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New Left Review I/47, January-February 1968

Olivier Todd

The Americans Are Not Invincible

When did you go to North Vietnam, how long did you stay, and how widely did you travel?

I arrived on the 22nd September, and stayed for 57 days. Originally I’d been invited for three weeks, but I explained to the Vietnamese authorities it was very difficult to get the feeling of the place and the facts right in only three weeks, so little by little they accepted my staying there longer. I was supposed to stay about 50 days, and the extra week was due to the fact that no planes were getting in or out of Hanoi, so I just couldn’t leave. I travelled over 3,000 kilometres by car, quite apart from what I did on foot or by bicycle. I went east to Haiphong, and west almost to the Laotian frontier, where they have a lot of ethnic minorities—Muong, Mans, Thais—and where, on the first approaches to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, I saw the lorries that were obviously going down south that way. Several times I asked to go to the 17th Parallel, but they wouldn’t let me for security reasons, so I couldn’t go further down than Thanh Hoa, beyond the Hamrong bridge. They explained that the risks were much too high, and even after I’d written a few articles and I told them jokingly that I’d done my duty, they still wouldn’t let me go. They put it in a nutshell by saying, ‘Your job is to write and not to get killed.’

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Olivier Todd, ‘The Americans Are Not Invincible’, NLR I/47: £3

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