Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Peter Arnett reflects on his role covering the controversial Vietnam War for The Associated Press from 1962 to its end on April 30, 1975 in his new memoir Saigon Has Fallen, an intimate and exclusive remembrance on the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.
Saigon Has Fallen is about my coming of age as a journalist during my thirteen years covering the Vietnam War. It is also about the failed dreams of those who launched the war, and the sacrifice of the many that died in it. My Vietnam assignment was at times a baptism of fire, as I shared the dangers of the battlefield with American and Allied soldiers, and reported stories and wrote analyses for the families back home, who were increasingly skeptical about the war and its objectives.
It was also a struggle for my professional credibility because this was America’s last uncensored war, and the administrations of three presidents endeavored to present a wholly optimistic picture of events. We journalists chose the truth, sharing with our newspaper and television audiences the bitter realities of an unwinnable war that for the American and South Vietnamese soldiers who fought it came to an unbearable, heartrending end with the communist victory forty years ago.
To some degree, the United States is still nursing its wounds from the war that remains a benchmark for misguided foreign conflicts. In Saigon Has Fallen, I present a personal view of those years, including the struggles of my Associated Press and other news colleagues to provide the unvarnished truth about the war even as local officials physically blocked our coverage, violently at times, and as senior officials in Washington tried to undermine our reputations.
I mention my journalistic relationships with some of the better-known figures of that era, including Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and Ambassador Graham Martin, and recall my long-term acquaintanceship with General William Westmoreland, the American military commander for much of the war who in retirement came to terms with the failure. It was in Vietnam that I first wrote about Captain Norman Schwarzkopf, then a military adviser but later the successful commander of coalition forces in the first Gulf War.
And I remember my friendship with the legendary John Paul Vann, the maverick Texan who was retired by the military for his critical views of the war in its early stages, and died in action late in the war believing that victory might still be possible.
Most importantly to me, I write about the American infantrymen and their officers that I met when they first began arriving in force in 1965, firmly believing in their mission. As the war progressed I was welcomed on their combat operations and was privileged to report on their victories and defeats. My detailed battle reports for the Associated Press were criticized as being too revealing by the military high command, but the soldiers themselves and America’s newspapers welcomed them.
This memoir comes forty years after the Vietnam War ended, but my memories remain crystal clear, as do the memories of many of the soldiers who served there. I know that history has moved on, but the military and political mistakes made during that conflict are important to remember today as America seeks to define its role in an uneasy world.
Saigon Has Fallen also includes twenty-one dramatic photographs from the AP Archive and the personal collection of Peter Arnett.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Peter Arnett reflects on his role covering the controversial Vietnam War for The Associated Press from 1962 to its end on April 30, 1975 in his new memoir Saigon Has Fallen, an intimate and exclusive remembrance on the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon.