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HARRISON E. SALISBURY'S TRIP TO NORTH VIETNAM
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 1967
UNITED STATES SENATE,
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS,
The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 10 a.m., in room 318, Old Senate Office Building, Senator J. W. Fulbright (chairman) presiding.
Present: Senators Fulbright, Sparkman, Mansfield, Morse, Gore,
Also present: Senators McGee, Percy, and Hatfield.
The committee is meeting this morning to hear Mr. Harrison E. Salisbury, assistant managing editor of the New York Times, the first American newsman admitted to North Vietnam since the bombing of the north began. I wish to make it clear that this hearing is not a part of the series of hearings on "America's Responsibilities as a World Power" begun by the committee on Monday, but is simply an opportunity to discuss in public some of Mr. Salisbury's observations on his two-week visit to North Vietnam where we know very little about the people.
The conflict in Vietnam, as is often said, may be the best reported war in history, but there has probably never been a war in which we knew so little about the people with whom and against whom we are fighting. Our ignorance of the history, culture, and traditions of Vietnam and Southeast Asia have contributed much to the tragic conflict in which we now find ourselves. Some 500,000 American men are engaged in fighting a tough, dedicated, and resourceful opponent. The public needs to know more about this opponentwhy he is fighting and what he is fighting for-in order to evaluate our policies in an objective manner. I am sure that Mr. Salisbury can shed some light on these factors by giving us a better understanding of the war as seen from North Vietnam.
Mr. Salisbury, we appreciate very much you taking the trouble and time to come down here and discuss with us this most important matter. I believe you have a prepared statement to begin our discussion.
(The prepared statement follows:)
STATEMENT BY HARRISON E. SALISBURY AT THE HEARINGS BEFORE THE COMMITTEE
ON FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE U.S. SENATE ON FEBRUARY 2, 1967
The situation in Vietnam appears to me to be reaching a turning-point-one which may lead either to a negotiated settlement or to a sharp and dangerous escalation.
I bring this impression back from Hanoi and it is based on my talks with the North Vietnamese leaders, my observations of the state of war in the north, the complicated tensions centering around China and the progress of our own efforts to achieve a military solution in Southeast Asia.
We have now been pursuing with occasional interruptions a policy of bombing North Vietnam for about two years. The offensive was launched in February of 1965 and has gradually been extended and stepped up in its scope. First the attacks were made just north of the 17th parallel. Then they were moved up to the 20th and 21st parallels, and following that we began to attack in the north, in the northeast and in the northwest. Our air operations now extend to virtually every area of North Vietnam and have included since last July targets within the metropolitan areas of Hanoi and Haiphong. The result of this offensive has been to cause the Hanoi regime to lay plans for continuing the war in case of an eventual attack on Hanoi and Haiphong. We have already attacked all of their other cities and towns and a rather substantial number of their villages.
The objective of the offensive, as I understand it, is to punish the North Vietnamese regime, to make it more difficult for them to support operations in the south, and to compel them to negotiate with us at the conference table.
My on-the-spot observations of the physical results of the bombing in the Hanoi area and in regions as far south as 80 to 90 miles below Hanoi and north to a distance of 15 or 20 miles show that we have been able to inflict severe punishment upon many of the military facilities located in that region.
Our principal targets have been the railroads, the highways and the bridges which form the communications and supply network whereby arms, munitions, food and men are moved south, ultimately reaching and reinforcing the so-called Vietcong.
The damage inflicted on these facilities as well as upon storage and transshipment areas has been considerable. I was told by Westerners who have frequently visited the Haiphong area that we have successfully taken out most of North Vietnam's oil storage capacity. I saw tacit confirmation of this fact in the widespread dispersal of petroleum products in 55-gallon steel drums, literally strewn over the landscape in practically every direction that you move outside of Hanoi.
CONSEQUENCE OF BOMBING
One important consequence of the bombing program has been the dispersal of North Vietnamese supplies, material and facilities. Not only have they moved their population in large numbers out of the cities and towns into the small villages and countryside but they now do not, in so far as I was able to observe, maintain large concentrations of any kind of vulnerable materials (except in the Haiphong area). Instead they scatter stores out along the roads and in the fields through the country, generally in areas with easy access to the highway. This makes it extremely difficult for our bombing attacks to do very much damage to them.
There is no doubt in my mind that our bombing of the north has made it more difficult for the regime to continue the war and to continue its supply of materials to the south. But at the same time it is quite obvious that the supplies continue to move south in massive quantities. Despite continuous and very heavy bombing, both roads and railroads were operative during the time I was there, and other foreigners report that there has never been any serious disruption in communications to the south. The Vietnamese have an extremely efficient system for repairing the railroad. The railroad is a light one. The rolling stock is light. It is a single track affair and they scatter along its whole route vast quantities of spare rails, ties and ballast. When the road is hit, labor battalions are amassed from the countryside and instantly put to work, replacing the rails and filling in holes. Bridges are replaced with pontoons constructed of wooden canal boats, lashed together with a surface of bamboo poles. The materials are cheap, light and everywhere available, and the pontoons can be put in place within an hour or two of the destruction of a steel or conventional wooden bridge.
Where the railroad is cut and repairs will take some time, bicycle battalions are mobilized, each bike carrying a load of 600 pounds, and the train is unloaded onto bikes which then move forward past the break in the line to an empty train which is pulled up and reloaded. The process does not require more than two or three hours and there seems to be plenty of labor available to carry it out.
