Tuấn Cao-Đắc (Danlambao) - Abstract: In the 1970s, Gareth Porter, an anti-war American scholar, published two articles on the land reform campaign in North Vietnam in the 1950s and the massacre at Huế in the Tết Offensive 1968, calling these myths. Porter’s articles are full of distortions and devoid of scholarship. Porter committed several logical fallacies in his reasoning and reflected a malicious misrepresentation of facts to suit his political stand.
In the 1970s, Gareth Porter, an anti-war American scholar, has written a number of articles opposing the Vietnam War (Wikipedia 2014a). Porter is one of many anti-war American scholars including Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, and Marilyn Young. One of Porter’s specialties is to hunt down statistical information provided by the anti-communist Vietnamese and Americans, looking for errors or mistakes to make a case for accusing these authors of lying, mis-representation, or exaggeration. While the objective of truth finding is commendable, Porter’s one-sided approach is seriously flawed and renders him a communist propagandist who uses cheap and malicious tricks to attack others.
There are two myths that Porter has raised: the bloodbath in North Vietnam’s land reform campaign (1953 – 1956) and the Huế massacre in 1968 (Wikipedia 2014). As will be presented in the following, the truths about the bloody land reform program and the massacre at Huế have been known for many years. Nevertheless, Porter’s articles still appear as references in many sources, including the Internet, and are exploited to the maximum by the Vietnamese communists in their propaganda.
A. The land reform campaign in North Vietnam from 1953 – 1956
In his paper titled “The Myth of the Bloodbath: North Vietnam’s Land Reform Reconsidered” published in 1973, Porter (1973a) accuses Hoàng Văn Chí, author of a book that detailed the land reform (Hoang 1964), of using “gross mistranslations and misrepresentations” of “the actual texts of documents relating to the errors of the land reform campaign” (Porter 1973a, 9). Porter asserts that Chí and others, including the South Vietnamese government with American support, launched propaganda to attack the land reform campaign so that the President [Nixon] could use it “as a major rationale for maintaining the U.S. military presence in Vietnam” (Porter 1973a, 12). Porter specifically points out that “it is Hoang Van Chi who has committed the most serious and most numerous offenses” in “the ‘bloodbath’ myth by abusing important documentary evidence” (ibid.,3).
Porter traces Chí’s background through Chí’s work history, alleges that Chí worked for the CIA and concludes that Chí’s “purpose was propaganda rather than accurate history” (ibid., 3). Porter’s criticism of Hoang Van Chí’s book was vigorously refuted by Teodoru (1973) in a congressional hearing before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws. In addition to his own arguments and analysis of Porter’s article, Teodoru provided a transcript of an interview with Hoang Van Chí (Hoang 1972). Porter (1973b) later presented his counter-arguments to Teodoru’s and Chí’s arguments in his testimony before the same Subcommittee. Readers are referred to these documents for further information. In what follows, I will focus my discussion mainly on Porter’s quantifying analysis on the estimate of the number of deaths in the North Vietnam Land Reform Campaign from 1953 to 1956.
Using sources from the government of the DRV, Porter produces two numbers for the number of villages in the campaign and estimates of the number of landowners and the percentage of landowners that were executed. From these, Porter arrives at the range of 800 – 2,500 as the number of executed landowners. Based on these estimates, Porter accuses Chí of gross mis-representation in estimating the total number of executions. According to Porter, Chí suggested that 5% of the total population or 675,000 people were killed in the massacre (ibid., 11).
It is ironic that while Porter found fault with Chí’s translation and representation, Porter himself committed even more serious distortions and misrepresentations. Ignoring the low-blow personal attack on Chí, Porter’s so-called accurate history is full of malicious mis-representations and blatant distortions, as analyzed below.
First, Porter used the percentage of 5% of the total population, estimated to be 13.5 million, given in Chí’s book to calculate the total number of executions and came up with 675,000 people (ibid., 11), which he later called absurd. In arriving at this number based on the phrase “5% of the total population,” Porter committed the serious logical fallacy of quoting out of context. In reality, this 5% figure was given when Chí discussed the guilt complex of those who had participated in the massacre: “In forcing them to denounce and kill landlords, the party wanted to make the peasants share in the blood-guilt. . . The guilt-complex which haunted the peasants’ mind after the massacre of about 5 per cent of the total population has been euphemistically described in official communist literature as ‘the peasant’s consciousness of being master of his own fate’” (Hoang 1964, 212). It is clear from the above text that Chí meant “5 per cent of the total population” as the subjective number in the mind of the peasants who would carry out the executions, which gave rise to the guilt-complex that haunted them. This concept of “5 percent of the total population” was created by the party to inject a guilt complex in the minds of these executioners. Chí never stated that this 5 per cent of the total population objectively represented the total number of people who were executed.
