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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Albert Gore, October 24, 1976. Interview A-0321-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Gore's opposition to Vietnam

Expanding on a previous discussion, Gore describes how a visit to Vietnam solidified his opposition to the war there, revealed the potential dangers of the United States' involvement in the region, and disclosed the questionable actions taken by various federal agencies active in the region.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Albert Gore, October 24, 1976. Interview A-0321-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I'm trying to identify it. I believe it was '59, either '58 or '59. I believe it was '59. And then Madame Nu, the sister-in-law of Ngo Dinh Diem who later became world-renowned, invited us to dinner. And I began to have doubts about the regime there, about our involvement there. I remember I became very critical of a tactical program of establishing strategic villages in the Vietnam highlands, largely in an unpopulated area except for the roaming Montagnards. And the United States was financing largely all the things in South Vietnam, almost entirely if not entirely financing the establishment of strategic villages. I remember now seeing a bamboo fence around the village. This was supposed to be protection against the North Vietnamese, against the Vietcong. I saw several of these strategic villages. I can recall now being shown around one of the villages. And the village was really a newly-established, inhabited area out in the mountains. And the Diem regime would conscript people and families from the cities, from Saigon for instance, and force these people to go out in these strategic villages and live. And they were supposed to be, as I understood it, buffers to infiltration of the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, whichever. And I remember that in being shown around one of these villages I was told that here was a spot that the peasant's cow had brought forth a new calf, had given birth to a new calf. A tiger had leaped this bamboo fence and grabbed the calf and leaped back over the fence and made away with the farmer's baby calf. Well, I remember it struck me as being quite unusual that we were furnishing the money in a war of tanks and planes and massive armor to establish a strategic village out in the jungle protected by a bamboo fence which a tiger could leap without benefit of power or lead or gasoline and make off with a calf. It seemed to me to illustrate the insecurity and the futility of this whole tactic. And they were felling these huge trees, 3-4-5-6 feet in diameter, clearing the ground to conscript these people who (I was convinced) wanted no part of it to go out and live in this jungle to be a foil to infiltration. And they would fell the forest and build many air strips for small planes to land at these strategic villages. It seemed to me to be unrealistic. And then I had another eye-witness observation. Of course our route was well mapped out for us (and I wouldn't have gone if it hadn't been), but it was mapped by those who were strongly in support of the Vietnam war, the Vietnam policy, the policy that was being followed. And here was a field; I remember it was on the right, and I was sitting on the right in the back seat. And these peasants, oh maybe forty or fifty of them were hoeing. [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
There was a thick infestation of weeds in a field; I've forgotten whether it was corn or cotton or flax or what it was. Anyway, there were more weeds than the cultured plant. And they were chopping vigorously at these weeds. And after we passed I leaned over and looked out the back window, and they were all throwing their hoes down on the ground in disgust [laughter] . So this illustrated to me that a show was being put on for us. And the longer I stayed the more I realized that there was something synthetic, something deceptive about this whole operation, and I became harshly critical. Remember this was in the early stages of our involvement in the war. And I did go to President Kennedy after his election and say that in my view our national security was not involved there, and that if it were we were allied with a weak and a corrupt regime, an authoritarian dictatorship that demonstrated no regard for human rights or civil rights or individual dignity. Well, with this beginning I developed a questioning, and from a very critical point of view. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee I was entitled to the secret information available. One man who gave me unstintingly (insofar as I could tell from the stand of security information) was the head of the CIA, Dick Helms. Ultimately, after the Pentagon Papers were released, I found little new in them. They did, however, show that Helms had been the most accurate adviser of both the President and the Senate on the question of aid to Vietnam. [Omission]
I think the event that confirmed me as to the deception involved in the whole policy, the misconception, the misleading leadership that we had had, the falsifications, was in an investigation of the Gulf of Tonkin incident. It fell to me to interrogate Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense. And I became convinced beyond any question in my mind that he had deliberately sought to mislead the Senate Committee and mislead the country. I became convinced that there was no attack on the second night. I became convinced that in the first instance there was some sort of an attack but it was not unprovoked, that in fact it was provoked, that the very presence of our task force there was intended to provoke. So there appeared to me a scheme of deception, of deliberate establishment of incidents to inflame the people and to justify intervention in the war. Well, after having become convinced of this, which conviction was supplemented with almost every issue of confidential information that I had from Helms and such other sources as I had, I came to have an emotional, a very strong commitment against it, and particularly when so many United States men were losing their lives and many many more people in Southeast Asia were being slaughtered in this cause that I considered unjust and unsound and unneeded, unjustified, unwarranted. I became immune to the criticisms that my position was steadily bringing to me. The issue seemed to me to transcend in importance my own personal political fortunes, so I became a very strong opponent of the war. And I was one of those (in fact I think I can say that I was the deciding influence) that persuaded Senator J. William Fulbright to lead (I forget the authorization of the committee) the committee to hold the investigation of the Vietnam war. And if you will recall, it was only this investigation that made opposition to the war respectable. It was this investigation which, in my view, saved the country from the mistake of invading North Vietnam, which the Chinese had said would be the cause célèbre which would cause them to enter the war. So though it can't be established, I nevertheless then held the view (and I still hold the view) that this investigation of the Vietnam war by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which I was one of those who sought and had the deciding vote to bring about, may have saved us from the cataclysmic mistake of a war with China.