Matthew Hoh and Vietnamistan : Déjà vu all Over Again

A bright and shining lie:
Hoh’s Afghanistan and John Paul Vann’s Vietnam

By Richard Lee / The Rag Blog / November 8, 2009

I just got a copy of diplomat Matthew Hoh’s resignation letter from a friend in Canada. I don’t get a lot of news from up in the States and what few blips I do get are in Spanish. There was some reporting of the letter but with only a couple of quotes, mostly from the first and second paragraph. Mostly it just passed me by. I heard it was more thoroughly covered by what you call the “news” up in the states.

I read it through a couple of times; it had a familiar ring to it. Where had I heard this before? Oh yeah, then I remembered, it was in Neil Sheehan’s book, A Bright and Shining Lie, John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam.

Their stories parallel and at the same time mirror each other. Like Hoh, Vann first went to Vietnam as a soldier, a Major who went there as an “advisor” for an ARVN Battalion in the upper Mekong delta. He served under General Paul Harkin the commander of MACV in 1962-63. Both later returned to the battle zone as civilian workers for the USG.

It became clear to Vann in that year that President Kennedy and the boys at the Pentagon were clearly on a wrong course. The strategy of attrition and the belief that the Diem government wanted to win against the communist could only lead to disaster.

Hoh cites the Afghani government as an alien body, “unknown and unwanted by its people.” Vann saw the same feelings in the people toward the government of Diem, who was also unknown and unwanted in Vietnam. Both Karzi and Diem wanted the war, not to win it and certainly not to lose it, but to have it and profit in power and wealth for themselves and their friends. It certainly was a stroke of good luck for each that they had the Americans to fight it for them.

In Afghanistan, Hoh writes that “from at least the end of King Zahir Shah’s reign (it) has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional.” In that other war the urban, catholic, educated and modern, from the end of the reign Bao Dai, was pitted against the rural, illiterate and traditional. A class war within the civil war.

John Vann’s war was sustained by the struggle against a corrupt and brutal army backed by foreign invaders who were totally ignorant of the history, culture and traditions of the people of Vietnam. Hoh finds the same conditions in Afghanistan. He writes, “The United States presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people.”

Both Hoh and Vann cite the same conditions:

  • Glaring corruption and unabashed graft
  • A president whose confidents and advisors comprise… war crimes villains, who mock our own rule of law…
  • A system of district and provincial leaders constituted of local power brokers, opportunist and strongmen allied to the United States solely for and limited by, the value of our USAID… contracts and whose own political and economic interests stand nothing to gain from any positive and genuine attempts at reconciliation.
  • The… election process dominated by fraud…

Hoh’s resignation letter goes on to find his own analogies to that other war and like Vann he was always aware of the courage and skill of our own troops.

John Vann died in Vietnam in a helicopter crash, still trying to get the generals and politicians to heed their folly; Hoh resigned in a public way hoping the generals and politicians would heed the words of his letter and discover their current folly.

From me to Mr. Hoh: I’ve been there, don’t hold your breath.

The Rag Blog

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14 Responses to Matthew Hoh and Vietnamistan : Déjà vu all Over Again

  1. dospesentas says:

    Yet another article exploiting the great American failure; Vietnam. There is a parallel: Like Vietnam, Afghanistan is ours to lose. If, we allow ourselves to undermine our efforts the result will be the same.

    Vietnam was a triad (U.S. – North Vietnam – South Vietnam) with serious ‘sattelite’ influences (Cambodia, China, Soviet Union). Afghanistan is a NGO fighting the host country supported by a multi-national force, principally driven by U.S. forces.

    Our opposition in Vietnam was comprised of millions, in Afghanistan it is tens of thousands. Our opposition in Vietnam was supported by the industrial and intellectual resources of two large countries (Soviet Union – China). This support was crutial to our opposition, such support doesn’t exist in Afghanistan.

    The enemy in Vietnam was driven by long standing rifts between the peoples of the North and South. This was compounded by a clash of governmental phylosophies (Communism vs. Capitalism/Democracy), Afghanistan is driven by religous beliefs.

    Last but not least, Vietnam was never a threat to American’s in their homeland. The concern was for a spread of Communism in the region. Afghanistan under the Taliban was a drug factory, terrorist sanctuary, terrorist training center and a repressive place where a ‘state religion’ limited freedom and oppressed the citizens.

    If we fail to stabilize Afghanistan and allow it to regress, we’ll eventually have to return to a harder fight with greater costs. It’s time to finish the job – a conclusion I believe the Obama regime will arrive at. Defeatist comparisons to Vietnam are intended to undermine our mission.

  2. Fed Up says:

    Eh, then, if true (which it isn’t), that would make Afghanistan like, um, ah, IRELAND then, hoss.

    Ireland never had any help until Germany helped them during World WAR I…and they managed to maintain a resistance that lasted over a hundred years including in the face of a potato famine.

    P.S. Why are neocons so ahistorical? Do ya’ll even read history?

  3. Richard says:

    Never was North Vietnam or South Vietnam, there was just two areas partisioned by the 1953 Geneva agreement, separating the FRENCH, from the Viet Minh, Neither area was ever a country, that takes care of your triad misconception. What does that leave us with? Two sides, the Vietnamese against the U.S. Or was it the other way around.