Evidence for this subjective thought in the minds of the peasants who carried out the executions is given throughout the text. Chí did not pull the “5 percent” from thin air. It comes from Trường Chinh’s report as detailed in Chí’s book (Hoang 1964, 151). This report was used as the training document for the correctional training course.
According to Chí, the students who attended the training course completed the class with the impression that all of these landlords would be executed when they heard what Hồ Chí Minh said when Hồ came in person to address the course. Hồ said (Hoang 1964, 158-159), “Imperialists are like tigers while landlords are like the bushes in which the tigers hide. Thus, in order to chase the tigers from our midst, we must necessarily destroy all the bushes at the same time.” It is clear that “destroying all the bushes” where the bushes represent landlords means killing all the landlords, or the 5 per cent of the population. In other words, the people who were trained came home with the mindset that 5 per cent of the population would be executed, and that’s why they carried the guilt complex.
In the context of the paragraph, supported by Trường Chinh’s report used in the training course, the phrase “about 5 per cent of the total population” clearly refers to the subjective belief of the people who participated in the massacre. Yet, Porter took the quote entirely out of context, used it to arrive at the number 675,000, and accused Chí of exaggerating the estimate of deaths.
Second, Porter first admitted Chí did assert “nobody has been able to assess accurately the exact number of deaths” from the land reform, but Porter implied Chí needed only to state “5 per cent of the total population” and let others do the math by “casually [referring] in a later chapter to the ‘massacre of about 5 per cent of the total population’” (Porter 1973a, 11). Porter then volunteered to do the math for Chí, and “[b]ased on a total estimated population of about 13.5 million in 1956, this would have represented a total of 675,000 people” (ibid., 11). Porter deliberately performed this calculation despite Chí’s unambiguous statement that nobody knew the exact number of deaths. In fact, Chí had to rely on another source to provide the estimate of “one hundred thousand deaths” (Hoang 1964, 166). This estimate is clearly much lower than the number 675,000 that Porter was trying to put in Chí’s mouth. Throughout his book, Chí repeatedly said that the accurate estimate of deaths was unknown, yet Porter deliberately accused Chí of suggesting 675,000 people were killed. If Chí had wanted to say 675,000 people were killed, he could have done the simple math himself. He didn’t have to give half the information and let others do the math as if he didn’t know the population in North Vietnam at the time. By ignoring Chí’s assertion that nobody knew the number of deaths and misleadingly calculating the number 675,000 as the estimate of the number of deaths, it is Porter who created the bloodbath myth, not Chí.
Third, Porter intentionally ignored Chí’s own estimate of the total number of deaths, substituted his own calculation of the number 675,000, and claimed that it was what Chí said. It should be noted that Porter was meticulous in presenting his analysis to quantify the myth. Porter appeared to be thorough in examining Chí’s book with surgical precision to find a possible flaw. Yet, Porter missed the most important sentence in Chí’s book that gives Chí’s own estimate of the number of deaths. Chí stated, “[h]undreds and thousands of people were unjustly killed, jailed or starved to death without the all-powerful party raising a finger to help any of them” (Hoang 1964, 213. Emphasis added). Chí clearly states that “hundreds and thousands of people” were killed, not “hundreds of thousands of people” were killed. Certainly, an author with excellent command of the English language like Chí had could not confuse “hundreds of thousands” for “hundreds and thousands.” The phrase “hundreds and thousands of people” (hàng trăm hàng ngàn người) refers to a large number of people in the order of hundreds or thousands, but certainly not hundreds of thousands. Chí had the opportunity to say “hundreds of thousands” in that sentence, but he didn’t.
Did Porter see that sentence? Of course he must have seen it. That sentence is on page 213, only one page after the “5 percent of the total population” excerpt. In fact, the sentence is in the paragraph right after the quote “It is better to kill ten innocent people than to let one enemy escape” (Hoang 1964, 213), which Porter cited (Porter 1973, 14 n35). If Porter believed Chí mistakenly stated “hundreds and thousands of people” instead of “hundreds of thousands,” he would have cited that sentence without going through the calculation and would have commented on Chí’s command of the English language. The fact that Porter didn’t mention this sentence clearly shows that Porter knew Chí’s estimate was “hundreds of” or “thousands of,” but chose not to report it. By ignoring Chí’s own estimate and performing his own calculation in an effort to show Chí said 675,000 people were killed in the land reform campaign, Porter committed the highest crime in scholarly research: blatant distortion of another scholar’s words to achieve his own personal objective.
