Valor vs. Vicious Vicissitudinary Verisimilitude, Part I
John F. Kerry is under assault by the Vast Wrong-wing Conspiracy for a comment he made about a Christmas in Cambodia. The main complaints about this are:
Kerry charged that he had been illegally ordered into Cambodia during Christmas 1968:
I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared — seared — in me.
Despite the dramatic memories of his Christmas in Cambodia, Kerry’s statements are complete lies. Kerry was never in Cambodia during Christmas 1968, or at all during the Vietnam War. In reality, during Christmas 1968, he was more than fifty miles away from Cambodia. Kerry was never ordered into Cambodia by anyone and would have been court-martialed had he gone there.
From the early 1970s, when he used the tale as part of his proof for war crimes in Cambodia, through the mid-1980s and the 1990s, Kerry has spoken and written again and again of how he was illegally ordered to enter Cambodia.
I've done a little checking into this story, about two hours worth. I have barely scratched the surface, but I can tell you that there are an awful lot of sources out there - thousands - who can lend credence to Kerry's story, more than have come out so far on either side of the controversy. I'm going to introduce you to just a few of them - and several will surprise you. They will tell you that not only was it possible that Lt. John F, Kerry was serving inside Cambodia in December of 1968 like he says - it was likely.
I begin by presenting the opening witnesses for the defense of Lt. John F. Kerry, USN, and his Cambodian Christmas claim:
You veterans of the Delta, the Parrot's Beak, and the Fish Hook know of which I speak.
The following is a partial list of United States Covert action abroad to impose or restore favorable political conditions, 1946-1983. The list was prepared by Tom Gervasi of the Center for Military Research and Analysis in 1984, and it was compiled using information available in the public domain.
1967-1971 CAMBODIA Under Projects Daniel Boone and Salem House: sabotage and ambush missions by United States Special Forces personnel and Meo tribesmen.
MACV-SOG, or Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, was a joint service unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (though it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the location and time frame, Shining Brass, Daniel Boone, Salem House or Prairie Fire missions. The number of MACV-SOG missions conducted with Special Forces reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia was 452 in 1969.
Cambodia was a part of the Vietnam war theater since the return of the French after WWII, when the whole region was still known as French Indochina. It became customary for the local people to travel along the most advantageous routes, which in the South meant the Mekong River. It wasn't until the ouster of the French in 1954 that national boundaries were drawn, dividing up what had been monolithic economic and cultural regions, and in theory disrupting this practice.
The corridor which later became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail - once the main pathway from the coast deep into the interior of French Indochina - was thus a traditional and habitual pathway for travel in the region, and had been used by the Viet Minh in their war for independence from France. As this war merely slowed down in 1954 once the national boundaries were created, it possibly can be said that this trail had been in constant use, at least since the arrival of the Imperial Japanese forces in 1940 after the capitulation of France to Hitler. Thus, the Communist/Nationalist forces had a well-developed supply route in place once the United States openly (by 1961) and actively participated in the war between the North and the South.
As any armchair general can tell you, interrupting your enemy's supply lines is just as important as confronting his forces. (See: Iraqi attacks on US truck convoys) This tactic became a major objective of the Johnson Administration.
When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos and Cambodia for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and to an untrained eye was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.
The Johnson Administration would also have pushed its Vietnamese allies to take action there, which according to this information, they were doing. This shows that some kind of Vietnamese activity was occuring in Cambodia by 1966:
In 1966 two VNAF [Vietnamese Air Force] UH-34Ds also defected to Cambodia, one during a commando inserting mission on the Ho-Chi-Minh Trail.
