In Jack Smith's Death in the Ia Drang Valley, how does Private Smith feel about the Viet Cong?
Quite unsurprisingly for someone who actually fought in and survived the battle of Ia Drang Valley (please note it is and “I” and not an “L,” and is pronounced like “Ya Drang”) Jack Smith’s view of the Viet Cong guerrillas against whom he waged war – and it is again important to remember that this particular battle was primarily against North Vietnamese regulars, not just against Viet Cong guerrillas – is influenced by both the savagery and the skill and commitment displayed by those men. In his essay Death in the Ia Drang Valley, November 13-18, 1965, he provides both a history on and commentary of that momentous battle. Note, in the following passage from Smith’s article, the role played in the initial assault by the Viet Cong, and his reaction to them:
“Late that morning the Cong made a charge. About 100 of them jumped up and made for our lines, and all hell broke loose. The people in that sector opened up with everything they had. Then a couple of our Skyraiders came in. One of them dropped a lot of stuff that shimmered in the sun like green confetti. It looked like a ticker-tape parade, but when the things hit the ground, the little pieces exploded. They were antipersonnel charges Every one of the gooks was killed. Another group on the other side almost made it to the lines. There weren't enough GI's there, and they couldn't shoot them down fast enough. A plane dropped some napalm bombs just in front of the line. I couldn't see the gooks, but I could hear them scream as they burned. A hundred men dead, just like that.”
Smith’s is a straight-forward account of a vicious battle in which American forces were badly outnumbered, and he wrote it while the war was still going on and while the events of those days were still firmly embedded in his memory. This article was not a retrospective written long after the war when the United States and Vietnam reconciled (to a certain degree) and North Vietnamese and Viet Cong personnel were ‘humanized’ by writers. Smith’s article presents a front-line perspective of battle, avoiding any social niceties, as in the following:
“All afternoon we could hear the PAVN [People’s Army of Viet Nam, the North Vietnamese Army], a whole battalion, running through the grass and trees. Hundreds of GI's were scattered on the ground like salt. Sprinkled among them like pepper were the wounded and dead Cong. The GI's who were wounded badly were screaming for medics. The Cong soon found them and killed them.”
Every mention or depiction of the Viet Cong in Smith’s article reeks of inhumanity and contempt, but without any hyperbole whatsoever. He presents them as they were: cold-blooded killers in the service of the autocratic government for whom they served.