The Pentagon, our military control center, couldn't understand how guerrilla fighters who had their ammunition carried over jungle trails on the backs of old men and women could beat a modern army supplied by helicopters. The military chiefs kept telling the President that if we just sent a few thousand more soldiers and dropped a few more bombs it would all be over. But the old men and women and the guerrilla fighters, who seemed to know how to vanish into the jungle, finally made the great and mighty United States give up and go home. We thought we were doing the right thing when we began. We thought we were fighting for freedom. And we never intended to make Vietnam a colony. So why did we make such a terrible mistake? At one point a worried President Johnson said: "I feel like a hitchhiker caught in a hailstorm on a Texas highway. I can't run. I can't hide. And I can't make it stop."
We didn't understand what the war was all about. It was indeed about freedom, but not the kind of freedom we envisioned. The Vietnamese wanted to be free of foreign rule. They wanted to choose their own leaders. They wanted freedom even to make the wrong decisions. This was a nasty civil war. We made it worsewe made it a high-tech war. We brought in grenades, rocket launchers, jellied-gasoline explosives (called napalm), and chemicals (called defoliants) that took the leaves off the jungle trees. And we still couldn't beat the Vietnamese. We should have known that could happen. After all, we started out as a small nation that defeated the great and mighty British empire. Didn't we remember that people fighting for their freedom are apt to be unbeatable? What had happened to us?