The following article by Jerome Doolittle, a former US Foreign Service officer in Vientiane, Laos, is on the genital theory of the war in Southeast Asia. The article appeared in the July 1973 issue of Penthouse Magazine and offers an interesting commentary on American adventures in SEA.
It survived the ages through the good offices of Mac Thompson, a long time expert on the life and times of SEA in the 1960s and 1970s.
I have no idea how it actually starts so I begin with a statement by Doolittle in mid sentence…
Entrance to the famous White Rose bar in Vientiane, Laos
“…as there was never a rational reason for taking up arms over Cuba or Southeast Asia, I got to wondering about the irrational motives.
Simple. Castro closed those cathouses, and Vietnam had the best lays our envoys had ever experienced. Thinking back on it, my first clue was given me by a U.S. Army colonel in 1957, a time when all that most Americans knew about Indochina came from their boyhood stamp collections. At a Washington party the colonel was being very witty, very amusing, about our efforts to train the South Vietnamese in the use of armor. We had put a group of their officers through tank training at Fort Knox, it seemed, and had sent them back home with a large force of American tanks to set up a similar training facility in Vietnam. The Vietnamese officers insisted on setting up their new armor academy in Saigon, though the Americans pointed out that the streets there were too narrow for tanks. “Those little bastards just wouldn’t leave the bright lights,” the colonel chuckled. The tanks themselves were parked untended in the countryside until, after a year, only a handful of them would still run.
This was pretty comical, all right, but it also struck me as pretty nutty. And so I asked the colonel a question. “Why do we care about the place, anyway?” I said. “What’s the country like?”
“Beautiful,” he said nostalgically. “Beautiful scenery. Beautiful duty. Plenty of housing and servants. And the women — absolutely beautiful.”
Back in 1957, without knowing it, I had already been vouchsafed a glimpse of the true, the blushful nitty-gritty. We were in Southeast Asia to get laid.
On a recent tour of Southeast Asian capitals, every American official I talked to said the idea was utter and offensive nonsense. It was absurd to suppose that a great nation could get dragged into an agonizing overseas adventure by the penis. But how absurd is it?
Consider the most striking difference between Saigon and Hanoi, between London and Moscow, between Bangkok and Pyongyang, New York and Peking. On our side are go-go girls, skin flicks and massage parlors. On their are self-criticism sessions and girls– or one imagines them to be girls — inside shapeless, quilted pajamas. We are the Bonnie Prince Charlies, and they are the Roundheads. They stand for disciplined, repressed self-denial; we stand for the pleasure principle. This, and not the ideological one, is the key difference. Let a country be sufficiently hedonist, like Great Britain or Sweden, and we are ready to forgive such communist deviations as socialized medicine and nationalized industry. But let a puritanical regime try on that commie stuff, and we are ready to go to war.
Why is it that we never stepped in to block communism at a more logical point than Indochina? Prague or Budapest, say? Or Berlin or Austria or Latvia or Cairo or Ceylon? We have rattled our sabers in some of these places, sure. But we always stopped short of actual war. We even failed to go to war in the Congo, thought with all the paramilitary ingredients were there that so successfully brought you the Indochinese war. We had the CIA, mercenary pilots, military advisors and supplies, surrender leaflets, the whole works. For a time we even had the same ambassador, G. McMurtrie Godley, who later became field marshal for our secret war in Laos.
But the key element was lacking in the Congo. Nobody ever got the best piece of ass in his life in Leopoldville. (An impossibly sweeping statement, but for white American bureaucrats, generally true.)
We only sought out actual, unprovoked war with the communists in Cuba and Southeast Asia. Scholars of orderly mental habits, such as myself, are not content to write these off as random choices of battlefield. Nor, as the best persons have always known, and as the rest of you are coming slowly to see, was there any logical, rational excuse for going to war in either place. We must search, then, for an illogical and irrational excuse — an emotional excuse, in short.
No problem with Cuba. We went in because the puritanical Fidel Castro shut down Havana, the most renowned of our national cathouses. Suddenly Superman didn’t work there anymore. He was out chopping sugarcane, and the lovely Cuban whores who used to cop his incredible joint were all in the militia now. As a casus belli, this makes much better sense than a Red Menace to Key West.
