in the 80s South Korea became democratic and capitalist. The difference seems to have been that South Korea never had a large-scale popular resistance group like the NLF (Viet Cong) to contend with, only the conventional forces of the North. The US has proved again and again that its conventional forces are not adept at rooting out an irregular insurgent force that cannot be defeated in battles.

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  7. metcalph (1,293 comments) says:

    Ngo Dinh Diem

    Who was dead before the war started. If you are going to bag South Vietnam, try attacking someone who was actually in power during the war. Otherwise it’s like using the Hinderburg adminstration to criticize German conduct during the second world war.

    The US was using the South Korean model in supporting an oppressive dictator to avoid a communist dictator taking over.

    Wrong. The US tacitly approved of Diem’s ouster in a coup. As for the South Korean model, President Park only became President of South Korea in a coup the previous year but the Kennedy Adminstration was gravely concerned. Why? Because Park had been a communist and sentenced to death for that during the Korean War. The previous South Korean strongman was Syngman Rhee who wasn’t very effective in keeping out the Communists.

    The difference seems to have been that South Korea never had a large-scale popular resistance group like the NLF (Viet Cong) to contend with, only the conventional forces of the North. The US has proved again and again that its conventional forces are not adept at rooting out an irregular insurgent force that cannot be defeated in battles.

    Wrong again. The Viet Cong was annihilated in stupid attacks during the Tet Offensive to such an extent that it ceased to exist. The North Vietnamese were convinced they had lost the war as a result. Afterwards the main opponents were the regular North Vietnamese troops, rather than an irregular insurgent force. After Vietnam was united, virtually all the political leadership was from the north because they couldn’t find anybody in the south to help out and not for the want of trying.

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  8. Redbaiter (6,478 comments) says:

    Well said Mr. Metcalph.

    Its a tiresome and endless job counteracting the propaganda of the left, especially when so many claiming to be “balanced” buy into it.

    (I still have your counter arguments to the “America bombs more nations” smears of the left that I saved into my data base all those years ago, from usenet.)

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  9. questions (132 comments) says:

    Redbaiter Says:
    ” Side effects were unknown at the time.”

    Yes they were.

    Redbaiter Says:
    “The US and its free world allies did not use Agent Orange the way (for example) Saddam Hussein used mustard gas.”

    Yes they did.

    But you can keep pretending to yourself if you like…

    You are the most dishonest piece of shit in existence Russel, you’re a lying piece of scum, you should shut your trap before you are embarrassed any further. You can’t help but constantly tell lies.

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  10. Andrei (2,430 comments) says:

    Agent Orange – what a load of hooey.

    Agent Orange is a combination of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D both of which were extensively used and manufactured in NZ for years without the “birth defects” the propagandists claim. 2,4-D is still used.

    This agent orange BS was born as a North Vietnamese propaganda effort in the early sixties, picked up and swallowed hook line and sinker by the American press and sold to the gullable as fact.

    2 million babies as are born every year in Vietnam and in that number there are a few with birth defects suitable for photographing and claiming that this is the result of agent orange.

    Because the modern western thought processes are so defective in these enlightened times we buy into it despite the over whelming evidence to the contrary, which if presented is suppressed.

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  11. Reid (15,531 comments) says:

    If you ever want to be convinced why chemical warfare is wrong, then tour the museum. There is a whole section showing the effects on not just those alive at the time, but future generations. It is heart-breaking.

    So is this: DU in Iraq. But hey. When the US does it, that makes it OK, doesn’t it. Of course it does. After all, just because they had this evidence back in 1996, that doesn’t mean the US knew about it when they used it all over Iraq 2002-on, does it. No, they didn’t know about that, at all.

    http://www.aztlan.net/du_deformed_iraqi_babies.htm

    http://pubrecord.org/world/5811/depleted-uranium-babies-afghanistan/

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/depleted-uranium-contamination-a-crime-against-humanity/29974

    But as usual, nothing will be acknowledged until the US veterans start dying of it and having deformed babies because hey, they’re real human beings aren’t they, not like those fucking ragheads who probably did it to their own children on purpose, just so that could make the good ole US of A look bad.