So from this we know that the Vietnamese, at least, were disregarding the border with Cambodia as of 1966 in order to attack the Viet Cong/NVA facilities, which - from this same source - had to be well-developed:
For the Cambodians the presence of the South Vietnamese troops on their ground was most troublesome. Throughout the 1960s Sihanouk therefore continued to tolerate - if not encourage - the Communist presence in return, in so far that with the time this could not be stopped any more. He even allowed Communist freighters to dock at Sihanoukville harbour to deliver military equipment to Viet Cong, in turn retaining part of their shipments for Cambodian armed forces, as a compensation. North Vietnam had even created a "civilian truck transport company" to drive the supply to the logistical border stations - along the Ho-Chi-Minh Trail. The trucks of the Cambodian army were sometimes involved in these deliveries. The Cambodians also did nothing to prevent the North Vietnamese transports to over Cambodia and support their troops along the Ho-Chi-Minh Trail. In few occassions Sihanouk even ordered the AVRK C-47s to be used for dropping supplies - foremost rice, but no weapons - to the North Vietnamese forces. However, most of these drops, if not all of them were only rice and not weapons (Cambodia was also selling rice to Viet Cong in considerable quantities, but at very high prices).
Under the diplomatic principle of 'The friend of my enemy is my enemy', Sihanouk's support of VC/NVA activities would have been justification enough for US government officials to authorized covert operations against the VC/NVA facilities. They had to be covert, as US actions could not be openly seen to prove the Communist claim that the United States was an imperialist power which had no respect for national boundaries and was bent on taking over the region - a kind of reverse domino theory, if you will. This might have brought Russia, and maybe China, into the war - something that veterans of Korea would not have wanted to see. This concern is reflected in the following memo, which advocated covert military activity outside of Vietnam's borders:
From the Chairman of the Cambodian Study Group (Unger) to the Under Secretary of State (Katzenbach)
Washington, May 1, 1967.
Initial Report by the Joint State-Defense-CIA Study Group for Cambodia
1. ... agreement was reached last December on the establishment of Joint Study Group under Department of State Chairmanship to discuss means of dealing with the problem of Viet Cong-North Vietnamese use of Cambodia.
2. It is our hope that the report will serve as a policy and operating guide for the Cambodian question as it relates to the war in Viet-Nam.
3. If you approve the report I recommend that you forward it to Messrs. Vance [Deputy Sec. State - ed.] and Helms [CIA Director - ed.] and invite their approval as well. Once the report is approved I would recommend also providing an information copy to Mr. Marks, USIA.
4. ... authorization was given to proceed with these forthwith as noted in the report, ... In addition to those actions, primarily in the military field, we have also been proceeding with diplomatic and informational [propaganda - ed.] activities.
5. ... the Study Group deferred decision in one instance ... The deferred decision concerns certain limited ground reconnaissance operations, including the participation of US personnel, in a limited area of Northeast Cambodia adjacent to South Viet-Nam and Laos (code name: Daniel Boone). Because of the sensitivity of these operations I wished them to be considered at a high level in the Department but I recommend that they be approved since I consider the military utility high and the risk of exposure low.
6. It is recommended that you:
a) Approve the Initial Report of the Study Group and sign the letters transmitting it to Defense and CIA.
b) Approve the Daniel Boone operation recommended by the Study Group and concur in the transmittal of the messages contained in Tab K of the Initial Report.
[Katzenbach approved both recommendations on May 9 - ed.]
In an attachment to this memo, it was recommended that action inside Cambodia should be considered when appropriate.
Attachment [Top Secret]
Initial Report of the Joint Department of State-Department of Defense-Central Intelligence Agency Study Group on Cambodia
I. Summary and Recommendations
Following a SEACOORD meeting in November 1966, which focussed attention on the increasing seriousness of the problems of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese use of Cambodia, USIB undertook a restudy of the problem in an effort to evaluate its relative significance to our military effort in Vietnam.
Based on the USIB study, an interdepartmental Study Group ... has been meeting since early February ... to consider what additional actions might be taken to deal with this problem. In particular, the Study Group has examined in detail proposals submitted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for an expansion of existing ground and aerial intelligence collection activities, psychological operations, and immediate pursuit of VC/NVA forces on Cambodian soil.
... for the present, our efforts to deal with this problem should continue to be primarily in the political sphere and should be on a priority basis. Provocative actions which would seriously prejudice the success of such efforts and threaten to expand the combat into Cambodia should be avoided. However, those actions which are clearly required in terms of self-defense of our forces in South Vietnam should continue to be authorized as necessary.
In view of the increased concern over VC/NVA activity in Cambodia and in order to obtain a clearer picture of the extent of such activity and its effect upon military operations in South Vietnam, measures designed to expand air intelligence collection programs and which carry tolerable political risks have been approved.
Although recognizing the limited capability of the Cambodians to control their frontiers, the Study Group noted recent developments in Cambodia which seem to offer an improved prospect for getting the Cambodian Government to take more effective action to reduce the advantage VC/NVA forces derive from use of Cambodian territory. The Study Group supported a stepped up plan of political/diplomatic action aimed at getting Cambodian cooperation or acquiescence in dealing with this problem and bringing about an improvement in US-Cambodian relations.
Other proposals involving actions by US forces on Cambodian territory, which would have been difficult to conceal and involved high risk of further worsening our relations with Cambodia, have been deferred pending further diplomatic efforts to reach some understanding with Cambodians which could lead to an improvement in the existing situation.
Source: US Department of State
FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES
1964-1968, Volume XXVII
Mainland Southeast Asia; Regional Affairs
A later memo takes knowledge of these covert operational plans up to the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. You KNOW he discussed this with Lyndon Johnson, so we can see that knowledge of these secret plans - an illegal response to the quasi-legal presence of the VC/NVA - went clear to the top.
Chronology of Cambodian History
Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Warnke) to Secretary of Defense McNamara
Washington, October 5, 1967.
SUBJECT Daniel Boone
As result of recommendations by the Joint State/Defense/CIA Study Group for Cambodia, CINCPAC was authorized on 22 May 1967 to conduct limited cross-border ground reconnaissance operations into the northeast corner of Cambodia, using U.S.-South Vietnamese Special Forces teams (Daniel Boone).
Based on COMUSMACV and CINCPAC recommendations, the Joint Staff representative on the Cambodia Study Group proposed expanding the area of operations to the full length of the SVN/Cambodian border and authorizing the use of helicopters to infiltrate and exfiltrate the teams. This proposal was discussed by the Study Group and eventually reduced to the modified program as shown at Tab C, which would have provided for use of helicopters for both introduction and extraction of the teams in the northern part of the area of operations.
[Tab C was a map that proposed that the border between Cambodia and South Vietnam be divided into 2 zones. In the northern Alpha zone from the Lao border to Route 13 there could be up to 30 incursions in a 20-kilometer deep area per month with infiltration and exfiltration by helicopters. Forty-eight-hour notice would be given to Washington. In the southern Bravo zone from Route 13 along the rest of the Cambodia border, all operations had to be referred to Washington on a case-by-case basis.]
The Department of State representative non-concurred on the basis that such use would inevitably result in incidents and should be authorized by Washington on a case by case basis and only under exceptional circumstances. The length of the area was also objected to on the basis of its extending too far into areas of population density. State therefore proposed to use Route 13 as the dividing line between sub-areas. Mr. Katzenbach supported this position.
An alternative proposal developed by the Joint Staff to reduce the risk and at the same time to permit needed operational flexibility is shown at Tab D.
[Tab D was the "JCS/DOD minimum proposal," which covered the same two zones as in Tab C, but in Alpha zone only 5 of the 30 missions a month could use helicopters and they would be limited to infiltration of only 10 kilometers. Forty-eight hours' notice would be required. Operations in Bravo zone would be referred to Washington for approval.]
It has also been rejected by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, State. However, Mr. Katzenbach has not addressed this new proposal.
In the memorandum at Tab E [CM 2666-67, September 28 - ed.], the Acting Chairman, JCS, requests that you take this matter up with the Secretary of State to seek his agreement on the alternative program.
I recommend that you endorse the concept of operations shown at Tab D and that you instruct me to take up this proposal with Mr. Katzenbach.
[McNamara wrote the following note at the end of the memorandum: "10/6. Discuss with Nick [Katzenbach]--I lean to 'modified C' if Nick disagrees with D.R. McN."]
Sihanouk, becoming disillusioned with working with the VC/NVA forces, grew more compliant with US/Vietnamese desires. First off, he was being given some subtle hints that cooperation just might be a good idea:
... in August 1961, Sihanouk ... cancelled cooperation with the US military assistance delegation (MAAG), and ordered these to leave the country by the 1 January 1964. The South Vietnamese and Thailand, as well as the USA, started supporting the Khmer Serei (KS) - "Free Khmer" - guerillas, a nationalist and republican movement oppressed by Sihanouk.
This is one of those situations in which a short-term solution resulted in a longer-term problem. This 'Free Khmer' organization grew into the Khmer Rouge of 'Killing Field' infamy.
The CIA is known to have used the KS to infiltrate the Ho-Chi-Minh Trail for reconnaissance and sabotage operations. US troops also became involved in the war in Cambodia: in a series of operations known under the code-name Daniel Boone the US and South Vietnamese special units were infiltrated into the country. During 1967 alone, for example, no less than 14 USAF and VNAF helicopters were lost in Cambodia.
The loss of so many helicopters, all on supposedly covert missions (which would have been very interested in avoiding contact with VC/NVA forces), indicates a fairly high level of activity. This is in 1967, a whole year before John Kerry says he was in Cambodia. His personal opportunity to participate in Cambodian actions, however, is on its way:
Sihanouk’s dislike for the Vietnamese, which were using the Cambodian soil for their purposes in the war in South Vietnam, was finally to bring him closer to Washington. In late 1968 he for the first time permitted the USA to use their air power inside the Cambodian airspace.
For American air power to be effective, however, targets had to be located. Daniel Boone operations were intended in part to locate targets for air attack and had been approved in May, 1967:
In JCS telegram 5937 to CINCPAC, May 22, the Joint Chiefs informed CINCPAC that Daniel Boone cross-border operations for northeastern Cambodia were approved subject to certain restrictions: The area was limited; reconnaissance teams were to total not more than 12 men (with no more than 3 U.S. advisers); tactical air strikes and/or the commitment of exploitation forces into Cambodia was not approved; infiltration and exfiltration would be by foot; mission time would be kept to the minimum; all precautions should be taken to avoid contact with Cambodians; purpose of the operation was intelligence and verification; no more than three missions could be undertaken at one time; missions required prior JCS approval with notification of the Department of State; and the operations would not be acknowledged. (Department of Defense, JCS Official Records, 880/211 (22 May 67) IR 2278)
Recapping: 1967 - covert operations approved at the top levels of the American government. 1968 - Sihanouk allows the use of American air power to attack VC/NVA sites in Cambodia, removing the above restrictions against tactical air strikes, something these Daniel Boone operations were designed to locate targets for. However, these operations proved to be ineffective, as the study of the bombing raids, which began in March, 1969, attest:
SOG’s missions in northeastern Cambodia
These operations, originally named Daniel Boone, were later redesignated Salem House. These missions provided intelligence on North Vietnamese and Viet Cong bases located in Cambodia. Another objective of the Salem House operations was to determine the level of Cambodian Government support for the NVA and Viet Cong. [McChristian, Joseph A., The Role of Military Intelligence (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1974), page 109.]
By October 1967, SOG’s teams had permission to infiltrate the entire Cambodian border area to a depth of 20 kilometers. However, their helicopters were only permitted ten kilometers inside Cambodia. In December, the DOD, with the Department of State’s concurrence, approved the use of Forward Air Controllers (FACs) to support SOG operations. The FACs had authorization to make two flights in support of each Salem House mission.
In October 1968, SOG teams received permission to emplace self-destructing land mines in Cambodia. The following December, the depth of penetration into northern Cambodia was extended to 30 kilometers; however, the 20-kilometer limit remained in effect for central and southern Cambodia. The final adjustment in Salem House operations made in 1970 during the incursion into Cambodia permitted reconnaissance teams to operate 200 meters west of the Mekong River (an average distance of 185 kilometers west of the South Vietnamese border).
From the initiation of SOG’s Cambodian operations in 1967 until 1970, there was a progressive expansion of the zones of operation and OPS-35 patrols within Cambodia. The enlargement of the areas of operation and the increasing number of Salem House missions, gives an indication of how seriously the Johnson and Nixon Administrations viewed the NVA’s use of Cambodian base areas. It was also indicative of the U.S. military’s growing awareness of the role of the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN) and its deleterious effect on the war in South Vietnam. [BDM, The Strategic Lessons Learned in Vietnam (McLean, Virginia: BDM Corporation, 1979), Volume 6, pages 4-43 to 4-54.]
From 1967 through April 1972, OPS-35 conducted 1,398 reconnaissance missions, 38 platoon-sized patrols, and 12 multi-platoon operations in Cambodia. During the same period, it captured 24 prisoners of war. Shawcross, William, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981), page 24. Hearings: Committee on Armed Services, Senate, July-August 1973, page 236. U.S. Congressional Record, Senate, 10 September 1973, page 29052. U.S. Congressional Record, Senate, 25 July 1973, page 25881.
Another factor to consider in evaluating OPS-35’s operations in Laos and Cambodia were the political constraints that determined what they could do. The Prairie Fire operations were always subject to the approval or disapproval of the U.S. Ambassador in Laos, William H. Sullivan. [United States Chiefs of Mission, 1778-1982 (Washington: U.S. Department of State, 1982), page 140.]Sullivan’s behavior and actions earned him some enmity from the U.S. military, and he was frequently referred to as "the field marshal." General William Westmoreland noted an example of the difficulties experienced with the Ambassador when he said, "Bill Sullivan had a tendency to impose his own restriction[s] over and above those laid on by the Department of State. (We sometimes referred to the Ho Chi Minh Trail as Sullivan’s Freeway)." [Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports, page 196.]
Regarding Ambassador Sullivan and the SOG’s operations in Laos, one U.S. Special Forces officer commented that "often when intelligence would develop leads suggesting operations into certain areas, requests for authority to insert teams would be denied on the grounds that the CIA had teams in the area." [Simpson, Inside the Green Berets (Navato, California: Presidio Press, 1983), page 149.]
When asked for a report on the area of interest, the CIA and Sullivan gave the SOG nothing. Sullivan’s concern about the SOG’s operations stemmed from his desire to ensure that civilians did not become casualties from any misdirected attacks. He was also concerned about how the Soviet Union might interpret America’s military actions. Sullivan enjoyed a close personal relationship with the Soviet Ambassador to Laos, Boris Kornissovsky. Arthur J. Dommen, "Laos in the Second Indochina War," Current History, December 1970, page 327.
Sullivan enjoyed a close personal relationship with the Soviet Ambassador to Laos??? Hmmmmmmmmmmm ... Maybe he had better things to do than his job??? Of course, getting in the way of these missions would have had an effect:
On 18 March 1969, 48 B-52s bombed the Vietnamese supply base in An Loc, thus starting the operation Fishhook, which was to last for at least a year. The B-52 operations, however, were - just like similar operations over Laos - suffering from the lack of intelligence and reconnaissance: even after 3,630 bomber sorties were flown, no serious results were achieved. Instead of the North Vietnamese, it was [primarily] the Cambodian civilians that suffered from them.
This is thus the supporting evidence for John Kerry's claim that war crimes were committed, as it is a violation of the Geneva Accords and a war crime to bomb civilians. Nazi Germans and Imperial Japanese officers were tried for similar war crimes - and convicted.
Copyrighted source material contained in this article is presented under the provisions of Fair Use.
FAIR USE NOTICE
This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.