    After the abrication of the French puppet Bao Dai in favor of the then Prime Minister Ngo Diem, who became a self appointed President. Sound familar? The promised real elections scheduled for 1955, were set two year away so the U.S. could develop a “market economy” that the people of the southern portion of the country would
    “love” and then vote of Diem. Eisenhower poured hundreds of millions of $$$ in to the southern area, but it was all stolen by corruption from Diem on down. Sound familiar? Diem was killed by his corrupt Generals just before JFK was killed. That don’t sound familiar yet, but Abdullah could read the writing on the wall, that part will sound familiar very soon. Our “enemy” in VN could not be defeated because they would die to the last person before surrendering, Now think of the crazy-assed Pashtun we are fighting. Sound familiar? One day the last Helicopter flew off the roof in Ho Chi Minh City, The best of us stopped dying for nothing. Let’s hope that also will sound familiar in Kubal before any more of the best of us dies there for nothing.

  4. Rick says:

    Afghanistan a threat to the USA? That’s ridiculous!…even with the Taliban in power (as they were for many years). We attacked them because they wouldn’t allow us to build the pipeline we wanted. Neither the Taliban nor Afghanistan has ever attacked us. But the Saudis did — our al qaida allies that we trained to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

    Every invasion of this country has resulted in the invader leaving with his tail between hihs legs, from Alexander the Great to the British Empire to the Soviets and eventually the USA. Better now than later.

  5. masterspork says:


    Let me ask this;

    How many China’s are there? Koreas?

    Because both side do not acknowledge each other at legitimate. North and South Vietnam was no different.

  6. Pollyanna says:

    Richard, this is wonderful, more and more I am beginning to view US involvement in VietNam as a tremendous success, not a failure.

    As a template for Orwellian never-ending warfare, we learned a great deal in Southeast Asia (some of which dospesentas points out as differences in that conflict and the current one in Afghanistan; none are critical to Accomplishing the Mission: shed a load of surplus production and surplus labor in an out-of-the way place.

    This is how Capitalism survives. Look for more fluctuating war zones wherever and whenever one is needed!

  7. Richard says:

    M. It’s not that both areas of Vietnam didn’t recognize each other. No country in the world recognized either one as a country and that includes the U.S. It was and still is (apparently) a propaganda “image” that was fed to us by the Johnson/Nixxxon bullshit machine. This is important in understanding the S.E. Asian war. There always was and still is only one Vietnam. If you accept the myth of two Vietnams it makes it easier to go to BS step two, that one of the Vietnams “invaded” the other Vietnam, such was not the case. Dig this, the war was fought in the southern partitioned area of Vietnam, the U.S. against the rural population of that area. the Enemy were the Viet Cong native to the French Withdrawal Area in the South, with help from their countrymen the Viet Minh who had withdrawn to the Viet Minh withdrawal area. You got to get past the bullshit about Vietnam to get past the bullshit of Afghanistan. Anyway brother, HAPPY VETERAN’S DAY. And to all you jarheads, Happy Birthday.

  8. masterspork says:

    How can you view Korea and Vietnam differently. Both where made from territory from colonies. They where divided over control and separated. One attacked the other resulting in a war.

    The only difference really is who successfully got the land and who did not. I mean it was under Nixion that they did the one China policy where Red China was considered the only Chine making Taiwan all but a rogue state.

    It is frustrating that regardless of if the conflict should happen or not there is always crowed on why everything is our fault.

    Anyways I have some new videos up on youtube from my time in Iraq.

  9. Richard says:

    I can view Korea and Vietnam different because they are different. The Korean peninsula was divided into two countries, Vietnam was not. That is a huge difference. The Vietcong were the Viet Minh until 1962, when U.S. Advisors discovered that Viet Minh loosely translated to Vietnamese Patriot, so they started calling them Vietcong. So, there was no difference between Vietcong and Viet Minh. It was one army fighting the invading occupiers, that their circumstances were different, meant that their tatcics were different, but their goals and strategies were the same. You will never understand the S.E. Asian war ’til you get beyond the two Vietnam myth. A simple answer of why the war was our fault, is that from Yalta to Potsdam to Geneva, to Dien Bien Phu, where we underwrote 80% of the French effort to recolonize, we were the enemy of Vietnamese Independance. Get it, we were the enemy, and yes it was our fault that is why we get blamed regardless.

  10. masterspork says:

    Except that the war was not fought by the Vet Cong. The North Vietnam had regular force just as the South did because both where countries.

    If we were the main enemy then why all the major blood shed that followed to mid-late 70s.

