tv 1975 NBC News Special Report on Communist Saigon CSPAN May 31, 2015 10:00am-10:31am EDT
that exists i do not know the statute of limitations. there's something to be said for telling the truth. that alone because of the shame it brings on people could be an important deterrent. the sad thing is we seem to have two standards of justice in america. a standard of impunity for the very powerful, the rick, the -- the rich, banksters and general if they ever get a sentence, it is very light. then everybody else is a normal standard of justice. these things have to change. >> ok, please join me in thinking elizabeth holtzman. [applause] we have a nice reception of stairs. let's continue the discussion. we have the next two days of opportunities to hear from panelists and review these issues. thank you again. [captions copyright national
cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer each week, american : history tv's real america brings you archival films that help to tell the story of the 20th century. up next from 40 years ago, a may 26th, 1975 nbc news special report on the fall of saigon. it documents the capture of the capital of south vietnam by north vietnamese communist forces a month earlier, and details events in the months following the end of the vietnam war. anchor we delay the start of the : tonight show starring johnny carson to bring you the following nbc news special report. reporter: at 12:00 noon on a april 30, north vietnamese tank broke the gate of the presidential palace in said gone. a communist soldier ran the revolution's flag across the empty lawn. the shooting on this day the communists won was not in a battle, but a celebration. saigon had already surrendered. gunfire
tonight, nbc news presents the first full report on saigon's first month as a communist city. announcer nbc news presents a : special report. communist saigon. here is nbc news correspondent john hart. john: good evening. it's been almost a month now since the communists won the war in vietnam. and during that time, they have allowed us only bits and pieces of information on what has been going on there since saigon surrendered. now we are beginning to know a little more. since last saturday, 82 newsmen, foreigners in vietnam, flew out with the stories and films that had been piling up there during the communist takeover. nbc's jim laurie was one of them, and he brought out with him the film that we're going to be seeing tonight. jim is in hong kong with nbc's jack perkins, and they're going to take us through the events of that last month in vietnam beginning with the surrender. gentlemen?
jack: jim, i don't know if you call it the fall of saigon or the liberation of saigon. but whatever it is, you witnessed pieces of history. we are happy to have the privilege of looking at that film and finally getting a sight of what was going on. starting with the day the last americans left, the day that everything suddenly turned around in vietnam. jim that was april 30th when the : last american helicopter left just before 8:00 in the morning. it was waiting on the roof of the u.s. embassy with the last americans to get aboard. downstairs even as the americans , were leaving, the south vietnamese were going through the embassy, floor by floor looting it completely. there were some military police there and that accounts for the firing that you heard, trying to stop it, but a very half hearted attempt. jack: they were not shooting people. jim they weren't shooting, just : into the air warning shots.
and that was the last helicopter that left the embassy carrying the u.s. marines, the marines that had spent the night keeping the vietnamese back. the vietnamese finally got to the roof of the embassy. jack to the helipad. :jen to the helipad there. :jack were they waiting for : another helicopter to come? jim although there was no hope : they were waiting for the last helicopter that never came. they had to struggle up to the roof through a great cloud of tear gas. before the marines left, they threw teargas carriers. the south vietnamese were asking us how we could help them. >> we think that american has some method, fighters, many way to save us from the communist. we don't want the stay here. reporter but you know that all : the americans are gone? >> yes, i know that. but i must come in case, just in case. reporter: but there is no way. all the helicopters are gone.
can -- >> can you help us? reporter: there is no way i can help because we are staying in saigon. anchor the government of south : vietnam surrendered. at 10:00 on the 30th. general doung van minh, who had been president only two days y down their arms. then he met with reporters inside the palace. he said that the provisionary revolutionary government forces would be there any moment. so everyone just waited. [explosions. reporter 12:00 noon. : the first soldier carrying the flag of the national liberation front. smashing through the fence of the gates and rolling on to the grounds of the independence palace. the great soviet built t-54 tanks.
jack well, if the north : vietnamese troops were given to celebration, i guess from their point of view it was quite something to celebrate. it was an awfully long way and long time from the jungles to this place and at this time. jim: after all, this is what it was all about. saigon. finally getting to saigon after this 30 years of war. [gunfire] the prg flag. and then general minh, escorted by the new revolutionary authorities, from the palace. he was returned to his home in saigon where he has been ever since. jack: but alive and well. jim: and apparently not under arrest, actually. and although there have been rumors that he might even return to politics, it would seem doubtful. but he is apparently being well cared for.