The night after my arrival, in 1968, in Vientiane, the administrative capital of Laos, a journalist friend took me to the famous White Rose Bar. The first sight to appear to my wandering eyes was one of my brand-new senior colleagues from the embassy. On his lap was a naked girl who was slapping him across the face softly, one-two, with her breasts. It was immediately plain that I had come a very long way from the diplomatic world of Casablanca, my previous assignment, where an uptight superior once accused me of pimping when I took a visiting Olympic swimmer to a discotheque. There, the unfortunate lad had fallen in with a French secretary who trapped him into sexual congress.
Here in Asia the ground rules seemed to be different.
So different, I have come to believe, as to have affected the very extent and duration of our military involvement. This is, of course, an utterly unprovable thesis. No American bureaucrat would ever admit, even in the quiet and emptiness of his own heart, that he was slanting his reports in such a way as to prolong his own agreeable sex life in Asia. But then we are all notoriously poor at understanding our own real motives.
To get at our bureaucracy’s real motives, we have to examine its actions. These can be seen most clearly from Washington, were the attitudes of the bureaucracies are translated into actual policies. To a considerable extent, what comes out of Washington is what goes in, and top officials in Asia rely partly for their information on top officials of the host government — in which case it is almost certainly false. For the most part, they rely on middle level Americans under them — what would be, in the military, the captain to lieutenant colonel level. Nearly all the real work — the reporting, the drafting of cables, the evaluating and gathering of intelligence, the initiating of programs — is done on these middle levels. Most of this work is kept secret from the public and the press, which is why we can only judge what is being fed in at the bottom by what comes out at the top — what Washington ultimately does.
What Washington has done for more than 20 years (heavy U.S. aid to South Vietnam began in 1950, during the Eisenhower-Nixon Administration) has been to remain engaged in Southeast Asia by any possible means. Washington is still doing it, by holding onto new last-ditch positions in Thailand and on aircraft carriers off the coast of Vietnam, and by sending thousands of civilian advisers, once again, to Southeast Asia.
What Washington has never done is to disengage, whether by free elections in the mid-1950s or by supporting a neutralist or coalition government at any time since. Nor has Washington ever arranged for us to be invited out by our allies, through this has always been an easy and face-saving thing to arrange.
All we would have had to do is tell any or our various clients to straighten up his government, or else. Since this would mean that the chief of state would have to jail most of his relatives, his closest associates, and himself, he would probably find it to be an offer he could definitely refuse. Faced with the hideous spectre of turning his government honest, he would order us to take ten giant steps backward, to Oakland Terminal.
Instead, we seem to be staying on, and on, and on. We are the pawns of fortune, we whimper — hostages to events outside our control. This is nonsense. The man who gets into fistfights all the time doesn’t just happen to run across belligerent bullies every time he goes out; he likes to fight, that’s all. As for us, we like to stay in Indochina.
Why would we like to do such a costly, peculiar sort of thing? Why, for instance, does Mike?
Mike is a pleasant unexceptional man with a pleasant unexceptional official job in Phnom Penh. He is 52, and not much to look at. Obviously, he was never much to look at. He has a plain pleasant wife and two plain pleasant teenage daughters. And he has a 20-year-old Vietnamese mistress who is not plain at all. She is spectacularly lovely.
Mike met here during his service in Saigon, while his family was waiting out his 18-month tour in Honolulu. At great expense and difficulty, he brought her with him to Cambodia when he was transferred. He keeps her hidden from his wife and American colleagues in a hotel, until he can find her a small house. He explains the cost to his wife as poker losses during his evenings away from home.
“I know it’s rotten, and unfair as hell to Hazel,” he says. “My God, don’t I know it!
But how can I help myself? Look, suppose you’re my age and you’re no Gregory Peck, and suddenly you have this last chance to come alive. Maybe beautiful young girls are an old story to some rich movie producers my age, but not to me. You can’t imagine what a girl like Linh means to me. I could never have got anyone like her in America, even when I was younger.
