On watery borders

Wit respect to the long message we received yesterday from Alan Schlingenbaum, a reader asks whether Mr. Schlingenbaum is “TOO EAGER TO MAP OUT ONLY SOME OF THE FACTS?” The reader writes:

This message draws your attention to what seems to be a misinterpretation by Alan Schlingenbaum of the historical U.S. Navy Press releases he cites in his message about Viet Nam waterways. He relies on the use of the phrase “waterways along the Cambodian border” to justify the Kerry Campaign use of this phrase. I think his error is made by assuming that the press release refers solely to the Mekong River.
My understanding of Kerry’s service is that he served on various parts of the Mekong River. However, the historical press releases cited by Mr. Schlingenbaum which describe Naval action from the late 1960’s refer rather obviously to waterways separate from the Mekong River. A slightly further examination of readily available maps of Vietnam and Cambodia, beginning with those provided by Mr. Schlingenbaum, leads the reader to a different reading of the historical press releases and undercuts the premises of his conclusions.
I think his error is made by assuming that the press release refers solely to the Mekong River, along which he properly locates Chau Doc. (See here.)
First, a little geography: Chau Doc is located in An Giang province. This province shares a 95KM border with Cambodia. Mr. Schlingenbaum provides a useful link to a map that shows that location of Chau Doc on the Mekong River near the Cambodian border. The reader should be aware that the Mekong flows generally in an easterly direction across Viet Nam from Cambodia and ultimately empties into the South China Sea.
However, the press release plainly refers to TWO waterways, not just one and mentions TWO locations: Ha Tien as well as Chau Doc. When I first read Mr. Schlingenbaum’s comments and then the historical press releases, I first assumed that this second town was somewhere along the Mekong River, upstream or downstream, especially since the press release refers to the “western end” and the “eastern end” of naval patrol operations. However, I could not locate the second town, Ha Tien, on the map he provided. (Also, see here.)
The second town mentioned in the press release, Ha Tien, is located in Kien Giang province, which is also along the border with Cambodia, but to the south and NOT along the Mekong River. Kien Giang province is contiguous to An Giang Province, which provides its northern boundary, and it’s southernmost boundary is the Gulf of Thailand. Kien Giang province shares a 54 KM border with Cambodia. But the Mekong River does not flow through this province.
Importantly, however, along part of its border with Cambodia, starting at the Gulf of Thailand, a river DOES flow, defining the border in a fashion typical of what one would expect to be characterized by the phrase “waterways along the Cambodian border”. (This river appears to be the Cai Lon River, which is described elsewhere as the biggest river of the province: I cannot quite make out the name from the maps to which I can gain access. See here. )
So, let’s reread the historical press release , entitled “Navy News Release, October 18, 1969, Sealords Completes First Year of Operations” which states,
in part: “Gia-Long Xuyen Canals. The force worked with Kien Giang Province Regional Force and Popular force troops during the sweeps and uncovered large quantities of enemy weapons and munitions. Since that first landing, river patrol boats and riverine craft have regularly patrolled the canals. [Ed. note: It seems evident to me that this paragraph describes actions NOT in or along the Mekong River or Chau Doc and refers specifically to regional forces in a province south of and separate from the Mekong River). In any event, the press release refers earlier to initial actions being on the “Gulf of Thailand” side of Viet Nam which is away from An Giang where Kerry MIGHT have served on the Mekong River.]
“Further north, on November 16th, the Navy launched Operation Tran Hung Dao, a series of interdiction patrols on two waterways along the Cambodian border from Ha Tien to Chau Doc. Swift boats (PCFs) patrolled the western end and river patrol boats (PBRs) the eastern end[.]” (See here.)
Now, I believe, the reader can properly understand the reference to two separate waterways, each located at different locations along the Cambodian-Vietnam border. The “western end” seems to refer to the western end of this segment of the border starting at Ha Tien in the southernmost portion Kein Giang province at the Gulf of Thailand, which then slopes in a northeasterly direction from Ha Tien up toward Chau Doc which would be the “eastern end.”
Important points to remember:
1. Not all waterways along the Cambodian Border are part of the Mekong River.
2. The Cai Lon River (I think that is the name) does in fact flow “along the border” with Cambodia, but not the Mekong.
3. And, oh yes, about those locations on the map linked to by Mr. Schlingenbaum where he estimates parts of the Mekong river that could be visually interpreted as flowing ‘along the border’? They are all beyond the zone described in the press release, further north again than Chau Doc.
So, in Mr. Sclingenbaum’s words, is his error “disturbing that journalists (and ‘journalists’) would not only get this wrong, but also be so smug about it”? Or are we amateurs simply doing our best just to try to figure out what the Kerry campaign won’t disclose?
I am not a cartologist and am working largely with what I can locate on the web, and I have never been in South East Asia, so my effort here will undoubtedly benefit from review and scrutiny by others. And this analysis is offered in good faith from a life-long Democrat.

I can only add: What he said.


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