The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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Here is the last letter I wrote from Vietnam before departing. I was disillusioned, annoyed for having wasted nearly eight months with nothing to show for it. I was also itching to get on my way to Cambodia, where (at the time) peace prevailed.

Friday, 30 August 1968

Dear everyone~

After the last letter I wrote, I don’t think any of you will be surprised to learn that I finally resigned from PA&E. I just can’t face 11 months of wasting my time and the government’s money, no matter how much of the latter they might pay me. The lab program is a dead horse no matter how one views it, and any attempts to revive it (within the framework of PA&E) is an exercise in futility. The company is falling apart. More adverse publicity at home. A group of disgruntled former employees who went out in the course of the Qui Nhon debacle have formed a consortium of sorts to bring a lot of pressure from back home, as well as suits. There’s much talk of a stop-work injunction being sought. The whole affair stinks, and I’ve had all I can stand of it.

The deed is done, and plans are well along for the trip to Bangkok. The paperwork involved in getting out of VN is worse than that required to get in. Supposedly I will get my exit visa on Wednesday, and my ticket to Phnom Penh; I should get my Cambodian Visa on Thursday, and I’m booked to leave the same day on the 4 PM flite. This is cutting it pretty thin, but there is another flite Friday (no more ’till Teusday ff.) that I maybe can take if some hitch occurs on the Thursday one. Airlifting the bike is costing more than airlifting me—naturally, as it weighs more than I do. But the entire fare is less than 65 bucks for both of us, and the approx. 20 kilos of luggage I’m taking along. Am sending one large suitcase unaccompanied, as I think I mentioned before: that will cost about 12 bucks.

What with the transfer, my word to the post office a month ago, and other difficulties (not the least of which is that the PA&E mail room can’t seem to understand the difference between EMD and ECMD), I got a big wad of mail yesterday: a card from the folks in Canada, two letters from Todd (both written prior to one other later one that came straight through), the family letter from the southern branch, and two letters from Willie in Qui Nhon, the chap I roomed with through the Tet days in Jan & early February. I rather think there may be more letters from the folks wandering around somewhere.

I picked up a used Instamatic camera cheap. Just my sort of thing, no adjustments of any kind. A go/ no-go type light meter built in. Nothing fancy, but ought to provide some record of the trip. I have a tentative arrangement with a motorcycle enthusiast’s magazine in the states to publish an article on my trip, so you may eventually be able to “read all about it!” Of course they want some photos, too. Their most recent report of this sort was by a man & his wife who took a BMW with sidecar(!) from Brighton, England to Sydney, Australia. (Part of the way was by boat…)

The enclosed photos (please circulate) were taken this morning: I lashed on all my gear just to see how it looks and how the bike rides with it in place. I can’t even feel it there, and there is no effect on the handling. It takes me only a few minutes to drop it all off, buckle the saddlebags together and flop them over the grip, giving me a neat single-handle package to carry into hotels, etc. Fortunately, I learned the art (and the value!) of traveling light while in Europe. Better than half the weight of what I am taking is in tools, spare items, tire patching kit, etc. Having had the engine overhauled, I don’t expect much difficulty. but I’m ready for it. Oriental craftsmen, though hopelessly slow by our standards, are resourceful, and they can—and frequently do—manufacture parts that are not otherwise available. There are many pre-WWII motorcycles still in regularly use here, machines that parts are hard to find for even in Europe now I would guess. It is a paradise for seekers after vintage machines, though generally owners are reluctant to part with their venerable machines. Can’t say that I blame them—I’ve seen a number of large old bikes that I would enjoy having in my stable if I were permanently located somewhere.

But my Honda should take me nicely along to BK. It is light a enuf machine that it does not have to be “herded”, and so is not so fatiguing on the long runs, but is still heavy enuf to take me and my luggage without strain. I’m still running in the new parts, so the first 500 miles will be at under 40 mph, though 50 is altogether fast enuf under any circumstances for a conservative motorcyclist like myself. Needless to say, there is NO place where one can go that fast—or anywhere near it— in Saigon: if it were possible to get out into the VN countryside. though, it could be done.  There, the faster the better, because a fast target is harder to hit!

I have to spend many hours searching for trinkets to send along home. As I am sure Robb  can attest, there is really nothing available here though that is worth the cost or trouble. The little native art available is usually quite bulky, and nearly all the small stuff is either made in HK or Japan. In Cambodia, far away from this scene, the situation may well be different: I hope so!

This is the last of my letters to be routinely distributed: henceforth we will resort to the Xerox approach, through the good efforts of the folks. I am selling my typewriter, radio, linen, etc., to a friend tonite, and move to a hotel tomorrow AM in order to close down the apartment on the last day of the month. I believe you can send mail to me c/o American Express, Bangkok: but I would reserve that for essential items only, knowing that they are probably as disorganized there as in Europe. Better wait ’till I get there then send along whatever has come in one package (along with whatever has been returned from here).

Thus, if all goes well (and in the Orient one is never quite sure) the next communique should be from Phnom Penh!

The Demo[cratic Convention] debacle is all over, and the outcome was quite as predicted. Odd that both candidates chose running-mates that no one had ever HEARD of before. McCarthy’s failure, also quite predictable, is going to have repercussions long after the fact though. Given the current choice, and barring additional assassinations, I think I shall sit hi one out.

It is particularly unfortunate that the elections and associated falderal have overlooked the really best alternative here in VN. There might have been a time when I would have argued that communism is less of a threat than we seem to think, and that recent indications are that “varieties” of communism are cropping up, tending to reduce the world-domination threat. Czechoslovakia pretty well proves that this is naive (and it certainly shot McCarthy down in flames!).