“I know she doesn’t love me the way I love her. How could she? But she’s fond of me, I think, over and above the money. I’m a realist; that’s all I ask. It’s a miracle to me that she’ll let me touch her on any terms.”
Mike is getting drunk now, a time for confidences. “You know the thing about Asian women,” he says. “It’s that damned squatting. They don’t use chairs much in the villages, you know, so everybody squats flat on their heels. You’ve seen them. A round-eye can’t do it, we’re not supple enough. But an Asian woman has perfect balance in that position, and it doesn’t tire her out. Hell, she’s spent half her life like that.
“Well, you know the thing they do? I won’t say Linh does it, but I won’t say she doesn’t, either. When you’ve got your morning hard-on, but you’re too sleepy to do anything about it, they’ll squat right down on it. Then they go up and down like a damned loom or shuttle or whatever it is. She’ll be facing you, so that no part of you is touching except, you know. What it’s like, it’s like being jerked off by a pussy.”
Mike retires into his memories for a moment, and then snaps back. “In 14 months my tour here is up, and I’ll try to extend either for here or somewhere in the area. But I doubt if they’ll let me. I’ve been overseas nine years now, so I’m way overdue for a Washington tour. God knows what I’ll do then. What she’ll do.”
What does Mike think about our Vietnam stand, in general? “It’s funny,” he says. “You get a different perspective in Saigon. Before I went there, I thought we were making a mistake. But once you’re there, you realize what a responsibility we have to these people. Thousands of them have trusted us, taken our word, worked with us. What happens to them if we pull out?”
Had made a great many Vietnamese friends, then, to be so concerned? Mike thinks about the question a moment, and is plainly a little surprised at the answer he comes up with. “Not really, no,” he says. “A few of the men in the office I guess. Of course it’s hard to really get to know them, particularly when you don’t speak the language …”
Not speaking the language, the position of most Americans in Asia, is an important part of it all. It means that girls must speak to you in whatever English they can manage, which is always poorer than yours. And that makes them seem reassuringly dumber than you are, far thought this may be from the truth.
“One of the great sights in this town,” says Gloria Emerson, a New York Times reporter who spent years in Saigon, “is to see the little girls in the consular office, helping their American fiancees fill out the paperwork to get married. Lieutenants and captains, for God’s sake, and these little Vietnamese bargirls can figure out forms in English better than they can.”
But it won’t be until much later that the lieutenants realize that they’ve married above themselves; for the moment the illusions of superiority is easy to sustain. How can anyone be bright who says things like: “Why you all time chase other girl, Joe? You number ten butterfly-boy.”
What is going on behind the lady’s camouflage of semi-literacy, of course, is likely to be something else again. “I used to know this public safety advisor in the provinces,” recalls Carl Strock, one of the tiny handful of journalists in Asia who speaks fluent Vietnamese. “He was a pussie-gutted good old buy from Oklahoma, somewhere in his fifties. He kept a Vietnamese girl about a third of his size, and somehow I got to be the confidant of both of them. He’d tell me how much she loved him, how much these little girls loved a big old American tool. Later on she’d tell me what a sucker he was, and how much he disgusted her.
“She used to laugh about him to his face, talking with me and her girlfriends in Vietnamese. Once she went to him with a diamond ring some other American had given her. She knew it was appraised at something like $900, so she told him a girlfriend of hers was desperate for money and was offering her the ring for only $400. Would he buy it for her? The guy took the ring to an appraiser himself, and it turned out to be worth $900 just like she had said. He couldn’t pass up a bargain like that, so he bought her own ring from her and gave it back to her. She sent the money to her mother.”
A sad little story, perhaps, from one point of view. From another, it is a happy little story. The girl got the money, which the American could certainly spare. The man got not only the illusion of love, but the physical fact of it. Nor was it with some defeated Oklahoma barfly, with varicose veins and the smell of hamburger grease in her hair. It was with a girl who, at home, would have been as far out of his reach as Raquel Welch.
Is it likely that this man, in his reports to his superiors, would have suggested that there wasn’t really much useful work for a public safety advisor to do in his province after all, and that the post might just as well be abolished? Not, as an earlier race of imperialists might once have said, blood likely.