reporter: the man who just a couple of hours before had surrendered his country. in the streets of saigon, the tanks continued to move into the city. there were tanks and trucks all over with north vietnamese troops. and it's important to point out the troops that came into saigon were regulars from down in the north. jack: these were not the ragtag vietcong of years ago. these were regular north vietnamese forces. still a bit of panic, looting. jim: looting continued. there was no attempt initially by the north vietnamese force to do anything about the looting. it went on for hours. indeed i believe for at least the first day. jack this was the afternoon of : that same day, the 30th of april. jim the troops had been coming : in ever since. the americans had left that morning.
the country had surrendered. and it all happened within that short span of eight hours, with about two or three-hour intervals in between each significant event. jack: jim, what's amazing to me in these pictures here, this is the first day that the conquering army has arrived in the capital. and the south vietnamese people on the streets don't seem to be looking at them as a conquering army. they seem to be looking at them as a traffic obstacle that are blocking their way. jim: the reaction initially was one of curiosity. it was some uncertainty, i'm sure, and apprehension. there were some scattered pockets of resistance. a few snipers here and there and holdouts. in this particular instance, about three or four blocks from the american embassy. we followed the north vietnamese
by that time had become known as the yai fong, or liberation troops as they routed out some of these snipers. this was probably a new experience for them. they're not really that experienced in urban warfare door to door. rather new. they acted as if of course they had all the time in the world with which to accomplish their little mission here. which they did not, in the end. you get a sense for how young this north vietnamese army is. jack: impressive thing, isn't it? jim: 14 and 15-year-old. >> the saigon fire department got taken by surprise here in all the firing. they made a hasty retreat. they had come to put out a small fire in the area. jack: but again, as you said, that was isolated and sporadic that sort of action. mostly the troops didn't have any work like that at all to do once they got to town. jim: very little. it was mainly a question of moving about the streets and
making their presence known. jack: was there a lot of killing? jim: it was very little that we were able to determine. in saigon, we did come across one apparently shot arvn sailor was along the side of the road. was the only one we were able to see. there was destruction. some planes had crashed into certain sections of the city. i understand that some of these planes were piloted by people trying to make an escape from south vietnam. jack: now it was just a play thing for kids. jim: throughout, we saw columns of liberation troops, if you want to call them that, coming through the streets. weaving in and out of the traffic. the traffic, as it always was in saigon, was dense. jack: you get the feeling that they were coming to serve a military function or just to see
the big city? jim: one gets the feeling that after all they deserved this in their terms great victory. and perhaps every soldier was told he could see the city for the first time. saigon radio was on the air in the new tones of the liberation very shortly. then newspapers quickly changed, disappeared. jack: all newspapers were closed, and one official newspaper appeared that was named the yai fong daily, or liberation daily. jim: some things didn't change though, jack. the street vendors, as always. jack: it must have been an amazing things for both the south vietnamese to look at the
north vietnamese to look at this. jack: the black market. jim: a thing that does not exist in hanoi, a sort of culture or life that they are not familiar any more than the people of saigon are floor with their -- but they seem, jack, to have adapted very well. they were buying things on the black market almost as soon as they arrived. everything from watches to toy made in america m-16 rifles. jack: getting a kick out of that. jim: and immediately, the enterprising tailors of the city, new business started making vietcong flags, which were immediately put up on all the buildings. jack: someone must have been making them long before. jim: probably so. in the chinese sector. another innovative vendor started creating what came to be known throughout the war as ho chi minh sandals, the footwear of the guerrilla carved out of the treads of old rubber tires. jack: probably off of american vehicles. there are many rap sessions perhaps we could call them in the street, get acquainted
sessions. people from the north getting to know the local civilians and vice versa, trading tales of what it was like up north. each getting acquainted with the other, there is a lot of getting acquainted to be done. jack: have your picture taken with your neighborhood prg soldier. jim: and only a few years ago, these same polaroid photographers were taking the photos of american gis. jack: in that same square. jim: in that same location. jack: what did they charge? jim: they charged a thousand piasters, which is about one dollar. a joint military committee appeared briefly in saigon. they had been held up at the air base. this was the committee founded during the paris peace -- jack: communists troops or they're all a time -- were there all the time. riding in a car. jim: there were also members of
the international control commission still around. for two years to supervise the peace. and then they left shortly thereafter after the peace was restored. jack: while there was no peace, they were there. now that there is peace, they've gone. jim: immediately, all of the south vietnamese regulars, the soldiers were asked to register. in a few days there were radio broadcasts all citizens to bring -- asking all citizens to bring their old papers of the old government down and register themselves. jack: do you know of any reprisals against men because they served in the arvn? jim: no. even the south vietnamese officers went to register and were given new papers, returned home and told go about your business as usual. this monument in downtown saigon symbolized the south vietnamese army. and in a few days, students and others decided to take the statue down. jack: it also symbolized what an
excess of money and bad taste can accomplish. who brought it down? jim: it was brought down by students and other civilians on the theory that the symbols must go. the symbols of the past must go. jack: there it went. life on the streets of saigon, or ho chi minh city. live -- jim: ho chi minh city is the new revolutionary name, as they call it. jack: jim, i wonder. if as that film suggests, things were returning to normal so quickly in saigon after the communist troops took over. if that's true, first of all does it stay that way now that most of the foreign press are out? does it revert? or if it does stay that way, those thousands and thousands of south vietnamese who fled fearing a bloodbath, fearing reprisals, were they all terribly misguided and mistaken?