Fourth, Chí actually did provide an estimate of the overall land reform program including deaths that did not result directly from the executions and may have been caused by other factors. Chí wrote, “The principal campaign in the anti-feudal phase was the Land Reform (1953-1956) in which half a million Vietnamese (4 per cent of the population of North Vietnam) were sacrificed” (Hoang 1964, 72). It should be noted that Chí did not write half a million Vietnamese landlords were killed. The key phrase is “half a million Vietnamese were sacrificed.” This includes all deaths as the result of, and in addition to, the massacre of the landowners in North Vietnam. What other deaths? Chí described extortion of money and valuables (Hoang 1964, 174-177), deaths in jails and in concentration camps, suicides (ibid., 166) and the policy of isolation (ibid., 166, 189-191). Chí described the policy of isolation as one in which “members of landlords’ families were prevented from working” and as a result, “the majority of them died of starvation, children and old people first, and eventually the others” (Hoang 1964, 190).
Chí cited the speech by Nguyễn Mạnh Tường which stated that “during the destruction of the land-owners class, we didn’t differentiate types of treatment; we caused horrible deaths to old people or children whom we didn’t intend to destroy” (Hoang 1964, 190; Nguyễn 1956). Along the same line, Teorodu (1973) provided five causes of death other than executions: imprisonment, suicide, shock and stress, hard labor, and “isolation” policy. Teorodu (ibid.) noted that the majority of landowners subject to denunciations were older people who would not be physically and emotionally strong enough to survive the mental and physical stresses. Porter disputed the existence of the “isolation policy” and cited the official party Nhân Dân newspaper, which stated, “[T]here should be no contact with the person imprisoned, but there can be visits with the other members of the family” (Porter 1973a, 11). It is shocking that Porter claimed to have accurate history while he rejected Chí’s account and chose to rely on the government of the DRV’s official account. The more significant aspect is that Porter chose not to quote Chí’s phrase “half a million Vietnamese (4 per cent of the population of North Vietnam) were sacrificed,” and instead chose to use the number 675,000 people, as maliciously calculated by him, to conclude that Chí said 675,000 landowners were killed. Porter certainly knew the difference between “Vietnamese” and “Vietnamese landowners,” and the difference between “sacrificed” and “massacred,” but he purposely ignored Chí’s phrase so that he didn’t have to deal with figuring out ways to refute it.
All of Porter’s distortions and misleading analysis above can be found within Chi’s book, Porter’s target of attack, and Porter’s article. One does not need to go beyond these two documents. The above discussion focuses entirely on the logic of Porter’s analysis and criticism of Chí’s book. If Porter, a scholar with a Ph.D. from the prestigious Cornell University, had trouble understand Chí’s book and intentionally distorted and misrepresented it, how can one believe or trust anything he cited and relied on outside Chí’s book? In fact, some of his other accusations reinforce his false interpretations and distortions. His reliance on the so-called official accounts of the government of the DRV clearly shows his bias and prejudice against Chí and the South Vietnamese government.
Currently available information now firmly establishes that Porter’s estimates are far lower than the actual numbers. The government of the SRV, however, does not provide the complete statistical information, including the actual number of executions, and it is likely that this number will never be known accurately. Nevertheless, the government of the SRV provides statistics regarding the landowners and the classification. According to data provided by the government of the SRV, the total number of landowners was 172,008 of which 123,266 were wrongly treated (“bị oan”) (Đặng 2005, 85). Although the government of the SRV never states whether the number 172,008 represents the total number of landowners or the total number of executed landowners, it is clear that the number 172,008 is the total number of executed landowners. This is because the total number of landowners was much higher than 172,008 based on calculations from the information provided by the government of the SRV. There are 3,314 villages with 10 million people (ibid.). During the rectification of errors, the government of the SRV admitted that they set the percentage of landowners to be 5.68% of the local population (ibid.). Accordingly, with a population of 10 million, 5.68% would equal 568,000 landowners. Since it is clear that there were 568,000 landowners as set by the government, the number 172,008 cannot be the total number of landowners; therefore, the number 172,008 has to be the total number of executed landowners. This number is also consistent with the number 170,000
In addition to the quantitative aspect of the executions, Porter made many accusations, including Chí’s mistranslation of Võ Nguyên Giáp’s speech (e.g., translating the verb “xử lý” to “torture” instead of “discipline”) (Porter 1973, 9), Chí’s fabrication of the communist slogan “Better to kill ten innocent people than let one enemy escape,” as quoted from a speech made by Professor Nguyễn Mạnh Tường of the Faculty of Pedagogy of the University of Hanoi (ibid., 7). Teorodu (1973) and Chí (Hoang 1972) replied fully to Porter’s accusations.