    Mental isn’t it. Yet I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you even today, would still take the Pentagon’s word that DU is safe as safe.

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  12. metcalph (1,293 comments) says:

    So is this: DU in Iraq

    Which is largely bullshit. DU is simply not radioactive enough to cause birth deformities. If DU was causing health problems in Iraq, the first sign would be kidney disease which surprisingly wasn’t being reported by Saddam’s regime in an attempt to get the sanctions overthrown.

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  13. Reid (15,531 comments) says:

    See? I told you.

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  14. BlairM (2,266 comments) says:

    The immorality of allowing communism to expand should be obvious. It is a disgusting system of control and oppression. Simply because communist Vietnam has now embraced capitalism does not delegitimise the goals of the Vietnam war. It is also pertinent to note the difference between the war under Johnson (incompetent and losing), versus the war under Nixon (winning, kicking arse, bringing the Vietcong and NVA to their knees and to the negotiating table).

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  15. Komata (971 comments) says:

    As mc has pointed out, militarily the US was winning the war, What lost it was the actions of the ‘ free’ media back home which for its own political reasons portrayed the war as an evil venture and allowed left wing liberals of many stripes and occupations to make comments on affairs about which they knew little and cared-less (a certain ‘ Hanoi Jane’ comes to mind in this regard), but which served to bring the ‘celebrities’ making them to public notice for their own self-serving purposes. it was that which lost the allies the war, not military action. BTW, certain members of the NZ establishment have a lot to answer for in this regard – no names, but those with long memories know whom I mean

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  16. kowtow (6,705 comments) says:

    Didn’t a Democrat controlled Congress also have a lot to do with the sudden collapse of the South?
    They,the Democrats , said “fuck ‘em no more money” and left a former ally ,still fighting , to the hands of the communists.

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  17. Grizz (476 comments) says:

    I visited this museum last year. While very informative, it was profoundly biased in its presentation. It is so true that the victors have given themselves a license to rewrite history and be economical with the truth. In hindsight, there was a lot wrong with the war and atrocities were committed by both sides.

    The US strategy ultimately became the bodycount. The Viet Cong/ North Vietnamese were quite happy to lose 4 or 5 times more soldiers to the cause, but for the USA this was not sustainable. Most disappointing with the museum was the lack of tribute given to the Millions of soldiers who fought for the South Vietnamese army. The Government acts as if their involvement should be ignored and forgotten. I was fortunate to have a tour guide who fought for the South Vietnamese army. He was not just a conscript forced to fight, but he really hated the communists and all they stood for and felt it was his duty to fight against it. When I brought up the unbalanced presentation of the museum, he agreed but concurred that the North won the war and could present the war as they saw fit.

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  18. simonway (356 comments) says:

    Ngo Dinh Diem

    Who was dead before the war started.

    He died in 1963… several years after the war started.

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  19. tom hunter (4,004 comments) says:

    He died in 1963… several years after the war started.

    From the POV of the Vietnamese that’s technically correct, but in 1963 the USA had mainly military advisors in place, with small-scale actions all over the South involving the Viet Cong, with equally small-scale support from the North. The “Vietnam War” as it’s thought of nowadays began in 1965 when the US escalated with large numbers of troops.

    If you did want to be that pedantic about it you could argue that war was ongoing even after the French withdrawal in 1954, with violence rising and falling several times up to the early 1960′s.