jim: it's probably safe to assume it's not going the stay this way forever. i talked to a number of cadre, local communists in saigon. they seem to suggest that things will remain much as they are right now for perhaps three months. and there will be a very gradual tightening. new restrictions. jack: controls. jim: new controls over the population. this may take a very long time. the policy does seem to be gradualism. but during this period of normalcy, one is struck by the numbers of people that came to us asking about their families they had sent to america. mainly, there were people in the military who had sent out their families. jack: gotten them out on the american evacuation to spare their lives or whatever? jim: presumably. and now these men were left alone. and wanting their families. in one case, we ran into a major it had been given a new job.
he was a communication specialist in the south vietnamese army. he had been given a new job at the foreign ministry. and he said i've got a job now. i'd like to have my wife and two children back. can you help me? jack: across the country of vietnam now, there are obviously -- there are obviously great problems. there are things that must be done. all right. the war is over. now there is work to be done. now there is a country to be rebuilt. jim: and the first priority is to get everything back in working order, get the economy going and the of course principle aspect of the south economy -- south vietnamese economy is agriculture. it's rice growing. in saigon at the south vietnamese major airport there tan son airport there was
, damage. jack: the last attack of the war, the rocketing of ton sut. -- tan son. jim: within a few days the runways were opened and communication was established at least with hanoi, which is all important. planes came in from hanoi and boats did as well. this the first ship that came down from the north. into the harbor or the river port of saigon. jack: reopening commerce. between north and south. jim: bringing in from the north the petroleum products, oil and gasoline which are in short supply in the south. and probably at some point taking out the agricultural goods which the north needs because the north is undersupplied in most food products. jack: in theory, of course, the north and south are geographically complementary. can one travel by road now from north to south? jim: within the last three weeks, there have been a number of convoys, including convoys of journalists and officials that have come down by bus from
hanoi, stopping at wai and yanang and all the coastal cities on the way to saigon. jack: a bridge obviously. jim: this bridge is the work that is being done very rapidly the roads are being repaired. the north vietnamese regulars are doing much of the work. indeed, they've had a good deal of experience in the north doing that, because they've had many bridges to rebuild after years of american bombings. jack: jim, this leads me to ask you about some of the immediate problems that face the country of south vietnam. but i think at the moment, we ought to bring in the fellow sitting on your right. because this is a young man who has been working in and out of vietnam for 13 years, peter, that right? jim: peter arnett is a special correspondent for ap. and he has been there whenever anything was happening in vietnam. and he just came out also with the group of newsmen this past weekend. jack: both of you gentlemen what are the immediate problems that that country faces now under its new government? peter: well, money is a major one. people just don't have money anymore.