Or take a young foreign service officer in Thailand, President Nixon’s new last-ditch position in Southeast Asia. “When Harley came here,” a friend of his says, “he was — are you ready for this?– a virgin. No shit, an actual virgin. This guy was so fantastically uncool that he managed to get all the way through college and graduate school and a two-year tour in Venezuela without losing his cherry. But he went mad when he got to Bangkok. We took Harley to that first massage parlor and he never looked back. From being possibly the most uncool guy in the world, he became the coolest.
“Let me give you an example of how cool this guy got to be. Take your average guy, he catches crabs, what does he do? You and me, we go down to the drugstore and buy some DDT and lay it in there, right? Not Harley, man. Harley catches the crabs, and this is not shit, I’ve seen it myself, he goes to the massage parlor. He hires himself two or three little Thai popsies and they spend a couple hours groping through his underbrush with a flashlight, man, hunting down those crabs one by one. I’m sorry, but that’s cool.”
Does the hope of reliving many more such happy hours influence Harley’s reporting on Thailand, his overview of Thailand’s crucial importance to the Free World?
“Who can tell? He must figure we’ll be in the area a while, though. He extended for a second tour here, and he wants to apply for Lao language training. He figures Laos is about like Thailand. Harley’s a little afraid of going back to the States, is the thing. He knows he’s cool now, but he’s afraid maybe he’s only cool in Thailand. You dig?”
Harley is not the only one who likes it just where he is. I learned during an orientation session for newly-arrived officers at our Laotian embassy in 1969 that Vientiane enjoyed the highest round-trip rate of any U.S. diplomatic mission in the world. This meant that more Americans than in any other country requested and got reassignment to Laos after their tours were up.
Those who wish to may imagine that this was due to the stimulating nature of the work, or, less idealistically, to the 25% hardship bonus paid. But the work must be just as stimulating in Guatemala or India. And the hardship bonus is also 25% in Upper Volta, among other places. Yet a friend of mine stationed in Ouagadougou (the capital of Upper Volta, you dummy) recently wrote me that he was looking forward to a tour of such world-renowned watering spots as Lagos, Cotonou, Lome and Accra. “If we had to stay in Ouaga all the time,” he wrote, “we would go nuts.”
The Americans who mainly go nuts in Southeast Asia are the wives. “The biggest single medical problem here,” a State Department doctor in Laos once told me, “is the goddamn neurotic wives. Day after day after day. Sometimes you feel like telling them to get on the damned boat if they can’t take the life here, and go home.” The pressure of living in a society completely arranged around the comfort and well-being of the male sex can affect the American female in sad and curious ways. One pilot’s wife, an enormously fat woman, came to Laos with her children some six months after her husband to find him living with a young Vietnamese girl. The husband installed his family in an attractive villa and paid over most of his salary to his wife. But he refused flatly to leave his mistress, a tiny creature of lacquered beauty. The wife now drifts pathetically around town picking up her own lacquered beauties — lesbian whores.
Another woman was the wife of a CIA employee in Vientiane, and as such her house was patrolled around the clock by Laotian guards hired by the embassy. One day she complained to an embassy security officer that the man on duty evenings had filched several cans of soft drinks from her. The security officer was more than normally interested in her story, because a few days earlier he had heard a far more bizarre complaint — this one about the American wife, and made by the guard.
The security officer happened to live next door to her, and set himself to watching her yard during the evenings from a partly-concealed window of his own house. Sure enough, several days later, the wife appeared on the rear steps of her house and began to make gestures at the guard outside. It was clear form her pantomime what she wanted him to do, and from his reactions that he was reluctant. After a time the guard gave in, though, and opened his trousers to masturbate while the American woman watched.
“A few days later she comes in to bitch about some more stuff missing,” the security officer recalls. ” A six-pack of ginger ale, I think it was. Some damned thing. Anyway, I let her finish and I say, `Betty, look, maybe the kid figures he does a little something for you, you do a little something for him. Know what I mean?’ So she gets all pissed off and says she doesn’t know what the hell I’m talking about. I say: `Come on, Betty. Take a look at my back window some evening and ask yourself what I can see from it.’ She turns white as a goddamn sheet and that’s the last I hear from either of them.”