In the process of our bombing offensive there has been, of course, serious damage to civilian housing, loss of civilian life and damage and destruction of many non-military facilities. This kind of damage is readily observable in some areas of Hanoi itself, in the outskirts of the city and along the highways going south and in every city or town of any size which I visited. The damage is particularly evident in areas adjacent to the railroad, especially where there may have been railroad sidings which our bombers have attacked.
While there has been much reaction in this country over my reports of the damage to civilians and the casualties among civilians, I myself was not surprised at the results from our bombings, since past experience has shown that it is impossible to bomb military targets, particularly in a heavily populated country, without causing civilian casualties. What has proved true in the past has proved true in the present bombing offensive of North Vietnam.
One must balance against the deterring effects of our bombing to the movement of men and supplies to the south the strong reaction which the bombing has stimulated among the general populace. The people of North Vietnam, in so far as I observed them, seemed to be very strong and united in support of the war effort to an extent which I found surprising in a Communist country-and I think this is clearly attributable to the stimulus to their patriotic feelings which has been evoked by the common peril which they all experience that of the general bombing offensive.
Whether we have gained more in deterring movement of men and material to the south than is lost by the stiffening of this Vietnamese national feeling is difficult to say.
FUTURE OF WAR
With regard to the future of the war it seems clear to me that the major factor which has caused Hanoi seriously to consider a possible negotiated settlement in China. The Chinese situation is extremely touchy, fraught with very dangerous possibilities for Hanoi, and the most elementary kind of prudence, it would seem to me, would necessitate Hanoi's exploring what kind of settlement terms might be obtained at this moment rather than waiting until later when China's aid might be denied them. Hanoi requires both Chinese aid and Russian aid to maintain the war effort at its present level and would be severely handicapped if China closed its borders, cut off the supply routes or ceased sending aid. There is also the possibility ever present in the minds of the people in Hanoi that civil war might break out in China, which would limit China's ability to assist North Vietnam.
Thus, regardless of published statements, events seem to propel Hanoi toward exploration of a settlement of the war.
At the same time, the dangers of escalation seem grave to me. many American military strategists who see in the present indications of difficulty and stress for Hanoi an opportunity to escalate the war and thus, in their view, to make unnecessary any consideration of Hanoi's side in imposing a settlement.
The dangers of such a course lie in the possibility that we may by one act or another trigger the entry of China into the war. I was told specifically by the North Vietnamese that China would enter the war if we did one of several things: crossed the 17th parallel with land forces, made amphibious landings in the north from the coast, or, as it was said in general terms "brought the war closer to the Chinese frontier". In these circumstances Hanoi left no doubt that the call for Chinese intervention would go out and with that we would be confronted with direct warfare between the United States and China.
The possibility of Chinese intervention exists on other grounds as well. There are Chinese-oriented members of the Hanoi government. China is resolutely opposed to any settlement of the war. China wishes it to continue into the indefinite future. If Hanoi were to embark on a course designed to lead to a settlement the Chinese might well seek to overturn the Hanoi leadership and replace it with men dedicated to their special theories of protracted warfare.
In my view the most profitable course for the United States at the present time would be a quiet and entirely secret exploration with the representatives of Hanoi to see if elements of a reasonable and honorable settlement, which would be generally acceptable to both sides, could not be worked out. I have
no doubt about the difficulties of this procedure, but considering the dangers involved I think it would be a worthwhile endeavor.
STATEMENT OF HARRISON E. SALISBURY
Mr. SALISBURY. Senator Fulbright, I am very pleased to be here, and I will try to share with you, as much as I can, some of my observations in North Vietnam.
By chance I do happen to have been behind the enemy lines and this is a most unique experience, and I think that some of my observations should be of value in studying the policies we have been following in Southeast Asia and Vietnam and perhaps in evaluating any changes or any new lines for the future.
I thought perhaps I would start out by talking a bit about the war out there, that is the evidence one sees in Hanoi and in that area of the actual military conflict, and then perhaps go on to some of the ideas which I brought back concerning possible settlement of the war.
It is now almost exactly two years since we started our bombing offensive in the north, and the bombing offensive, of course, has been a controversial technique from the very beginning. There was, I believe, a good deal of discussion in the Government back and forth before it was embarked upon, but when it was begun-it had certain definite objectives, and one of them, I believe, was to try and persuade North Vietnam that they should negotiate, that they should come to the conference table, and militarily speaking, I believe the principal objective was designed to halt or to cut down on the flow of material, munitions, men from the north to the south.
PHYSICAL EVIDENCE OF BOMBING
In the time that I was in North Vietnam, which covered a period of about two weeks, I had quite a good opportunity to observe the physical effects of our bombing offensive. I traveled south from Hanoi distances of about 80 or 85 miles on two occasions, traveling along two or three of the principal highways, and I traveled in the area of Hanoi and to the north out to a distance of 10 or 15 miles.
Now I must say that throughout that region you can see the physical evidence of our bombing almost everywhere you go. It is very difficult to be out of sight of the results of the bombing. The principal targets that we have aimed at are the ones that you might suppose: they are means of communication, highways, railroads, bridges, supply depots, and other things which are important to the Vietnamese in sending supplies to the south, and the damage to these facilities has been considerable.
COUNTRYSIDE IS POOR
I might say just by way of describing the countryside that this is a poor country, our enemy there. It is a country of poor Asiatic peasants for the most part. Its principal occupation is rice culture. The country itself, at least in the Red River delta, it is one large rice granary, and most of the people are occupied in that particular pursuit. It is not an industrialized country
In the five years or so that Ho Chi Minh was in power between 1954 and 1959, when the war began to become more serious, no very great