It turned out that Porter’s accusations are completely false and it is he who made a fool of himself when evidence became known. Torture was indeed used during the land reform campaign. Hồ Chí Minh declared that certain cadres “are still committing the error of using torture” (quoted in Duiker 2000, 478). While he used “certain cadres,” it is clear that torture must have been so prevalent that it prompted Hồ to make the charge publicly. Hồ suggested its prevalent practice when he asked, “Why must we, who are in possession of a just program and a just rationale, make use of such brutal methods?” (quoted in ibid.). It should be noted that the word "torture" was not used by Hồ. Instead, he used "corporeal punishment" (Đặng 2005, 86). However, he also said, "When we caused them so much pain, they had to admit guilt even though they were innocent." Accordingly, "corporeal punishment" actually meant "torture." Regarding Nguyễn Mạnh Tường’s quote, it is now settled that Tường indeed said it. Specifically, Tường said, “When we bring forth the slogan ‘it’s better to kill 10 people unjustly than to let one enemy escape,’ not only the slogan is irrationally extreme leftist, but it is also counter-revolutionary” (Khi đưa ra khẩu hiệu ‘thà chết 10 người oan còn hơn để sót một địch’ thì khẩu hiệu này không những quá tả một cách vô lý mà phản lại cách mạng là đằng khác nữa.) (Nguyễn 1956; Nguyễn 2011, 324).
The myth of bloodbath as called by Porter is actually a myth created by himself. His attack on Hoàng Văn Chí is full of errors, misrepresentations, and distortions and devoid of the integrity and honesty expected of a scholar. He committed many logical fallacies, including quoting out of context, appeal to authority, and personal attack. Porter’s attack on Chí is unheard of in a scholarly work. Furthermore, Chí was not the only person he attacked. He also attacked Bernard Fall, a respected American historian. He even disputed the estimate of 100,000 deaths by Gérard Tongas, cited in Chí’s book, as “[representing] the figure circulated by those who still hoped for a return to the status quo of the colonial period” (Porter 1973, 10). His personal attacks on these people were so egregious that Teorodu (1973) believed that Porter committed slander. But one does not need to look at other accusations to evaluate the validity of Porter’s analysis.
The above discussion clearly shows that Porter’s analysis and arguments are flagrant and devoid of scholarship. One can’t help but wonder whether he was so stupid that he couldn’t understand Chí’s book written in plain English or he was so fanatic in his anti-war stand that he brushed aside the truth.
Now that the truth about the number of executed landowners has been revealed by the Vietnamese Communists, Porter has become a laughing stock to the world.
Porter’s article on the land reform and his attack on Chí received heavy criticisms from Robert F. Turner, now a law professor at the University of Virginia. Turner (1972, 33) said, “Porter has produced an incredibly sloppy piece of propaganda.” According to Turner, Porter’s effort to discredit Chí “is so absurd as to deserve little comment” (ibid., 34). Turner proved Porter had been “wrong” or “in error” in his criticisms of Chí’s book. Turner remarked that “Mr. Porter is being less than honest if he denies knowing that children of landlords were frequent victims of ‘justice’ during Vietnamese Communist land reforms” (ibid., 39). Citing evidence of Porter’s full knowledge of communist acts of killing children through Porter’s own interview of a senior Viet Cong defector, Turner (ibid.) sarcastically said, “[Porter] is suffering either a lapse of memory or of integrity.” Turner did not respond all Porter’s charges against Chí’s book because he didn’t consider Porter’s article “to be worthy of the time required for a more detailed analysis” (ibid.)
B. The Huế massacre
Gareth Porter, together with his colleague, continued his anti-war work by publishing a series of articles (Porter 1974; Herman and Porter 1975) accusing the South Vietnamese and American agencies of fabricating evidence in reporting the number of deaths in the 1968 Huế massacre. Porter (1974, 2) asserted that the 10th Political Warfare battalion of the ARVN had a “specific mission . . . to discredit the National Liberation Front without regard to the truth.” He further asserted that “the story of the ‘massacre’ reported by the U.S. press in 1968 and 1969 was based” on the word of the ARVN 10th Political Warfare battalion. Like in his previous performance on the land reform, Porter’s articles demonstrate his severe bias and prejudice against the South Vietnamese government and the U.S. military information authority in South Vietnam. In addition, as will be shown in the following discussion, Porter’s articles again show his incompetence and malice in analyzing facts, evidence, and witnesses’ accounts.