the banks have been closed since the takeover. jack: the south vietnamese currency is still valid? peter: yes. jack: the piaster. peter: it's an interesting situation which i never thought i would see in 30 years. south vietnamese currency pisater is more valuable than the american dollar. in the streets of saigon, there are citizens the businessmen , they attempt to change their dollars back into piasters at a very good rate. but dollars weren't any good to us either because we could not change them. jack: is there enough food in the city and in the country? peter: there is diminishing food. the authorities from what we can see have started issuing some food to the saigon residents. i believe it's a -- about a quart bottle of rice a day per family in some of the poorer
sections. the market is laden. the central market in saigon is laden with fruit and meats, but there is the problem of money. that people don't have the money to buy it right now. jack: this was a demonstration organized by buddhists, not by the government? jim: by the buddhist monks apparently. they do not seem to be as yet the organization apparatus for getting together big crowds. this was the largest celebration of all, the may 15th victory celebration. which all the leadership was present. leaders from north vietnam and the people of the provisional revolutionary government as well. the principle speaker was wen
huto. next to him is the man whose face was familiar for those who followed the paris peace talks. madam binh, another face from paris, the foreign minister of the liberation government. and wen ton fot. and the president of north vietnam. a man named ton duc thang. he is a figurehead, but it's important that north vietnam's president was at this ceremony. jack: well, that's an interesting point, jim. how important was it? what does it mean, jim and peter, both of you. what does all of this mean as far as the big question of the reunification of this country? south and north vietnam? peter: well, you just see the troops rolling down past the street now, and you can see they are north vietnamese troops led by north vietnamese officers and and controlled by the politburo
in hanoi. they're the power in all of vietnam now there are some who talk about politics and participation. but in fact, the north vietnamese do control the country entirely. and they will determine the political future. jack: you mean in fact it is reunified today, if not in name? peter: in fact it has been reunified, of course. jack: the military might that is assembled here is worth noting. these combined weapons with china, the soviet union. plus all the weapons that american aid left behind. vietnam now has got the biggest military force in asia outside of china. the new government has been recognized by a number of diplomats. we have the chinese and the soviets. jim: these are the guns and the -- peter: these are the guns and
the tanks that finally led to the great debacle. it took only 50 days of the south vietnamese army to totally disintegrate. and it was the knowledge that these weapons were in the hills that sent them finally running. jim: interesting point there is the children waving flags. there were a lot of the red, yellow and blue prg flags. there were also the plain red flags with the yellow star. that's the north vietnamese flag, of course. they were flying those. these are the sam-2 missiles that they have ringed around saigon right now. the order went out for this celebration for both flags to be displayed. and a big speculation now is which one will be pulled down. maybe it will be that that liberation flag will come down the north vietnam flag will remain. jack: well, the demonstrations are over. most of the newsmen, the foreign newsmen now have left. most of them.
what happens now, gentlemen? peter: well, it's already starting to happen. as a matter of fact, a foreign newsman, we have a great disadvantage. we can only write what we see. and we aren't seeing in vietnam today the formation of the local committees, the district committees in each area. saigon has 11 districts. you have situations where market women are suddenly appearing as the commissars of the areas. and they're taking over control. jack: i think that's a good point you make, peter, that we have seen a lot through your film, jim, and neil's film, of what has been happening in saigon. but there is a lot, isn't there, that we're not seeing? what else is there that we're not seeing this we must know about? peter: we're not seeing the real political grip that the communists are putting on south vietnam, that they have to do if they're going to control the society indefinitely. it's one thing to have air missile in the city, but it's another thing to have a village cooperating with you and producing the rice you need and
willingly doing so or doing it willingly or unwillingly. jack: jim and peter, you know when you face an astounding situation like this, something you never expected to see with your own eyes, you must talk to yourself. i know i do. what did you say yourself? what did you think when you saw the conclusion of this greatest story perhaps any of us have covered? jim: john i can say it was , absolute amazement to see those north vietnamese and vietcong troops come into the streets of saigon. i was here in 1970 through 1972, and was on the other side, shall we say covering this war. this time i suddenly found myself particularly in that sequence in which we were with
the north vietnamese troops seeking out snipers. here i was suddenly in a combat situation, really, on the north vietnamese side. and it was a totally confusing experience, i must say. peter: well, in my case, when i rushed out of our office on to tu do street and saw the first truckloads come by, my reaction was my first feeling was why. i had watched it since 1962. and i mean, why in the sense of all this bloodshed and all this sacrifice by so many people and all the efforts by americans and south vietnamese to prevent what turned out to be the inevitable and what turned out to be a very peaceful, simple, seemingly natural event. the troops coming into saigon. the saigonese looking at the flags and sort of going about their own duties. i said to myself, you know, why 15 years of all this effort and bloodshed. jack: --
anchor: thank you, gentlemen. peter arnett of the associated press. jim laurie and jack perkins of nbc news. neil davis, who took the pictures we saw is not with us tonight. he is still in saigon, still filming what he is allowed to see. and that is less and less as the new government closes its hand over the country. we've seen the military takeover, but not the political one, which we've heard about but were unable to photograph. things such as political re-education, confiscation of property. the occasional execution of people denounced as thieves or resistors of the new government. the people who are running vietnam now are filled with a sense of national destiny and righteousness which we americans seem to have lost in vietnam. to us, all this seems to be the end of something. to them, the 30 years war was a preparation for a beginning of something neither north nor south but simply vietnam, their vietnam. i'm john hart. good night for nbc news.
announcer: next, a panel of historians looks at the reconstruction era and the different way it has been viewed over time. the panel examines a reconstruction in tennessee and how many citizens reacted more positively to the government than their southern counterparts. tennessee was the last of the southern states to join the confederacy, and its population -- a significant portion of the state's population remained loyal to the union throughout the civil war. this 90 minute event took place in knoxville, tennessee. laura: good afternoon, welcome to the afternoon session of reconstruction tennessee. i serve on the sesquicentennial commission. as a representative of middle