(9 Nov 1995) English/Nat

Two former war-makers in Vietnam have met for the first time 20 years after the end of hostilities.

Former US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara and General Vo Nguyen Giap, Vietnam’s chief strategist during the war against the United States, met in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

The two former foes talked about the war and pledged their friendship.

Only a few years ago former U-S Secretary of Defence and mastermind of the war against Vietnam, Robert McNamara, wrote a book in which he described the conflict as a mistake.

Today he met his old foe, Vietnam’s chief strategist during the war years General Vo Nguyen Giap, for the first time.

Old emotions flickered as they talked and although McNamara had said the purpose of his visit was not to rehash history, he could not resist asking General Giap what really happened in the Tonkin Gulf on August 4, 1964.

A dubious report of a North Vietnamese attack in the Gulf was used by President Johnson to obtain congressional support for widening the war and the U-S was propelled deeper into the conflict.

McNamara told Giap he still didn’t know what had happened in the gulf, but he believed the US had made a serious misjudgment.

Giap told McNamara there had been no attack.

The General described the U-S fear that Southeast Asia could fall to Communism as an illusion, but added that “some people, even the brightest ones, believe in such illusions.”

As Secretary of Defence from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, McNamara was an early and enthusiastic supporter of U-S military backing of South Vietnam against the Communist North.

His enthusiasm caused many to nickname the conflict “McNamara’s War.”

The now retired Giap was Vietnam’s chief strategist in the wars against France and the United States and is widely regarded as one of the world’s most successful living generals.

Early in the hour-long meeting Giap told McNamara he hoped he would remain a friend of Vietnam, to which McNamara agreed he would.

McNamara arrived in Hanoi on Tuesday as part of a delegation from the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations which is planning a conference of top Vietnam War decision-makers from both sides next year.

The council says the conference could be an opportunity to share material from each other’s archives and set historical records straight.

McNamara told Giap the conference could help ‘ensure that our nations and other nations learn how to avoid such conflicts in the future.”

What’s been extraordinarily interesting to me… they’re as interested as I am. How did the war occur? Could it have been prevented? Were there opportunities to terminate the conflict?
SUPER CAPTION: Robert McNamara, U-S Secretary of Defence 1961-68

Before the meeting, McNamara took a walk around a downtown Hanoi park, although none of the locals doing their early morning exercises appeared to recognise the man who once planned the bombing raids which laid parts of their country to waste.

The Council on Foreign Relations invited Giap and Vietnam’s Vice President Nguyen Thi Binh to visit the United States. Both said they would consider the offer.

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