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“Hearts and Minds”


Vietnamese refugees on US carrier, Operation Frequent Wind.jpg
I haven’t yet decided whether to watch the new Ken Burns series on the Vietnam War (“What?  No Shelby Foote? Count me out”), but it has generated some good content.  Here’s George Herring on the contradictions inherent in “hearts and minds.”

In the bonanza atmosphere that followed Americanization, South Vietnam’s economy centered upon serving the needs of the new arrivals. Prostitution became a special problem. As the number of Americans in Saigon surged into the tens of thousands, the number of houses of ill repute expanded proportionally, provoking criticism in the United States and South Vietnam. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas fumed that Saigon had become an “American brothel.” South Vietnamese Catholics and President Nguyen Van Thieu were especially concerned about prostitution, and pleaded with American officials to do something about the suffocating presence of so many troops.

The result was Operation Moose (Move Out of Saigon Expeditiously), implemented mostly during 1967. Thousands of G.I.s moved to base camps outside the city (where the prostitutes soon followed), some joking that they had been “Moosed.” Saigon was also declared off limits for R & R. The pace was sufficiently slow that the operation was unofficially tagged Goose (Get Out of Saigon Eventually).

A well-made, popular documentary series on the Vietnam War would be a very good thing; the confusion and misunderstanding in public memory of the US intervention in the Wars of Southeast Asian Liberation is as thick as, well, that surrounding the US Civil War. And that confusion is not limited to the hawks; whenever I read the term “liberation of Saigon” I cringe.  For those who’ve dipped their toes into the documentary, please feel free to leave thoughts in comments.

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