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  20. Rightandleft (574 comments) says:

    Metcalph,

    Diem was not dead before the war began, he was in large part the cause of the Second Indo-China War (which we generally know as the Vietnam War, forgetting about the first war there between the Viet Minh and the French 1946-54). Viet Cong attacks on Diem’s state were gathering stength in 1957 and 1958. By 1959 there were US military observers and advisors helping his forces, which were also funded by the US. In 1960 the NLF (National Liberation Front) officially formed to fight Diem. They were not all Communists either, but a coalition of 21 anti-Diem groups, some Red some not. They tripled their numbers between 1961 and 1963. Diem had already had to create his fortified hamlets strategy, placing villages behind barbed wire and guarding them to stop them from supporting the NLF. After the US built air bases in the South in 1964 to conduct Operation Rolling Thunder NLF attacks on US bases were the rationale for introducing US and Allied troops to the country in 1965. Yes Diem was dead by then, but the war began under his watch, well before Western powers committed troops.

    Secondly I was not speaking of the Park regime in the South Korea but the Syngman Rhee government which the US supported. Rhee was also a harsh authoritarian dictator who imprisoned his political enemies and was eventually driven into exile by popular protests. Rhee had been in power since 1945 and has US backing during and after the Korean War.

    Yes the Viet Cong was destroyed by the Tet Offensive but they succeeded in breaking US morale and popular support at home. LBJ soon announced he would not run for re-election, Cronkite declared the war a stalemate and Nixon promised to get the US out with honour, not to continue the escalation. General Westmoreland was replaced with Abrams and US troop numbers decreased whilst the new policy became Vietnamisation of the fighting forces.

    Nixon did run a very successful campaign and essentially won the war before Kissinger, Ford and the US Congress lost it. The lost of public support for the war meant that without Nixon around to keep up the funding Congress and the new Ford Administration allowed funding for the South to be cut. This was the other key difference from Korea. US troops remain in Korea to this day and funding for the South’s forces was ongoing. In Vietnam Kissinger, pursuing his new policy of detente, allowed Congress to cut funding without a fight and thus the South was doomed to fall.

    Nevertheless without the Viet Cong’s suicide Tet Offensive the US public may not have lost their support for the war and Congress wouldn’t have felt pressured to cut off funding. It wasn’t just the success or failure of the offensive that destroyed morale it was the realisation that such broad sections of the South Vietnamese supported the Viet Cong and the US really couldn’t tell who they were fighting for anymore.

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  21. Rightandleft (574 comments) says:

    Kowtow,

    The Democrats started the Vietnam War (well the US intervention in it) and pursued the policy of heavy bombing and increased troop numbers. It was the policy of the establishment branch of the Republican Party (the so-called Rockefeller Republicans) under the direction of Henry Kissinger who decided to allow South Vietnam to fall by cutting funding. Their position was that Containment was not the only answer and the US could reach an accomodation with the Communists. If the US withdrew support for some of their pillars of containment the Soviets would do the same. It turned out they were very wrong and it took Reagan coming to office to reverse that course.

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  22. Rightandleft (574 comments) says:

    Andrei,

    It isn’t just the Vietnamese who say Agent Orange, or rather the dioxin in it, was a damaging chemical millions were exposed to. The US, Aussie and NZ soldiers exposed to it have successfully won a large settlement from a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the stuff, Dow Chemical and others. On a more personal level I have two connections to Agent Orange and its effects. My cousin served in Vietnam in the US Army and was part of the operation spreading Agent Orange, Operation Ranch Hand. He has suffered health effects for the rest of his life and I’ve seen these with my own eyes. Secondly, when I was a kid they had to build a large incinerator in my town to burn off waste from the ‘inseciticide’ plant a mile from my home. We soon learned the plant had actually manufactured dioxin and it was in the ground-water now. There were massively increased rates of birth defects in the neighbourhood near the plant, all using well water. When they started burning the stuff off they sent out people to test the kids in my suburb every month to see that we weren’t being exposed. I still remember the lady coming and taking hair and nail clippings from me. Dioxin is serious stuff.