The alternatives presented by the two parties seem to be: Dem’s will continue Pres J’s policies without substantial change, pressing for negotiations to solve the problems here. The Republicans are couching the SAME approach in slightly different terms, so there is really no alternative at all. McCarthy and followers, at the opposite extreme, advocate the pull-out and coalition bit. It is sad that (largely out of ignorance, I think) so few people see that there IS another alternative. Not a very pretty one, perhaps, but one that seems increasingly necessary in the light of current events.

The achilles heel of our VN policy since early in JFK’s career had been our policy of gradualism; a more misguided policy I cannot imagine. General Taylor (who seems to have been the author of it, and who sold first Kennedy then Johnson on its “merits”) ought to be hung for treason and a whole lot of other things. I don’t see how anyone can dispute the obvious fact that the ONLY deterrent that communism understands as such is superior FORCE—force that is ready at all times, and that is known to be in a position where any overt action will be met with an overwhelmingly superior reaction. The absurdity of the VN war has been that 30 billion bucks annually has not produced this force, because gradualism dictates that any enemy action is only MET, not STOPPED. Had this been our policy when we entered WWII, Hitler would probably now be Führer of america and much, much more. Because we dilute and twitter away our strength waiting for the enemy to engage us (at his whim and when he feels ready), our costs soar, the local economy bogs down, corruption flourishes, and all the other ills that have popped out of Gen Taylor’s Pandora’s Box labelled “Gradualism” bloom across the land.

I do not see ANY of the major (or minor) parties this year as understanding this point at all, and none of them have stepped forth with the only plan that can really end this thing. We do not have to escalate at all: we need only re-deploy (and effectively utilize) what is already here. It should begin in Paris with a clear ultimatum to Hanoi: withdraw at once from South VN and the demilitarized zone, or face massive, coordinated drives to eliminate them. And in Saigon, we must inform Pres. Thieu that from here on out, it is play for keeps, and if some South Vietnamese happen to get in our way, it’s too bad: the picnic is over. Either play it our way (having invited us in in the first place) or GO IT ALONE. But the crux lies in our repudiating the policy of gradualism: we MUST assert ourselves—and quickly—or go down in History ignominiously as a nation of masochists who bent over and BEGGED both the South and the North to “sock it to us”. There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON why 30 billion dollars should not have ended this war a long time ago, except that it has been so miserably mis-spent. Unless we start spending it wisely, this will be a bottomless pit into which we will continue to pour billions—and lives—at an ever increasing (”gradually increasing”) rate: when at last our own economy breaks from the strain, communism will move in grinning, because it has gone all according to (their) plan.

If the foregoing diatribe sounds strong, it is mainly because I am not only appalled, I am ASHAMED by the way we have bungled this whole affair, and I would like as much as anyone else to see it ended. Both parties talk about ending the war “honorably”. But communism (understand that I use that word in a wide sense meaning present-day soviet-style communism) knows nothing—NOTHING— of “honor”, as we understand it. Berlin, Korea, Hungary, now Czechoslovakia, China, Yemen, all these countries and more show that honor is something that is meaningless to communism as it is presently constituted. Communism, once entrenched, has NEVER been successfully over-thrown. It will continue to expand just as fast as its economies allow—unless it encounters some obstacle: that obstacle will (can) only be a force (and economic strength to back it up) that is clearly superior, and which is KNOWN to be ready and willing to defend itself “offensively”. It worked in Cuba: that was before “gradualism” came to the fore.

The defense of gradualism really boils down to the question of nuclear weapons. The possession of, and WILLINGNESS TO USE, IF NECESSARY an arsenal of deployed nuclear weapons really obviates a large ground force. Gradualism is a way to keep the necessity for a ground force alive (thus perpetuating handsomely the “military-industrial complex” that Mr. Eisenhower spoke of). We should stand up now and say, Hell Yes we will use nuclear weapons (again)—if we feel it necessary. Just to prove the point we ought to set off a small-yield one right here in VN, in the remotest area we can. The second one could be right on Hanoi—except I feel certain there would be no need for it. I don’t think for the moment the communists are “chicken”—they’re just smart, and if they actually thought (better, knew for sure) that if they fooled with us we would wipe them out, they would pull in their horns and be quite happy with what they have now.

You will say I advocate escalation of the cold war. Precisely. A cold war does not kill people. A hot one (even if it is not a “declared” war, even if it is a “limited” war, or whatever euphemism one may choose) does kill people. IF we are so firmly committed to saving of human lives (as is so oft said) then we MUST embrace the cold-war approach. Certainly it is dangerous. Are we possibly afraid that we are not smart enough to take on the soviets verbally? Teddy was right: speak softly and carry a big stick—AND be ready and willing to use it. Bullies will invariably bow to this situation—it is human nature NOT to risk your neck if you KNOW you can’t win!

Well! Enough of that! I hope you are all well.



There is not much to add, actually. We’ll be out of touch for a while, sort of: in fact I don’t really advocate writing until I reach BK. The Cambodian visa is good for only 3 weeks, but I imagine I will use it up. Plan to spend several days just lolligagging on the beach at Sihanoukville, trying to unwind from this altogether unhappy affair here. Then will spend most of the rest of my time in & around Siem Reap, near Angor, poking around among ruins, etc.

Pls circulate the enclosed photos. Keep track of Xerox charges, though I probably won’t be sending more than three or four letters from Cambodge. Will get a typewritier again as soon as I reach BK in order to prepare the MS for the magazine.

Love to all~


Can you tell I was “fed up”?

As for Sihanoukville, it was rainy and cold! But that’s far ahead. I have to get out of Vietnam, first. That tale is coming up soon.



Written by Bruce

December 14th, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Posted in Saigon 1968,VietNam

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