Military Historian and Professor Kirstein “Debate” C.O.S.V.N.

Professor Moïse is a military historian at Clemson University who read my H.N.N. article and commented critically on its content. We disagree over the existence of the Central Office for South Vietnam which was used as the casus belli for the Nixon escalation of the ground war into Cambodia in 1970. Below is the excerpt from my article that triggered this colloquy. Both excerpt and comments are reprinted courtesy of History News Network.

“Not since the Vietnam War has the nation witnessed such congressional courage in resisting a significant escalation of a disastrous and immoral war. Richard Nixon in his epochal April 30, 1970 announcement, declared that Cambodia would be invaded by U.S. and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (A.R.V.N.) forces to destroy the Central Office for South Vietnam. This alleged North Vietnamese “Pentagon” we were told had to be destroyed or “totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.” Such a command center did not exist and was never located. Similar to the Bush administration’s prewar assertion that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it is another egregious example of deliberate disinformation or careless inattention to inconclusive intelligence used to justify an invasion of a third country.” Emphasis added.

COSVN in Cambodia (#106491)
by Edwin Moïse on March 5, 2007 at 10:38 AM
The command center that the Communists called the Trung uong cuc mien Nam and that Americans called the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), which President Nixon announced as a major target of his Cambodian incursion in 1970, certainly did exist. It has been discussed in numerous books published in Hanoi since the end of the Vietnam War. At the time of the Cambodian incursion, the Communists were in the process of moving the Trung uong cuc mien Nam (headed at that time by Pham Hung, with Nguyen Van Linh as his deputy) from the area near the Vietnamese border, where the Americans searched for it in vain, to a location much deeper in Cambodia, near Kratie.

It didn’t have a great resemblance to the Pentagon, but it did exist.

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Re: COSVN in Cambodia (#106498)
by Peter N. Kirstein on March 5, 2007 at 11:58 AM
It did not exist in Cambodia in 1970 in even a remote manner to the Nixon administration claims. This was the rationale for this escalation and was presented as a Pentagon “East” with huge C3I etc. If it were so extensive with underground bunkers, massive cache of weapons, major hierarchical command structure, I have seen no evidence of that. Sure there were perhaps a few senior officers in the south who had some command over a mobile operations command unit.

Like W.M.D. in Iraq, it was just another myth perpetrated by a deceitful and dishonest government.

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COSVN in Cambodia (#106508)
by Edwin Moïse on March 5, 2007 at 2:41 PM
Prof. Kirstein: Can you refer me to a Nixon administration description of COSVN that matches this description (huge C3I, underground bunkers, massive cache of weapons, major hierarchical command structure, etc.)? I see no such description in Nixon’s very brief comment on COSVN in his speech of April 30, 1970, in which he announced the Cambodian incursion.

I know the image to which you are referring; I remember the marvelous cartoon by Herblock of an American soldier who yells “Hey Joe, I think I found it” as he lifts up a pentagon-shaped cover that looks as if it is woven out of bamboo, under which is a pentagonal hole in the ground, containing a steno pool, and a lot of desks with papers on them with titles like “Cost Overruns in Rice Production.” But I am not sure to what extent this image was based on statements by the Nixon administration.

The Trung uong cuc mien Nam was more than a few senior officers running an operational command unit. It was a political-military headquarters, with a significant staff.

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Re: COSVN in Cambodia (#106565)
by Edwin Moïse on March 6, 2007 at 10:47 AM
Supplement to my previous comment: When I wrote that the Trung uong cuc mien Nam was not just a military operational headquarters, I should have mentioned that it was headed, at the time of the Cambodian incursion, not by a general but by a member of the Politburo of the Lao Dong Party. This was Pham Hung. He had replaced Nguyen Chi Thanh, who had been both a general and a member of the Politburo.

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Re: COSVN in Cambodia (#106606)
by Peter N. Kirstein on March 6, 2007 at 6:08 PM
You apparently are one of the few who believe that C.O.S.V.N. was more than an episodic mobile communications device. They said this thing was 50 miles from Ho Chi Minh City over the wall in Cambodia. GEE, never quite found it did they?? My article was accurate in every detail on this. Do you really think President Nixon would have minimalised this as the justification for the invasion? Do you actually believe that they wanted Americans to know the truth of this trumped up illusion?

L.B.J. who was the chief architect of the genocide, launched “Operation” Junction City in 1967, if my memory serves, and could not find this “Pentagon.”

Kindly consult an oral history of the Vietnam genocide, Christian Appy, Patriots. He interviewed A. J. Langguth, the esteemed reporter for the New York Times who was in country:

“A mythology had grown up about COSVN in the minds of American policy makers. I think they pictured it as a kind of huge bamboo Pentagon. Though they had some relatively sophisticated communication tools, COSVN was really just a collection of SMALL JUNGLE OUTPOSTS that could be abandoned in a moment’s notice. The idea that you were going to go in and wipe out the source of the infection once and for all was preposterous.”

It is your burden to prove Johnson and Nixon correct in demonstrating with evidence that it was more than an improvised, mobile command center that reflected guerilla war. Small, adaptable and easily relocated with a small, very small coterie of senior officers. To think the U.S. would invade a country to destroy something so minor as this is a disgrace and a war crime.

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Re: COSVN in Cambodia (#106612)
by Peter N. Kirstein on March 6, 2007 at 7:43 PM
Also George Herring, one of the great historians of the Vietnam War wrote in his seminal work, America’s Longest War: President Nixon in justifying his invasion of Cambodia claimed, “COSVN was the “nerve center” of North Vietnamesee military operations, although the Defense Department had made clear to him its uncertainty where COSVN was located or WHETHER IT EVEN EXISTED.”

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