More of the “Nosey Parker” interview with his cousin, Jimmy Parker
Alan: From my point of view, American involvement in Vietnam was a dog’s breakfast of bad decisions, bad leadership and bad politics. In the 1960s I was naively opposed to the Vietnam War. Today I’m not quite so naive but I’m still not sure it was a war worth so many lives, certainly not the way it was actually conducted: No war should ever be fought unless the goal is to win the war, not the next election. Straighten me out on this.
Jimmy: Well, you’ve asked a question that hits me square in my wheelhouse.
Here, consider this:
The ’54 Geneva agreement established a communist North Vietnam that was bordered on the east by the South China Sea and inland had
— a 600-mile (1,000-km) border with China,
— an 800-mile (1,300-km) border with Laos and
— a 60-mile (96-km) border with South Vietnam.
With a neutral, no-man’s land of Laos, the subsequent fight between North and South Vietnam would have been an easy matter to manage. Shut down that 17-mile border and you got North Vietnam bottled up. That’s what President Eisenhower thought.
However in another convocation in Geneva in ’62, after the wise ol’ Eisenhower left office, the North Vietnamese got the world to agree that no foreign army should be based in Laos to contain their movement to the South Vietnam battlefield.
It’s rarely asked how they accomplished this fantastic deal… how they whooped up on our best and brightest that way, though Kipling wouldn’t have been surprised. Years before he said, “A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.”
Before our eyes, suddenly, the almost limitless supply of North Vietnamese soldiers — who didn’t consider themselves “foreign” — were pitted against the hapless, unmotivated, poorly led, small and divided Army of Laos.
Plus one of the most significant war managers on the U.S. side was State Department Ambassador William Sullivan. Now pay attention to me here. He assisted our venerable liberal U.S. senior statesman, Averill Harriman, in allowing the North Vietnamese that incredible sweet deal they got in ’62 to keep all foreign armies off their porous western border.
And there is more: Ambassador William Sullivan was the U.S. Ambassador to Laos from 1964 to 1969 — during the time of the U.S. build-up in South Vietnam — and he insisted that the U.S. maintain tacit compliance with the sweet North Vietnamese deal he helped create. He took second- and third- and fourth-hand information — often from our enemies — that civilians might have been hurt with USAF bomb support to the Lao defense, often to rip the USAF asunder. He did not support the U.S. war effort in SEA. Fighting in Laos at the time he was the U.S. Ambassador was called “the Bill Sullivan war.” Or as has been suggested, “the Bill Sullivan lack of war.” To read his comments and dispatches at the time is to be amazed at his mind-numbing gobbledy-gook and sophistical logic.
Henry Kissinger talks to U.S. Ambassador Bill Sullivan in Washington in 1972
And there is more: In 1973 he assisted Henry Kissinger in negotiating an end of the war with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho in Paris. This U.S. team was enormously outmatched. They gave the North Vietnamese pretty much all they wanted, including Laos and he allowed the North Vietnamese and communists everywhere to heap humiliation and degradation on the Americans who had fought and died in that war.
And there is more: He was the US ambassador to the Philippines when South Vietnam fell in April 1975, and when the South Vietnamese refugees who were lucky enough to get passage on US or even ocean goin’ seacraft on or about 1 May – headed in his direction… what did he say? He said to foggy bottom in Washington, “Hey, don’t let those people come here to the Philippines. The gov’t can’t handle them. Send them back “home,” to be dealt with by the North Vietnamese.” That a paraphrase of what he said, he was much more direct in that he, personally, wanted nothing to do with the South Vietnamese running for their lives. Check the record and read his dispatches.
And there is more: He went on to be our U.S. ambassador in Iran during the time of the Islamic revolution there — before street thugs took over our Embassy in Teheran — and freely admits that he didn’t follow instructions in his handling of the Shah, that he did not represent the best interests of established U.S. policy, because he thought the Islamic clerics represented the will of the Iranian people more than the Shah’s Western-friendly government. That was his personal opinion and he acted on it. The Shah was exiled from Iran, Sullivan was finally recalled, the hotheads took our U.S. Embassy… and the rest you know.
And there is more: In an interview with Roger Warner reported in Warner’s “Shooting at the Moon,” Sullivan says on page 389 of that book, “I tend to forget things or dismiss things from my mind so that I’m not haunted by them. If I were haunted by all my past life I’d never be able to sleep quite as equably as I do. So I don’t keep things in mind.” He goes to say on page 390, “The great irony of our involvement in Vietnam is that we were better off having lost the war than we would have been if we had won it.” And on the next page, “… Vietnam taught us a pretty severe national lesson. My thought is that we were just damn lucky that it happened in some place like Vietnam, where we could put our tail between our legs and lick our wounds and walk away, rather than have it happen in someplace like East Berlin…”
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but it seems to me this man who played such a significant role in the history of our country in the ’60s and ’70s thought it was better for the U.S. to lose the Vietnam War than to win it.
Like in Iran, I think in Southeast Asia he acted on his own opinions — as cockeyed and gobbledy-gooked as they were — over U.S. objectives. And there is something to his statement about the positive aspects of putting our tail between our legs and walking away from Vietnam that shows enormous insensitivity to those, like me, who fought the good fight to defeat communism there. And to those Americans and our allies who died in that far off place.
Alan: Jim sent me this answer to this question yesterday. In the intervening 24 hours, word came that William Sullivan, age 90, died on Oct. 11 in an old folks home in Washington, D.C. I swear Sullivan must have known in his soul what Jim was going to say about him and died of apoplexy.