Once, at an officer’s club party on an American air base in Thailand, a colonel’s wife was complaining loudly about the policy that kept most pilot’s wives from accompanying them during their tours. “I know what you all do with these hard little Thai hookers up here,” said the gentle thing, “and as a woman, goddamn it, I resent it.”
Several of the young pilots were squiring Thai girls, but no one said anything. Junior air force officers anxious to become senior air force officers do not contradict the colonel’s lady.
But a young bachelor from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok was under no such restraint. His opening came a few minutes later, when the lady was sounding off about something else, and said by way of illustration, “It’s degrading, that’s what it is. Like an Arab sending his fiancee to a doctor to see if she’s a virgin before he’ll accept her.”
“Personally,” murmured the embassy bachelor, “I never buy a virgin without having her checked first.”
Actually the bachelor was lying. He did once buy a virgin, but didn’t bother to have her checked. “I knew the guy I was dealing with, and I knew he was honest according to his lights. You hear about it all the time, you know — Chinese merchants buying little virgins from northeast Thailand. But I never knew any Americans who actually did it. Well, one day I was walking downtown and a pimp came up to me. I told him I wasn’t interested, but how about if I bought him a beer. So we got to talking and we became friends.
“He was one of those guys who goes up to the northeast, where they’re supposed to have the most beautiful girls, and buys them off their parents with the idea that he’s going to marry them. Then he’d get them down to Bangkok and sell them to whorehouses. Nice fellow. Anyway, one day he told me he had this 14-year-old girl locked away somewhere and wouldn’t I like to buy her? I said what would happen to her if I didn’t, and he said he had a pretty good offer from a guy who ran a whorehouse on one of those little sort of gondolas in the klongs. Well, Jesus, do you know what those floating cathouses in the canals charge? Fifteen baht a crack. Seventy-five goddamned cents. You can imagine what kind of life that would be for her. So naturally, prick that I am, I convinced myself that I’d be doing her a favor. Maybe I even was.
“I paid him $250 for the use of her for a month, and I was curious to see how it would work out, how she would handle it, and how he would. God knows what he told her, but she never made any effort to leave the house, and she didn’t seem unhappy at all to be there. I took it easy until the third night , so she’d be used to me, and then I ran a test probe.
“She was a virgin, all right. I don’t know if you’re a cherry freak like me, but there’s nothing to compare with it. You run it in little by little until you hit the hymen and then you stop. At the bottom of the hymen, there’s always this little hole, you know. Well, the damned thing is elastic if you go carefully enough. You just get the tip of it in that little hole, and then kind of work it ahead real slowly, like one of those plumber’s snakes. Finally, if you’ve done it right , the head gets all the way through and then her snatch just seems to suck it the rest of the way in. There’s no feeling like it in the world.
“After the month was up? Well, the arrangement was that the pimp was supposed to take her back and sell her as used goods. But I was fond of the little thing — Kham was her name. Before the month was over, I gave her $200 and put her on a bus back home. I hope she got there. When the pimp came by to get her I told him she had runway a week ago. I don’t think he believed me until I demanded 25% of my money back for the week she had supposedly been gone. Turning me down gave him something new to think about.”
Consider the difference between the U.S. Air Force colonel’s wife who considered the pre-testing of virgins so demeaning and another military wife, this time the wife of a colonel in the Royal Laotian Army. The colonel’s wife and another Lao lady were sitting with an American and an Australian diplomat at a luncheon party in Vientiane.
The American was chatting with the Australian about the difficulty of mastering the tones in the Lao language. “Banana, for example,” he said. “You’ve got to be careful with that one. It’s mak khoi. Mak is fruit, and khoi means banana. Except that if the tone is just a little different, khoi means something else entirely.”
It means penis as everyone knew but the Australian, who had no Lao. “Yes, mak khoi,” the colonel’s wife said, with just that little crucial difference in tone. “I absolutely adore it, don’t you, Malichanh? You know what I like the best? I love eating those big long thick mak khoi? Isn’t that your favorite, too, Malichanh?” And the colonel’s wife made the unmistakable motions of a gently-bred Laotian lady downing one of those succulent monsters.
Clued in by the international language of mime, the Australian laughed too. “Do you know?” he said after a minute. “Somehow, I’m going to miss this country.”
At the very least since the time of Ulysses men have been leaving home to get laid. The grass not only looks greener on the other side; often it is. The theme runs through much of English colonial literature — Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, George Orwell, even Rudyard Kipling. Leaving the fog girt homeland for the coral strand where dusky lovelies fling themselves in spread-eagled welcome to the ground out of the innocent joy of the thing. The truth of this imperial motive never escapes the lesser breeds who are being penetrated. The main complaint by the Vietnamese over our presence is that we are debauching their women.
The British in World War II used to say that the trouble with the Americans was that they were overpaid, overfed, oversexed, and over here. In a remote corner of Guinea stands a remarkable statue to one of the great colonizers of history — a French administrator who threw himself into the task with such gusto that he fathered literally hundreds of mulatto children in his area. On his death, the Guineans carved a large wooden statue of the man, complete with kepi and a giant phallus painted white and red. To this day, barren women come from miles around to garland the staff with flowers and pray at its base. There is something nice and honest about that Frenchman; it seems hardly likely, considering how busy he must have been, that he bothered with shabby rationalizations. The glories of French culture, the propagation of the faith (interesting phrase, that), the blessings of parliamentary government, he could have had time for none of these. I like to think that on his banner was emblazoned only a simple, frank “Vive l’amour”.
The best exposition of the genital view of history I ever heard was made in 1968 in Saigon, by an American foreign service officer since killed in a plane crash. He was a bright skeptical questioning sort of man, and as such was in constant hot water with his superiors. We were sitting on the terrace of the Continental Palace Hotel, watching the girls of Saigon go by. “There’s what we’re fighting for, right out there,” Harry said. “This time it’s not for Mom’s apple pie; it’s for Mama-san’s hairy pie.”
We chuckled. Old Harry!
“I’m quite serious,” he went on. “The key event in our Vietnamese involvement occurred in February of 1965. It should be the pivotal date in any history of the war.”
“Johnson’s bombing of the north,” somebody said.
“That was a symptom, not a cause. No, the really major thing that month was that American dependents were withdrawn from Vietnam. The wives went home. At that point we had something like 25,000 troops in the country. By that fall we had six times that many. Now we have close to half a million.”
“Because the wives went home?”
“In a sense, yes. Look, there are two big forgotten elements in this war that are different from any other war we’ve ever fought. The first is the helicopter, which allows a general to fly right over an active battlefield and inflict his stupidity directly on the poor bastards down below. This means that field troops, for the first time in history, have no chance to nullify the incompetence of the brass.
“The second big element is that most of the bureaucratic structure supporting the war is out here in Saigon, instead of staying decently back in Washington where they belong. And each one of those military and civilian bureaucrats, since 1965, has been out here without his wife.
“Think about what that means. A third of all American marriages end in divorce anyway, so you can figure that a third of those guys are already divorced, or are thinking about it. Maybe another third, let’s say, are happily married, but they’re not out here at all. These are bureaucratic in fighters, after all, and most of them probably managed to duck Vietnam assignments.
“So what’s left in the mission, by and large, are unhappily married guys and a few bachelors. I can’t even count the men I’ve know personally in the embassy whose marriages have broken up while they’ve been over here, or just before or just after. These are guys in their thirties or forties, the guys really doing the embassy’s work. They’re in their prime and by local standards they’re all rich men. Suddenly they find themselves free of that nagging bitch back in Bethesda and out here right in the middle of the biggest honey pot in the world. What’s going to be the general direction of their cables back to Washington? Stop the war, I want to get off?
“Come on, Harry,” said another foreign service officer. “You have to factor in other things, too. I could make just as strong a case that withdrawing dependents didn’t mean anything like that. It merely meant that we had correctly assessed that the situation was about to get dangerous, and we didn’t want the women and kids hurt.”
