"President Johnson authorised new air strikes on North Vietnam in early December. Reports circulated overseas that targets overlapped civilian neighbourhoods. The Pentagon said that was absurd. Then the first accredited American correspondent to visit Hanoi in twelve years, Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times, wired back his eyewitness accounts. The first ran on December 25 on page 1. Merry Christmas, Mr. President:
A Visitor to Hanoi Inspects Damage Laid to U.S. Raids
President Johnson's announced policy that American targets in North Vietnam are steel and concrete rather than human lives seems to have little connection with the reality of attacks carried out by U.S. planes.
Salisbury ended up publishing twenty-two pieces on the subject that winter. He reported eighty-nine civilian deaths in one town, forty in a second, twenty-four in a third - and that, in this "brushfire war," more bombs had been dropped on Vietnam since 1966 than the entire tonnage dropped on Japan during World War II. In Nam Dinh, North Vietnam's third-largest city, he wrote of "block after block of utter desolation." He said the targeting of civilians was going on "deliberately".
The Pentagon claimed what civilian casualties there were came from the Communists' deliberate emplacement of surface-to-air missiles in populated areas. Or from the necessity of jettisoning bombs when attacked by MiGs. And that the eighty-nine deaths were evidence of "rather precise" bombing. Spokesman Arthur Sylvester - he called Salisbury's paper the "New Hanoi Times" - said if Salisbury doubted them, he should take a gander at the anti-aircraft guns up the street of Nam Dinh, right by the railroad tracks. Salisbury, who'd been covering bombings since the London Blitz, said he'd already been there and had found only a destroyed textile factory.
Lying about Vietnam: it had become a Washington way of life..."
(Nixonland, Perlstein, Simon and Schuster, p.169)
In tribute to Robert McNamara, 1916-2009.