The press, stringers, and American defeat in Vietnam

Mackubin Thomas Owens reviews a new book of revisionist history on Vietnam, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, by Mark Moyar in the Weekly Standard. The revisionist school holds that the Vietnam War was far from un-winnable, but that victory was denied thanks to bad decisions, in many instances influenced by journalists and their coverage.

The entire review, and probably the entire book, deserves to be read. But one salient aspect of the undoing of victory echoes loudly today in Iraq (and Lebanon and Gaza, for that matter): the role of a local stringer who was an enemy agent, and who deeply influenced media coverage, and through journalists, influenced US policy.


The stringer in question was Pham Xuan An, a communist agent. Ed Lasky wrote about Pham twice for American Thinker (here  and here).
Diem, who was deposed and assassinated with US approval, was on his way to victory over the Viet Cong, according to the revisionists. They back up this claim with evidence from communist archives, conceding their losing posture. So why was the US incluenced to see him deposed?

Much of the criticism of the Diem regime's military policy was fed to them by the maverick U.S. Army adviser, Lt. Col. John Paul Vann. In addition, many American reporters relied on a Vietnamese journalist named Pham Xuan An, a Reuters stringer later revealed to be a Communist agent whose very mission was to influence the American press. As journalists such as Stanley Karnow later admitted, Pham was very good at his job.

Sheehan and Halberstam, in turn, greatly influenced the new U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, against Diem. They were especially effective in portraying Buddhists as victims of Diem's repression of non-Catholics. But the militant Buddhist leaders were far from the political innocents described by Halberstam and Sheehan, and the most important of them, Thich Tri Quang, was a brother of the North Vietnamese official in charge of subversion in the south. If Tri Quang was not a Communist himself, he was at least an agent of influence. Moyar provides evidence that many of the "Buddhist" protesters were, in fact, Communist provocateurs.
No two historical eras are alike. But there are eerie similarities with the position in which we find ourselves today. Tragedy will yield to much worse than farce this time around, if we do not learn.

Hat tip: Ed Lasky
Mackubin Thomas Owens reviews a new book of revisionist history on Vietnam, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, by Mark Moyar in the Weekly Standard. The revisionist school holds that the Vietnam War was far from un-winnable, but that victory was denied thanks to bad decisions, in many instances influenced by journalists and their coverage.

The entire review, and probably the entire book, deserves to be read. But one salient aspect of the undoing of victory echoes loudly today in Iraq (and Lebanon and Gaza, for that matter): the role of a local stringer who was an enemy agent, and who deeply influenced media coverage, and through journalists, influenced US policy.


The stringer in question was Pham Xuan An, a communist agent. Ed Lasky wrote about Pham twice for American Thinker (here  and here).
Diem, who was deposed and assassinated with US approval, was on his way to victory over the Viet Cong, according to the revisionists. They back up this claim with evidence from communist archives, conceding their losing posture. So why was the US incluenced to see him deposed?

Much of the criticism of the Diem regime's military policy was fed to them by the maverick U.S. Army adviser, Lt. Col. John Paul Vann. In addition, many American reporters relied on a Vietnamese journalist named Pham Xuan An, a Reuters stringer later revealed to be a Communist agent whose very mission was to influence the American press. As journalists such as Stanley Karnow later admitted, Pham was very good at his job.

Sheehan and Halberstam, in turn, greatly influenced the new U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, against Diem. They were especially effective in portraying Buddhists as victims of Diem's repression of non-Catholics. But the militant Buddhist leaders were far from the political innocents described by Halberstam and Sheehan, and the most important of them, Thich Tri Quang, was a brother of the North Vietnamese official in charge of subversion in the south. If Tri Quang was not a Communist himself, he was at least an agent of influence. Moyar provides evidence that many of the "Buddhist" protesters were, in fact, Communist provocateurs.
No two historical eras are alike. But there are eerie similarities with the position in which we find ourselves today. Tragedy will yield to much worse than farce this time around, if we do not learn.

Hat tip: Ed Lasky