First, Porter reported, “Province chief Col. Pham Van Khoa announced at the end of February that 300 civilian government workers had been executed by the communists and had been found in common graves southeast of the city” (Porter 1974, 2). Khoa’s announcement was actually made on February 11 (Braestrup 1994, 212), not at the end of February. In addition, Khoa’s rank was Lieutenant Colonel, not Colonel; and his last name was Phan, not Pham. More importantly, Khoa was not a reliable witness and could not represent the government of the Republic of Vietnam. According to a study by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Khoa was said to have known about the offensive forty-eight hours in advance (Villard 2008, 79). He “was found hiding in the rafters of the hospital six days after the offensive began, initially insisting that the attack had caught him by surprise but later explaining that he had wanted the Communists to enter the city so that they could be trapped and destroyed” (ibid.). Intelligence information also showed that “Khoa had called a secret briefing on 30 January to inform his political and business associates that a ground attack would take place the next day” (ibid.). “The South Vietnamese government sacked Khoa in the middle of March for his poor performance” (ibid.). These details indicate Porter’s incompetence in carrying out news investigation. Using an officer dismissed by the government as a star witness representing the government shows that not only was Porter stupid but also wicked.
Porter (ibid.) next stated that French photographer Marc Riboud was “repeatedly refused permission” to see the graves and when the “map coordinates of the grave sites were finally released, there was no site resembling the one described by Col. Khoa.” Just reading Porter’s report on this incident, one can find several errors. Porter stated Marc Riboud was not allowed to see the graves, but he did not or didn’t want to give the reasons why Riboud was not allowed. He did not state from whom Riboud asked permission and who refused permission. Porter (ibid.) further stated that when Riboud was able to travel to the alleged site, the pilot refused to land, claiming that the area was “insecure.” Was Riboud allowed to fly in the helicopter? Was the pilot, who presumably agreed to fly Riboud to the site, wrong when he said the area was insecure? Porter wrote that no site resembled the one described by Col. Khoa. Which one? According to Porter, Khoa referred to “common graves southeast of the city.” How could the plural form of “common graves” now become the singular form of “the one described by Khoa”? And “resemble” in what sense? In the southeast direction? Evidence, which will be shown later, shows that there were indeed several gravesites in the southeast of the city. Was Porter looking for a single gravesite that contained 300 bodies? But Khoa said there were common graves (without specifying how many). Just by that paragraph alone, Porter displayed his inability to write a simple report using straight English.
Second, Porter accused that there were contradictions in reports by the ARVN’s political warfare department regarding the number of gravesites and the average number of bodies in each grave, from 14 graves to 22 graves, and from 66 - 150 bodies to 200 bodies (Porter 1974, 3). Porter’s accusation of contradictions in reporting deaths in disaster areas, such as after a ferocious battle, is naïve to the point of stupidity. The battle was just completed, refugees were returning home, and the government was sending relief workers to help refugees settle. It was hard to keep track of dead bodies lying on the streets because there might be several teams working. Discovering and keeping track of gravesites was even more difficult. Gravesites might be discovered one by one and it was almost impossible to be sure if a final total count had been reached and the government could only report what they found as the task was in progress. In fact, evidence (as will be shown later) shows that at the location in question (Gia Hoi secondary school) 14 gravesites were discovered that contained 101 bodies and later additional bodies were found and the total body count eventually reached 203 (Vennema 1976, 129). By presenting information contained in in-progress reports while the work was in progress and concluding that the different numbers of gravesites and body counts in these in-progress reports represent contradictions, Porter maliciously misrepresented and misinterpreted the evidence to suit his conclusion.
Third, Porter wrote that findings by the most significant and highly reliable eyewitness of the massacre, Dr. Alje Vennema, showed that Vennema claimed there were 68 bodies, instead of the official claim of 477 (Porter 1974, 4). However, Dr. Vennema presented a completely different account from what Porter reported. In his book, Vennema admitted that he had been an opponent of the war and even had sympathized with the National Liberation Front (Vennema 1976, Preface), but the Hue massacre in 1968 had changed him. He published the book because he felt that “the truth about the city of Hue should be made known, to be inscribed in the annals of history alongside the names of Lidice, Putte and Warsaw” (ibid.). He hoped to make the NLF and the Hanoi government “realize that this type of approach – their folly of violence, terror, and massacre – solves no problems, and only postpones the peace and better life that all Vietnamese desire” (ibid.).