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  23. metcalph (1,293 comments) says:

    Diem was not dead before the war began

    Given that the museum was about the Vietnam war which has a fairly specific meaning, he was dead before the war began whether you like it or not.

    he was in large part the cause of the Second Indo-China War (which we generally know as the Vietnam War, forgetting about the first war there between the Viet Minh and the French 1946-54)

    Spare me your attempts at erudition which is largely wrong anyway. You are responding to the person who provided a link to the 1954 Geneva Accords and you seriously expect me to be ignorant of the French war in Vietnam? Considering that he was dead before the war began and overthrown by his very own people, how can you legitimately claim that he was largely the cause of the war? The policies that had caused his overthrow and murder were being reversed.

    Viet Cong attacks on Diem’s state were gathering stength in 1957 and 1958.

    Protests by Buddhists angry at being kicked off their land are evidence of Viet Cong activity? I don’t think so. The first supply via the Ho Chi Minh trail took place in May 1959 and consisted of a few dozen rifles. That’s not very impressive.

    By 1959 there were US military observers and advisors helping his forces, which were also funded by the US.

    So? They would have been there even if there was no Viet Cong activity because the North Vietnamese still posed a threat to South Vietnam.

    In 1960 the NLF (National Liberation Front) officially formed to fight Diem. They were not all Communists either, but a coalition of 21 anti-Diem groups, some Red some not.

    In other words, following typical communist tactics, the Viet Cong created some front groups that pretended to be non-communist in order to suck people in.

    They tripled their numbers between 1961 and 1963.

    Helped largely by an influx of 40,000 soldiers from North Vietnam in violation of the 1954 Geneva Accord

    Diem had already had to create his fortified hamlets strategy, placing villages behind barbed wire and guarding them to stop them from supporting the NLF. After the US built air bases in the South in 1964 to conduct Operation Rolling Thunder NLF attacks on US bases were the rationale for introducing US and Allied troops to the country in 1965. Yes Diem was dead by then, but the war began under his watch, well before Western powers committed troops.

    Amazing. You blur together distinct events and lie about them so you can pretend it was all Diem’s fault. The barbed wire was not to place them under prison conditions but to provide defences against NFL infiltration. The peasants were even supposed to be armed so they could defend themselves. The program was abandoned in 1963 as a result of Diem’s death and major concerns about its effectiveness. So a major cause of the war according to you was gone by the time the war started in 1965.

    Secondly I was not speaking of the Park regime in the South Korea but the Syngman Rhee government which the US supported. Rhee was also a harsh authoritarian dictator who imprisoned his political enemies and was eventually driven into exile by popular protests. Rhee had been in power since 1945 and has US backing during and after the Korean War.

    Rhee was also elected. Funny how you never get around to mentioning that. And the chief problem for Rhee being the model for Diem was that he was an abject failure in keeping the communists out of the country. You do remember the Korean War, no? If the Rhee model didn’t work for South Korea and required an UN army to restore his authority, then why on earth do you think the yanks believed that it was a feasible model to use for South Vietnam.

    Yes the Viet Cong was destroyed by the Tet Offensive but they succeeded in breaking US morale and popular support at home.

    In other words, you were bullshitting when you claimed that “The US has proved again and again that its conventional forces are not adept at rooting out an irregular insurgent force that cannot be defeated in battles”. They succeeded in Vietnam and they succeeded in Iraq (and made the British look fucking stupid in the process).

    LBJ soon announced he would not run for re-election, Cronkite declared the war a stalemate and Nixon promised to get the US out with honour, not to continue the escalation. General Westmoreland was replaced with Abrams and US troop numbers decreased whilst the new policy became Vietnamisation of the fighting forces.

    At which time the so-called Viet Cong infiltration was largely activity by regular NVA forces.

    Nixon did run a very successful campaign and essentially won the war before Kissinger, Ford and the US Congress lost it.

    Nixon laid the seeds of the fall of South Vietnam by destroying popular trust in the office of the US presidency. Congress didn’t trust the Presidency no matter what Ford and Kissinger did.

    In Vietnam Kissinger, pursuing his new policy of detente, allowed Congress to cut funding without a fight and thus the South was doomed to fall.