  11. Richard says:

    M. I read both of your Wiki references neither of which mention that either withdrawal area was a country or that it was recognized as such by anyone, because they were NOT countries, ever. Neither the North or the South ever relinquished claim over a single unified Vietnam. Take a look at the Viet service medal that all who served there wear, a yellow background with three red stripes, this is the flag of the Diem government taken from the Bao Dai flag, the three red stripes stand for North, Central and South Vietnam. The U.S. sponsored admission to the UN in late July 1957 of two Vietnams, membership was denied by the Security Council as neither was a country. Your assertion that the war was fought between PAVN and ARVN is not true either, first the ARVN never fought, but the VC did. The battle of Ap Bac, actually the Battle of BAC as Ap means Hamlet in Vietnamese. The opening battle pitting the ARVN with US supplied and manned Heilos and artillary against the VC 261 Main Force Battalion. The ARVN 7th Division Infantry were 330 strong, was after a clandestine radio transmitter in that ville. The ARVN was reinforced by 13 M-113 tanks Driven by company of Civil Guards. The VC had a mixed battalion of 320 main force and the 514th regional guerrillas. The ARVN also had 10 american flown H-21 Huey’s to move troops and resupply with. And 2 AD-6 Skyraider fighter bombers. The VC had captured M16’s and 4 captured 60 Cal’s. I won’t tell you how the batle came out or how the ARVN disgraced themselves, you will enjoy the research. Other Units of the VC that distingushed themselves were the 5th Infantry Division, the 9th Infantry division, 1st Infantry Division, the aforementioned 261st 504th Main Force Battlaion and the 514th. At the height of the war the VC had 200,000 organized troops and millions of supporters in the countryside where they were from. VC made up two thirds of the forces at the second batle of Khe Sanh. Get past the bullshit you were fed about the S.E. Asian war and it will help you get past the bullshit you are fed about the Invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

  12. Pro-Warrior,Anti-War Pollyanna says:

    Masterspork, you raise, as always, a couple of interesting questions, while Richard as usual cuts to the chase.

    But here are a couple of responses to some things you mention:

    “The North Vietnam had regular force just as the South did because both where countries.”

    Superficial analysis. “Regular North Vietnamese” troops — including uniformed and non-uniformed combatants from every province of Viet Nam — were under the control of the VIetnamese government in territory it controlled. “ARVN” troops — largely conscripts and often from minority tribal groups — were under the control of a puppet regime supported by an invading force (us). So, the fact that more than one armed force existed and both claimed to be national forces does not mean that more than one nation actually existed.

    There are several instances in early US post-revolutionary war history when disaffected rebels proclaimed various independent republics and were put down by US forces; the “Whiskey Rebellion” was one; there were others. It doesn’t mean that sny of these outfits ever achieved nationhood. Fortunately, US history does not include instances when a foreign power invaded, set up a puppet government of hired lackeys (or a succession of them!), and proclaimed their “independence.”

    “If we were the main enemy then why all the major blood shed that followed to mid-late 70s.”
    See above response to reason for 2 armies. Carrying out a pretense of nationhood requires the cooperation of at least some native sons and daughters. Madame Nhu, Diem, Col. Ky and all of them in between. And it goes right down to the village and neighborhood level: who collaborated with the invaders? Who identified local patriots so they could be “interrogated”? Who watched their neighbors bound, blindfolded, made to kneel in the dust of the road and shot? Who did it for dollars? Who did it out of fear?

    Any war leaves bloodshed in its wake. The US Civil War continues to take lives even today, a long arm from a bloody grave. Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the never-ending fratricide in the Mid East. War begets war.

  13. masterspork says:

    Ok, here is the thing that is bothering me concerning this. What are you using as to determine what is a nation or not. Because to me it is there a system of government established, and the different departments of state set up. Not of how it is seen as legit or not. Because think of the Nazi controlled nations of France and Italy. Not to mention the warring factions of Spain during the 1930s? No one will dispute that they where hardly legit but they where nations.

    Let look at our history. Would you consider the Confederacy of 1860-1865 a nation? Why or why not.

    I thought that there was a Riift between the people in the Northern parts of Communist Vietnam and their Sothern Vet cong allies. That is why they seem to not have a problem with the high losses of the Tet offensive. I knew that the forces of South Vietnam did not fare too well, that it not un-common knowledge.

  14. Richard says:

    M. I guess the test of whether a state exists is if it is recognized by other countries as such. The Confedracy was a country and was so recognized by the British Empire including Canada.
    The country of The Confederate States of America was defeated by the country of The United States of America, altho you might find some resistance to this notion south of the M/D line. The northern withdrawal area did not set up different departments of state but maintained the provincial borders that existed before Geneva ’53. The only riff that I know of, after 40+ years of study of the most important event of my life occured in 1962 when Ho Chi Minh disagreed with the NLF going on the offensive against the ARVN, he of course accepted the outcome that had become necessary as events progressed. The organized PAVN played a major role in the Tet offensive but the indigenous VC were in a position to take the lead since they lived in the 43 provincial capitals captured in that operation. If you will re-read all the valid reasons I and Pollyanna have given that there were not two countries ever in existance in Vietnam and come to accept that we can move on. Perhaps I can take you to school concerning the mythical invasion of one part of Vietnam into the other. When we get past the bullshit that you have apparently been fed concerning the S.E. Asian war, 1957-1975 and then we can concerntrate on the bullshit we all are fed concerning the Invasion and occupation of Afganistan. I looked at your videos, you should make a collection of more of them. Thanks.

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