You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can't possibly live long enough to make them all yourself." - Sam Levenson
I'm certainly not the smartest. Just spend about ten minutes with my first wife and you'll be convinced of that. However, I am smart enough to learn from my mistakes. Just spend about ten minutes with my current wife and you'll see what I mean. So, I must be smart. But a truly smart man learns from the mistakes of others.
You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can't possibly live long enough to make them all yourself." - Sam Levenson
Now some say that President Obama is the smartest man in the room. Well, if that is so, why hasn't he learned from the mistakes of others? Look at how he handles strife in the world and you'll see what I mean
There has always been strife in the world. No leader has succeeded in eliminating it. However, some have handled it better than others and we don't have to look back very far to witness numerous successes and failures in dealing with it. You would think that a leader such as the President of the United States would study them to employ the best or, at least, avoid repeating the failures. Sadly this President seems to have a penchant for repeating failures much like a prize fighter who leans into a left hook. At the very least, he would create new failures. Why does he have to repeat the old ones?
The political compass of most Jews seems drawn to the Left as if it was the North Pole of ideology. Repeated failures of socialism throughout history does not seem to deter the children of Abraham in their rush to try it once more. We see it in America as Jews vote en mass for the party that supports socialist programs. As a Jew who votes the other way, I am a pariah in my own family.
Why are Jews drawn to socialism?
National socialism, known as Nazism, murdered Jews by the millions.
International socialism, known as Communism, murdered even more.
The combined death toll of those murdered by socialists may well exceed the total of all victims of all wars throughout all of history.
Still, the Jews are drawn to socialism.
It is a question that has perplexed me for many years.
In all other respects, I am proud of my community.
I may have found a clue that will guide me to the answer. I found it in a recent issue of Hadassah Magazine. This periodical has been finding its way to our mailbox for many years now regardless of the fact that we have never subscribed. Indeed, it follows us without fail whenever we move. The people I long suspected of having it sent to us have all died. Regardless, I have read each issue from cover-to-cover, always finding enough morsels of knowledge to keep me opening it each month. The December 2014/January 2015 issue contains a commentary by Mich Odenheimer that suggests an answer to my question. Please indulge me as I quote:
Everyone is a hero to someone.
No one is a hero to everyone.
How many in this gallery of heroes are yours?
Yes, Fidel Castro is there. He was a hero in my first novel, however, I couldn't write “The End” until another hero returned in the last chapter to see what he had become. The man who launched the revolution in Cuba bears little resemblance to the one who governed it as a communist dictator. He wasn't even a communist until the revolution ended.
Castro isn't alone. All heroes fail eventually, even my favorites. How about yours?
There are a few quaint traditions that have faded from the culture but not from my memory. People wore poppies on Veterans Day. Everyone wore a carnation on Mothers Day, red if she was alive and white if not. Americans stood for the playing of the National Anthem, hands held over hearts. Sure, some still observe these traditions. Others do not. Many do not even know that they were common practices once upon a time.
I saw the disparity of memory and knowledge as I sat outside a neighborhood grocery store this weekend passing out Buddy Poppies for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and taking donations from those who cared. A few paused to talk. One offered to fetch me a cup of coffee for it was chilly this November 11th in Southern California. I could not help but wonder how many or how few understood the significance of the little red artificial flowers that I offered.
I have prayed for the safety of President Obama ever since the day he was nominated despite the fact that I have disagreed with everything he has done or attempted to do. The repercussions of his assassination would tear the nation apart. Fortunately, it seems that the vast majority of his detractors, like me, also limit their attacks to words and ideas.
John Kennedy never engendered the same level of dislike among his opponents. Although they differed ideologically, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives in those days all wanted the same thing, a strong and safe Republic.
Who then could have wanted President Kennedy dead, even more so than President Obama? Unfortunately, there were many candidates. The mafia was not happy that Kennedy didn't follow through on the invasion of Cuba. They had lost a gold mine when Castro came to power and threw them out of their casinos and hotels in Havana, and the mafia had reason to believe that Kennedy owed them the favor. Castro himself was another likely candidate if for no other reason than to seek revenge for the countless assassinations attempts on his life. There were others.
However, it seems that a lone gunman did the deed, inspired by ideas that were planted in him by America's enemies. No, Oswald didn't just wake up that morning and fire his rifle at the President on an impulse. Someone else incited him. That is why some jurisdictions have begun prosecuting those who utter hate speech.
Professor/Senator Hayakawa famously wrote that "there is no magic in words". He was wrong. There is. People who utter hate speech cast spells on the mentally feeble and impressionable youth, and trouble ensues. Look at the recent outbreak of teenagers playing Knockout, aka Hunting Polar Bears.