There is no record of what Vennema had said in 1968. Porter relied on an unpublished report titled “The Tragedy of Hue” allegedly written by Vennema (Porter 1974, 11, footnote 12). Porter conceded that Vennema’s unpublished report came “immediately after Tet” (ibid., 4), and noted that the official report in which the number of bodies was used to compare with Vennema’s number was published on April 23, 1968. It is unclear when Vennema wrote his unpublished report, but Vennema indicated that ‘[b]y late March 1968, about 300 bodies of those executed by the Vietcong had been discovered,” and he “left Vietnam in April 1968” (Vennema 1976, Preface). It is therefore safe to assume that Vennema wrote his unpublished report sometime in March 1968 or even earlier. Porter claimed that according to Vennema, “the total number of bodies at the four major sites discovered immediately after Tet was 68, instead of the officially claimed total of 477” (Porter 1974, 4). On this basis and “the refusal to allow confirmation by the press from first-hand observation,” Porter suggested the South Vietnamese “may have inflated the number of actual executions by the NLF by a factor of ten or more” (Porter 1974, 4). The evidence, however, tells a different story. Vennema’s published account shows the number of bodies was 300 as of late March 1968, and the time difference between Vennema’s account and the South Vietnamese official account was at least one month. In other words, Porter was comparing two reports, on events that were still unfolding, with a time lapse of at least one month, and using the differences in numbers of gravesites and bodies in these reports as evidence of contradictions. Either Porter was an idiot or he was so driven by his anti-war zeal that he was willing to brush aside the integrity and honesty expected of a scholar and misrepresented and distorted evidence.
However, the main point is not about these minor and misleading accusations. What matters is Porter’s final claim that “the official story of an indiscriminate slaughter of those who were considered to be unsympathetic to the NLF is a complete fabrication” (Porter 1974, 11). Porter said that “[n]ot only is the number of bodies uncovered in and around Hue open to question, but more important, the cause of death appears to have been shifted from the fighting itself to NLF execution” (ibid.). As will be shown in the following discussion, Porter’s claim is full of distortions and misleading analysis that serve his anti-war objective. His attack on Douglas Pike is also unprecedented and reflects flagrant malice.
Porter relied on Vennema for his conclusion that the South Vietnamese government inflated the number of actual executions. According to Porter, Vennema “happened to be in the Hue province hospital during the Tet Offensive and . . . made his own investigation of the grave sites” (Porter 1974, 3). Therefore, Vennema’s account should represent the most reliable account of what happened at Hue and should be the single most trustworthy evidence. Let’s hear what Vennema actually said of the massacre.
Regarding the discovered gravesites and the number of bodies, Vennema reported the following sites (Vennema 1976, 129-141; re-reported in Cao-Đắc 2014a, 368-372, and Cao-Đắc 2014b, 357-360):
1. Gia Hoi Secondary School (Vennema 1976, 129-131): Total gravesites: 14 and an additional unknown number of graves. Total number of bodies: 203, including men (young and old) and women. Among the dead were a 26-year-old woman “with legs and hands tied, a rag stuffed into her mouth” and who “had no obvious wounds”; a 42-year-old policeman who was buried alive; a 48-year-old street vendor woman whose “arms had been bound and a rag stuffed into her mouth.” She had no wounds to the body so probably had been buried alive.
2. Theravada Pagoda, called Tang Quang Tu (ibid., 131-132): 12 trenches containing 43 bodies. Among the dead were a tailor, arms tied and shot through the head; some people having their arms tied behind their backs with barbed wire; and some had their mouths stuffed with rags. “All the dead were victims of reprisal and vengeance” (ibid., 132).
3. Con Mo Bai Dau (ibid., 131): 3 trenches with 26 bodies.
4. Behind a small seminary where the tribunal had held its sessions (ibid., 133): 2 trenches with 6 bodies (3 Vietnamese employed by the U.S. Embassy, two Americans employed by U.S.O.M., and a French high school teacher mistaken for an American). “All had their hands tied.”
5. Quan Ta Ngan (ibid.): 3 trenches with 21 bodies, “all males, with hands tied, and bullet holes in the head and neck.”
6. Five miles east of Hue (ibid.): 1 grave with 25 bodies, “all had been shot in the head, hands tied behind the back.”
7. Near the tombs of Emperors Tu Duc and Dong Khanh (ibid., 133-135): 20 trenches with an additional unknown number of small graves. A total of 203 bodies had been discovered. Among the dead were a French priest, Father Urbain, who had his hands tied and no wounds to his body, and another French priest, Father Guy, having a bullet wound in his head and neck. No bodies of women and children were found, indicating that “the victims were killed in cold blood and not during military activity.”
8. An Ninh bridge (ibid., 135): 1 trench with 20 bodies.
9. Dong Ba gate (ibid., 135): 1 trench with 7 bodies.
10. An Ninh Ha Elementary School (ibid., 135): 1 trench with 4 bodies.
11. Van Chi School (ibid., 136): 1 trench with 8 bodies.
12. Cho Thong, a marketplace (ibid., 136): 1 trench with 102 bodies. “[M]ost had been shot and tied; there were several women among them, but no children.”
