Magazine article The Nation

History on Trial

Magazine article The Nation

History on Trial

Article excerpt

Gen. William Westmoreland ended his lawsuit against CBS in the same way he, and his government, ended their war in Vietnam: without grace, apology or the slightest admission of the magnitude of the loss. Westmoreland's abrupt pullout--a week before the $120 million libel suit was scheduled to go to the jury--recalled that hectic day in Saigon almost ten years ago when Americans raced to the roof of the embassy and flew off in a swarm of helicopters, leaving behind a devastated country, a wasted fortune and a ruined imperial policy. The official deception in those years was that America had achieved Peace with Honor. Westmoreland's personal deception last week was that he had won his case, made his point and saved his honor.

Indeed, deception has characterized General Westmoreland's behavior from the earliest days of the war to his pathetic performances on talk shows and interview programs after his last surrender. As the CBS film reported, and as the general himself indicated at the trial, he never understood the nature of guerrilla war and nationalist liberation. He underestimated the enemy's strength because he did not know the enemy. After the Tet offensive of 1968 he called the Vietnamese victory a defeat because he was unable to comprehend the political quality of the military conflict. CBS's claim that Westmoreland deliberately deceived President Johnson about the opposing army's size may well be true; the testimony at the trial (some of it from his closest aides in Saigon) was confirming the network's account when Westmoreland cried, Enough. …

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