Q-and-A with Daniel Ellsberg: Connecting Students to the World; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley Daniel Ellsberg


High School Students'
E-Mail Exchange with
Daniel Ellsberg

May, 1999


Vietnam

Do you think there was any way to avoid communist takeover of Vietnam?

Doug Woodbrown's American History Class, Marin Academy High School, San Rafael

Yes. Former communist officials who have taken part in recent conferences in 1995 and 1997 in Hanoi with former U.S. officials, including Robert McNamara and some American historians, convinced the American participants that the Hanoi regime was ready in the l960s -- in preference to a long war with the United States -- to accept a coalition government in Saigon that included the National Liberation Front along with former members of the Saigon regime and neutral elements from South Vietnam for a very long time -- "ten to twenty years" -- with the expectation that the communists would eventually dominate but with the understanding that events might develop in a different way. For that whole period, and possibly longer, there would be two Vietnams.

Given the strength of the forces armed by the United States and the political strength of the Catholics, the Buddhists, and various other sects in South Vietnam, the communists were a distinct minority, and I have always felt that a coalition might well have persisted much longer than American officials at the time imagined. The Vietnamese participants in Hanoi essentially confirmed this and said that the Hanoi regime had been willing to give substantial assurances of this, including international monitoring. Unfortunately, almost no American officials took this possibility seriously at the time. They regarded coalition as merely a euphemism for a communist takeover within weeks or months and never explored with the NLF or the Hanoi officials in negotiations what it might actually mean in practice. In short, I don't believe the U.S. defeat and the communist victory had to be as swift or complete as actually occurred in 1975. A genuine negotiation toward the coalition demanded by the NLF from the early sixties on could well have protected the role of the non-communists far longer and better than our military approach ever could.

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