13. Area of the imperial tombs of Gia Long (ibid., 136): nearly 200 bodies were found. Several people had their hands “tied behind the back, and they had been shot through the head.”
14. Halfway between Ta Quang pagoda and the Tu Gy Van pagoda, 2.5 km southwest of Hue (ibid., 137): 4 bodies of Germans (3 doctors and a doctor’s wife).
15. Dong Gi, 16 km directly east of Hue (ibid.): 110 bodies, all men and “most had their hands tied and rags stuffed into their mouths.”
16. Vinh Thai village, Phu Luong village, and Phu Xuan village, about 15 km to the south and southeast of the city (ibid., 137-138): 3 sites with over 800 bodies (including 135 at Vinh Thai, 22 at Phu Luong, 230 and later 357 at Phu Xuan): Most were male with a few women and children. Among the dead were Father Buu Dong and two of his seminarians.
17. Thuong Hoa village, south of Emperor Gia Long’s tomb (ibid., 139): 1 grave with 11 bodies. “All bodies showed the same type of wounds to head and neck, presumably inflicted at execution.”
18. Thuy Thanh and Vinh Hung villages (ibid.): over 70 bodies, “mostly males with some women and children.” “[S]ome had died presumably during warfare as they had various types of wounds and dismemberments; others exhibited a single wound to the head and neck, the victims of execution.”
19. Da Mai creek (ibid.): 500 skulls. “Among the many skeletons lay pieces of ordinary clothing, not khaki nor the green cloth of North Vietnamese or Viet Cong uniforms. The skulls all exhibited a similar compressed fracture of the frontal bones as a result of a blow with [a] heavy instrument.”
The above list of gravesites shows a total of 19 gravesites and about 2307 bodies. Most of them exhibited wounds caused by execution and not a result of warfare. Many had their hands tied and rags stuffed into their mouths. As late as September 1969, several hundred people were still unaccounted for (ibid., 140). In addition, Vennema noted that “[b]esides the mass graves, there were the individual, cold-blooded murders” (ibid., 141).
Porter attempted to shift the blame to heavy fighting at one of the burial sites where 22 bodies were found. According to him, “American planes bombed the village repeatedly, destroying hundreds of homes and killing civilians” and “some 250 communist soldiers were killed” in one all-day battle (Porter 1974, 4). He wrote further that “the 250 skeletons found at Da Mai Creek (not 400 as claimed by Pike) were also killed in battle or by American B-52 strikes” (ibid., 5-6). However, Vennema (1976, 140) pinpointed with the precision of a doctor that the creek contained 500 skulls and “[i]nvestigation of U.S. Army records does not reveal any wide-scale action or B-52 bombing in the area except for a battle fought near Loc Son, some 10 km. away from the area, in late April, 1968.” Vennema (ibid.) stated that “to assume that any dead from a B-52 strike were taken through the rough terrain to be buried in the creek does not seem justified.” He (ibid.) further asserted that the “skulls all exhibited a similar compression fracture of the frontal bones as a result of a blow with a heavy instrument” and the “other bones did not exhibit evidence of fractures which surely would have been the case if they had died as a result of warfare.”
Porter’s conclusion that “the overwhelming majority of the bodies discovered in 1969 were in fact the victims of American air power and of the ground fighting that raged in the hamlets, rather than of NLF execution” (Porter 1974, 6) stands in contradiction with the testimony of a doctor eyewitness whom Porter himself relied heavily on (Cao-Đắc 2014a, 368-372; Cao-Đắc 2014b, 357-360).
In an effort to discredit Douglas Pike, Porter (ibid.) further argued that the term “eliminate” as translated from the Vietnamese word “diệt” in “diệt 1,892 tên tề” in a captured communist document does not mean “kill” or “liquidate,” but it “had been previously used to include killed, wounded or captured among enemy forces.” Porter’s interpretation of the word “diệt” is unbelievable to the point of comical. The captured document states, “We eliminated 1,892 administrative personnel, 39 policemen, 790 tyrants, 6 captains, 2 first lieutenants, 20 second lieutenants and many non-commissioned officers.” Within the context of that sentence alone, the term “eliminated” clearly means “killed” or “caused death to.”
