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Although we are obliged to employ statistics to measure the war’s impact, numbers can never capture the tears, anxieties, and repeated losses that the Vietnamese people suffered. Such experiences mock all efforts to plumb or describe them, and all wars Page 2 must, however great our sensibilities, resist our attempts to comprehend them. Only those who have experienced or witnessed them can begin to sense their searing realities. Monumental human and social tragedies cannot be computed, and whenever we rely on statistics—nearly all of which are, at the very best, finite approximations—we also confess our inability to grasp realities that are far more profound and elusive.

In a crucial sense, the entire course of Vietnam’s modern history has been the result of convulsions, the 1944–5 famine which killed about two million people and the Japanese defeat in 1945 being the most significant, to which the infinitesimally small number of Communists could, at best, only respond. But however accidental and improbable the triumphant Vietnamese Revolution of August 1945 appears at first sight, in reality it was no more unpredictable than the world war on which it was symbiotic, or many other modern revolutions.

Aid! In late 1973, when I visited South Vietnam, National Liberation Front officials who asked me about the war’s possible duration responded with frank skepticism to my prognostication—already too conservative—that it would end within two years; most of them believed that ten years or even longer was much more likely I have no doubt whatsoever about Communist calculations, for when in February 1975 I met the future foreign minister in Geneva and told him I believed the war would very soon be over, only three months later in Hanoi he confessed that he had thought I was “crazy” Nonetheless, the errors the Communists made during the war cannot detract from their overriding success in attaining victory, for whatever reasons—whether the foibles of others and success by default or their own wisdom, but especially the enormous courage and privations of their people.

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