    The south vietnamese could and had resisted North Vietnamese invasions twice before its fall. They did so with the help of US air power. But Congress passed a law forbidding the use of US airpower in the defence of South Vietnam

    Nevertheless without the Viet Cong’s suicide Tet Offensive the US public may not have lost their support for the war and Congress wouldn’t have felt pressured to cut off funding.

    Really? The Tet Offensive was 1968. The Case-Church Amendment, the first to cut funding, wasn’t passed until 1973. That’s an awfully long time for Congress to start feeling the pressure.

    It wasn’t just the success or failure of the offensive that destroyed morale it was the realisation that such broad sections of the South Vietnamese supported the Viet Cong and the US really couldn’t tell who they were fighting for anymore.

    There was no such realization because the Viet Cong was never that popular (otherwise it would have reconstituted itself after the Tet Offensivce which didn’t happen). There was a widespread illusion of popular support and inability to tell who they were fighting for but that’s not the same thing.

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  24. Rightandleft (574 comments) says:

    Rhee was “elected” in the same sense that Saddam Hussein was elected. He threw the opposition in jail and branded anyone opposed to him a Communist. Diem did the same thing, rigging the referendum to oust Bao Dai in 1955 and then using military power to crush all opposition. He got rid of the Cao Dai religious sect as well as Hoa Hao long before he took on the Buddhists. His main problem was he was a staunchly Catholic dictator in a mainly Buddhist nation. That and he let his family run the country and they were stunningly corrupt.

    The war didn’t start in 1965 just because that’s when the West got involved. The South Vietnamese were already involved in a civil war years before the Tonkin Gulf Incident. The war was already ongoing when Diem died. Even the US Vietnam War Memorial acknowledges this by beginning with deaths of US advisors in 1959. Diem also was not ousted by the people but by a military coup which then turned the country into the ‘revolving door republic’ as no stable government could rule it for two years. Diem’s terrible policies were not being fixed as the country remained divided, ruled by either a military junta or a dictator and crippled by corruption.

    My argument about the Tet Offensive is that it turned American public opinion and the media firmly against the war, laying the groundwork for both the draw-down of US forces which began almost immediately afterwards and the eventual cutting of funding once the troops were out. The Viet Cong failed to regain strength afterwards in large part to Nixon’s successful Phoenix Programme to destroy what was left of the VC. I actually think Nixon did a good job, isolated the battlefield by cutting off weapons supplies from China, Cambodia and the USSR and bombing the North to the peace table. His errors on the domestic front, Watergate, eventually destroyed his much more successful foreign policy.

    I’m no liberal opposed to the use of US military power. In fact in the US I’d be called a war-hawk on foreign policy. But the US intervention in Vietnam was a very costly mistake. Nixon did his best to salvage the situation but everything he did was undone in short order once he was gone. I’m not even arguing the US shouldn’t support dictators. They absolutely should when the alternative is Communism or radical Islamists taking power. Just don’t pretend that Rhee or Diem weren’t dictators. And Diem was a particularly inept one at that.

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  25. questions (132 comments) says:

    “Reid (11,914) Says:
    October 21st, 2012 at 3:15 pm
    If you ever want to be convinced why chemical warfare is wrong, then tour the museum. There is a whole section showing the effects on not just those alive at the time, but future generations. It is heart-breaking.

    So is this: DU in Iraq. But hey. When the US does it, that makes it OK, doesn’t it. Of course it does. After all, just because they had this evidence back in 1996, that doesn’t mean the US knew about it when they used it all over Iraq 2002-on, does it. No, they didn’t know about that, at all.”

    Next one up tungsten, nickel and cobalt alloy munitions. The Israeli defence force has been experimenting on Palestinians with them, like agent orange and DU, they are genotoxic, producing the desired effect, and permanently damaging innocent civilians for years to come.

    BUT DON’T WORRY IT’S OK WHEN WE DO IT!! (In fact it is so OK that we can pretend it’s not even happening)

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