“Sure you can make that case,” Harry went on, “but only if you believe the bureaucracy knows what’s going to happen in the future, and can then move with some rationality to accommodate itself to future developments. Everything in our Vietnamese experience has argued against both presumptions. Even I, a genius, don’t know what the hell I’m going to be doing tomorrow or next week, and I don’t think Johnson does either. Or Rusk or Rostow, or anybody else. I do know, though, that my subconscious desires, working along day after day below the surface, are going to affect the general direction of my life.
“Take an example. The first night I was here somebody took me out to the Vietnamese Air Force officers’ club at Tan Son Nhut, the place where the girls jack you off under the table. Now, if somebody had asked me the next morning to draw up a justification for abolishing the job I had just been sent here to fill, I would have gone at the thing with something less than my normal enthusiasm. But if somebody had asked me to do the same thing the morning after I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I would have broken a leg in my scramble for the typewriter.”
“Look at the psychological fact of it. You’ve got a thousand middle-level guys catching the AB&W bus in every morning from northern Virginia, and what they’ve mainly got on their mind is the wife in curlers saying, ‘For Christ’s sake, this time don’t forget to pick up the kid’s Triaminic syrup at Peoples Drug.’ And you’ve got the same 1,000 guys in Saigon, living a life that surpasses their wildest wet dreams. I’m sorry, but there’s going to be a substantive difference in the way those guys look at our Southeast Asian involvement. Involvement itself gives you the clue. Did we ever talk about our World War II involvement, or the involvement of Gettysburg? An involvement is something you have with your secretary.
“If you doubt the effect nooky has had in Vietnam, all you have to do is look at the history out here. We never wanted to march north, which would end our involvement one way or another. We’d all go home, either economy class in Boeing 707s or at freight rates, in body bags. We’ve never wanted to negotiate a neutralist settlement or a coalition or a withdrawal, either. Naturally not. We’d all go home that way, too.
“Regardless of what we think we’re doing out here, what we’re really doing is pursuing policies that keep the war alive. Whenever we’re in the slightest danger of winning, we pull out troops or deploy the ones we have foolishly. Whenever we’re in danger of losing, we throw in more troops. Psychiatrists know how to read these things. In most human behavior, the result achieved is the one the patient was after all the time. The great threat to our bureaucratic subconscious out here is peace, no matter how it comes.”
“Hasn’t a lot of this,” the other foreign service officer said, “been the result of simple bureaucratic bungling?”
“You can bungle in a lot of different directions,” Harry said. “We’ve chosen to bungle in the direction of seeing light at the end of Vietnamese tunnels. But we never saw light, for example, at the end of the Hungarian tunnels. That’s because the average 40-year-old American bureaucrat would be scared to death of the Gabor sisters, whereas he’s not a bit scared of Suzie Wong. Suzie Wong doesn’t look at all like the girls who used to turn him down for dates in high school.
“Look, a statistically incredible number of guys out here have managed to spend their whole careers in Asia. All over Asia, guys are even now dreaming of the day when we re-open relations with Cambodia, so they can be first in line. There are already waiting lists. Do you suppose guys are lined up waiting to get back into Cairo?
“What do you think the attraction is over here? The climate? It stinks. The cultural life? How many Americans catch the Chinese opera in Cholon? The money? You can get that same 25% differential in plenty of those African pestholes. You suppose it’s the encephalitis, the leeches, the cerebral malaria? Maybe it’s the amoebic dysentery or the poisonous snakes or the liver flukes? Maybe it’s leprosy?
“Or maybe it’s what the Marines found greeting them when they hit the beaches of Vietnam in March of ’65 — the month after all the American wives went home. Remember that scene? All those hard-chargers, M-16s at port arms, roaring off the landing craft to kill Cong. But all they found on the beach was little Vietnamese lovelies, greeting them with flowers.
“Those little girls instinctively understood the basic nature of our commitment here, even if we don’t.”
“Which is?” asked his embassy colleague.
“Which is, ‘Get ‘em by the balls, and their hearts and minds will follow.””