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Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery.

Communication with the outside world was again permitted, and frontier controls were eased to permit some Tibetans to visit exiled relatives in India and Nepal. By the 1980s many of the principal lamas had begun to shuttle back and forth between China and the exile communities abroad, “restoring their monasteries in Tibet and helping to revitalize Buddhism there.”

These penalties have been enforced irregularly and vary by district. None of these child services, it should be noted, were available to Tibetans before the Chinese takeover.

or the rich lamas and secular lords, the Communist intervention was an unmitigated calamity.

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Guerrillas manufactured homemade bombs and mines from unexploded American ordinance. They set up punji traps and camouflaged land-mines for GIs to step on while on patrol. To trick American ground sensors, which were prone to false alarm and inaccurate placement, they used decoys such as sending herds of cattle to simulate troop movement. NLF officers placed their radio huts at a distance from command posts, resulting in air strikes “blast[ing] a patch of jungle just because a transmitter had been heard there,” according to an NSA study. Tanks and other heavy equipment as well as rice supplies were shipped through an alternative route from the heavily bombed Ho Chi Minh trail, Cambodia’s Port of Sihanoukville. Some of the most dedicated revolutionary fighters were women, following the example of the Trung sisters and Lady Trieu who had fought previous foreign invaders. Nguyen Thi Dinh led rebellions in Ben Tre province, while Ngo Thi Tuyen carried 95 kilograms of ammunition (twice her body weight) down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

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Among the advanced weapons used in Vietnam were B-52 bombers that could carry ten times the load of bombs as WWII models; AC-130 gunships, nicknamed “Puff the Magic Dragon,” capable of sensing ammonia in human sweat and urine, and firing 6,000 rounds per minute; Huey and Cobra attack helicopters with rapid-side fire capability; Raytheon and Hughes wire guided missiles with built-in path-correcting devices; swift boats equipped with twin .50 caliber machine guns; surface-to-surface rockets capable of operating at a range of over 100 miles; blockbuster bombs that could destroy enough jungle vegetation to create a “bald spot the size of a football field”; bombs laden with a proximity fuse with a 75-millisecond delay so they would detonate below the jungle canopy but above ground; camouflaged electronic sensors and land mines for use along the Ho Chi Minh trail; Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) capable of conducting surveillance over North Vietnam and China; and computerized navigation, mapping and communications systems linked with space-based satellites.

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Unable to speak the language, American soldiers attempted to identify communists and their supporters among the rural population

A third development was the signing of an international peace treaty ending the civil war in Laos in July 1962. The agreement was welcomed across the world as a step toward reducing Cold War tensions. Along with de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan helped to convince Kennedy that a negotiated solution in Laos was the most realistic option and would not hurt U.S. interests in the region. After conferring with Kennedy in March 1961, Macmillan wrote to de Gaulle: “I think that the President really accepts the necessity for a political solution if we can get one.” It took thirteen months of negotiations, but in the end, an agreement was signed by fourteen nations, including the belligerent parties in Laos and the governments of South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the United States, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China. Laos became a “neutral and independent” nation led by a coalition government under prime minister Souvanna Phouma, with power shared with the communist-led Pathet Lao. As the U.S. had been supporting anticommunist guerrillas in Laos since the late 1950s, approval of the treaty marked a significant change of policy.

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A second development was the opening of a backdoor dialogue between Diem’s brother, Nhu, and representatives of the NLF and DRV concerning the possibility of a reunited Vietnam. While this dialogue fell into the same category as reconciliation between the U.S. and Soviet Union, it was not perceived as such by the Kennedy administration, which moved quickly to squelch it. Nhu began talking with communist representatives in July 1963 about a possible accommodation that would allow him and his brother to remain in power while a lengthy unification of Vietnam proceeded. Hanoi and the NLF were willing to accept this delay if it meant ridding their country of foreign troops. President Kennedy, however, was committed to maintaining a separate, noncommunist South Vietnam. This meant not only staying the course in Washington, but also preventing the Vietnamese from working out a peace agreement among themselves. According to the diplomatic historian Fredrik Logevall:

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President Lyndon Johnson continued the trend toward Americanizing the war in Vietnam. On his third day in office, he told Ambassador Lodge, “I will not lose in Vietnam.” Johnson relied on Kennedy’s top advisers, which he kept, to tell him how to win the war. On November 26, 1963, he signed National Security Action Memorandum 273, which reaffirmed that the U.S. would assist the South Vietnamese to “win their contest against the externally directed and supported Communist conspiracy.”

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Lack of loyalty to the Diem government was more subtly apparent in the unwillingness of ARVN soldiers to fight. They were supposed to fight to the death for the government of South Vietnam (GVN), in a Washington-scripted play that divided the Vietnamese people into “good” non-communists and “evil” communists. Yet most had no cause for animosity toward the communist-led NLF and only wanted to survive and be paid. Hence when called to action, the results were often disappointing to U.S. military advisers. A case in point was the battle of Ap Bac on January 2, 1963, in which 350 lightly armed guerrillas routed a larger force of 2,000 ARVN soldiers equipped with Colt AR-15 rifles and light-weight jungle radios, and backed by aircraft and armored vehicles. The ARVN had one of the highest desertion rates in the history of modern warfare. Sixty-five percent of ARVN soldiers were forcibly conscripted, and many ARVN officers were patronage appointees who served the French and used their positions for personal gain.

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