Porter further argued that the word “tề” in “diệt 1,892 tên tề” has a broader meaning, including both civilian and military (Porter 1974, 7), and therefore the translation “administrative personnel” was inaccurate. Porter’s attempt to show his expertise in the Vietnamese language is laughable. The term “tề” in Vietnamese, according to a Vietnamese-English dictionary, means “village temporarily under French control (during the war of resistance against the French colonialists)” (Bùi 2000, 1804); “tề ấp” means “hamlet council”; “tề ngụy” means “puppet administration in villages (during the war of resistance against the French colonialists and the American imperialists)”; “tề xã” means “village council.” The term “tề” has always connoted a civilian meaning associated with hamlets or villages. Even without referring to a Vietnamese-English dictionary, the above sentence clearly separates the 1,892 “tề” from the rest. The rest of the list includes military officers. It was a list that itemized all the victims: “We eliminated A, B, C, D, and E.” Interpreting that A includes B, C, D, or E defies simple logic. Again, either Porter was extremely stupid or his anti-war zeal had blinded his sanity.
In any event, the captured document shows a total of 2749 people had been “eliminated” which seems to match the number found by Vennema of 2307 bodies and several hundred still unaccounted for. Estimates of victims of the massacre by others show higher counts, about 4,000 to 6,000. The majority, if not all, of these cases was the result of deliberate executions, and not result of warfare, including B-52 bombings.
Porter made other accusations directed toward Douglas Pike. However, the above discussion is sufficient to show Porter’s obvious bias against the South Vietnamese government and Pike in particular. In addition, it shows Porter’s malicious misrepresentation and distortion of evidence. His myth analysis itself is a myth created by him. In fact, it is more than a myth because he launched a personal attack on several people, including Douglas Pike. For these reasons, Porter’s articles are worthless.
Porter’s scholarship, competence, and character have been under heavy criticisms by many scholars. In his review of Porter’s book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam,” published in 2005, Robert Buzzanco, a professor of history, questioned Porter’s originality (Buzzanco 2006, 939, 941) and calling him a “one-trick pony” with respect to his views on Vietnam (ibid., 941). Remarkably, Buzzanco recognized Porter’s habit of using sources that suit his views, saying “[b]ecause it suits his thesis, Porter seems to rely heavily on a few oral interviews given after the war” (ibid., 942). Porter’s ethical value as a journalist has also recently been under attack (Atzmon 2014). David Albright (2014), President of the Institute of Science and International Security, notes Porter’s “journalistic malfeasance and incompetence,” stating that “he was a propagandist with a great deal of disregard for the truth” and “it is Porter who has a history of willful distortions.”
The Vietnamese communists love people like Gareth Porter because they have the same habit of deceiving, lying, and distorting the truth. The truths about the bloody land reform program and the massacre at Huế have been known for many years. In countless sources, Hosmer (1970) describes in great details the brutality of the Vietnamese communists in executing and kidnapping South Vietnamese officials and innocent people during the war, including specific details about the Huế massacre. Nevertheless, the communist government in Vietnam still tries to cover up these crimes with blatant lies and distortions, such as the 12-part television series "Mậu Thân 1968" by director Lê Phong Lan broadcast in January 2013 and the failed land reform exhibition in September 2014 (Cao-Đắc 2014c). It is no wonder that Lê Phong Lan listed Gareth Porter, together with other American anti-war scholars, in her television series.
In the 1970s, Gareth Porter wrote several articles accusing the governments of the Republic of Vietnam and the United States of creating the myths of blood-bath in the land reform campaign in the 1950s in North Vietnam and the Huế massacre in 1968. Porter’s articles are full of errors, logical fallacies, distortions, and mis-representations of facts. Nevertheless, his articles still appear as references for several sources, including those on the Internet. In particular, as of now, his article on the Huế massacre is still quoted in Vietnamese Wikipedia to support the communist denial of the massacre while the information provided by Dr. Vennema is not fully quoted (Wikipedia 2014b). On the contrary, on the same subject of the massacre at Huế, Wikipedia in English gives a much more complete report (Wikipedia 2014c), including Vennema’s report and communist own documents confirming the massacre of more than three thousand people. Porter’s article is not cited in the Wikipedia in English.
It is important to maintain historical accuracy so that crimes committed by the Vietnamese communists are exposed. Articles such as those authored by Gareth Porter should be disregarded for their blatant distortions and inaccuracies. The Vietnamese communists, with their enormous propaganda budget and staff, have been working hard to block information flows to and from Vietnam. They want to deceive the Vietnamese public with distorted facts and low-quality articles like those of Porter. One of the most important objectives of the pro-democracy activists, domestic or overseas, is to widely disseminate accurate and truthful information to the people in Vietnam.
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2. Atzmon, Gilad. 2014. What is Wrong With Gareth Porter? Posted October 21, 2014.
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http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=2390718001 (accessed November 9, 2014).
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