There was a conversation recorded during the Paris Peace Talks in 1974 between an American colonel and a North Vietnamese officer. In many ways it summed up our 10 years in Vietnam and undermined the contention that it was a lack of political will and public support that led to our spectacular failure in Southeast Asia.
"You know," said the American colonel, " you never defeated us on the battlefield."
The North Vietnamese officer pondered this remark a moment.
"That may be so," he replied, "but it is also irrelevant."
Perhaps more to the point today, there was a joke making the rounds of the Pentagon in the early '70s when any hope of a military success in Vietnam had vanished for everyone except the administration.
There were many versions, though they all went something like this: The administration asked IBM for use of its largest super-computer. The Pentagon loaded all the data on the war: tonnage of bombs dropped, numbers of villages pacified, number of Vietcong and North Vietnamese killed or captured, tons of rice confiscated, areas of the country under U.S. and South Vietnamese governmental control, divisions of South Vietnamese troops trained and ready to fight, insurgent cells infiltrated, numbers of hospitals built and school rooms painted.
After all the data had been input, the administration asked the important question. "When will we win?" The computer spun its disks and raced through its microprocessors and, after 10 minutes, printed out the answer: "You won in 1968."
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