For decades, race baiters have grown rich sermonizing about the depredations of slavery even though that institution was ended nearly a century and a half ago and no one who either practiced it or suffered from it remains alive today. Likewise, they daily vilify whites as racial bigots even though the government dominated by whites legislated the end of that practice nearly five decades ago. Certainly, racial bigots still exist, but they no longer have legal sanction to inflict their prejudice on members of any race and are reviled by the majority of whites. Interestingly, these race baiters cling to the politics of the party that fought to retain slaver, who fought against legislative attempts to end racial discrimination, while castigating the party that fought for both. No one outside their confidants, certainly not me, can explain it.
Now the race baiters decry me and others like me who criticize President Obama as racial bigots. They refuse to acknowledge that our disagreements can be based on anything other than racial animus. It seems that they are so heavily invested in the election of the first black President that all reason escapes them. I understand. I cheered for them when they assembled in record numbers on the Mall in Washington, DC to celebrate his inauguration. Although I saw little hope for his success, based on his lack of qualifications and experience, I still hoped for his success just as I hoped for John Kennedy's and every other President regardless of their political affiliation, race, or religion. After all, to do otherwise is to hope for the failure of America.
Have you ever listened to the words of Give Peace a Chance? Really Listened? Do they make sense to you?
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 8 of 8
"(Let me tell you now)
Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
Revolution, Evolution, Masturbation, Flagellation, Regulation,
Integrations, mediations, United Nations, congratulations
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance"
– John Lennon/Paul McCartney, 1969
Give Peace a Chance became the anthem of the antiwar movement. Although this refrain had all the force and effect of children pulling the covers over their heads when they feared monsters lurking in the dark, flower children argued that conflicts had been won by peaceful resistance. The successes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King were ready historical examples.
When Nixon replaced Johnson as President, the United States made one more attempt at driving the North Vietnamese out of the south. He raised the restrictions on pursuing the communists into their sanctuaries. He even authorized the bombing of strategic targets in North Vietnam. Then, in an unexpected move, Nixon drove a wedge between North Vietnam’s communist sponsors. He opened relations with China thereby allowing old rifts between the two communist giants to re-emerge. Border disputes flared up between China and Russia. They had differing views of the conduct of the war between communism and capitalism. They even had differing views of their shared ideology. Thus, the harmony that provided North Vietnam with seemingly unlimited war material began to dry up as Russia and China began rearming themselves for a potential Sino-Soviet conflict. Ultimately, like any schoolyard bully, the North Vietnamese had to accept the fact that they had met their match on the battlefield. Peace was about to be given a chance.
However, the North Vietnamese knew that they still held a trump card: The American anti-war movement. They used the peace accord as a subterfuge to remove the Americans from the battlefield and make one last push to invade the south. It worked only because the anti-war movement prevailed in convincing Congress to suspend all support of South Vietnam. There was nothing left to resist communist aggression. The path of pacifism was trampled under the feet of communist aggression, and more than 2.5 million people died in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
What then is the path to peace? To answer this, you must first define peace. If we can’t agree on this, we can’t find a path to it. However, if we agree that it is the absence of war, the answer is easy. First, remain strong, strong enough to deter all who might conspire to disturb peace. Then, if any are foolish enough to attack, destroy them. Destroy their capacity to make war. Destroy their will to make war. Do it quickly and decisively as we did in World War II.
Think about it. Who are America’s greatest allies today? The French? The English? The Russians? These were our main allies during World War II, and yet, they are failing allies today. They are weak. They make themselves small to avoid appearing aggressive (as they did prior to World War II) and their behavior encourages attacks. The once mighty British navy now numbers less than twenty ships. The French army never regained its strength after surrendering to the Nazis. These nations are now attacked by terrorists far more often than the United States.
Now look to our former enemies, Japan and Germany, two of our greatest allies today despite the fact that we destroyed their cities, gutted their institutions of government, and even stripped them of their rights to self-determination. We built new ones for them. Now, we are at peace with them, and they are strong. How many terrorist attacks have occurred within their borders compared to our traditional allies? Interesting, isn’t it?
Why can’t peace be everlasting? Every time we let down our guard and exhibit weakness, we encourage a new enemy. Today, they attack us with terrorism, and they’re winning. You disagree? Look at how your lives have changed. The economy has tanked. We have surrendered freedom of movement and peaceful assembly to agents who frisk and observe us as though we are the enemy.
We pretend to be strong. We invade Iraq and Afghanistan while the agents of terrorism lurk in other places, some even our “allies.” And, when we take command of a place, we gather tribal leaders and allow them to reestablish the same institutions and customs that inspired them to attack us in the first place. Why don’t we do in Iraq and Afghanistan as MacArthur did in Japan, and teach them a new way of governing themselves and living as peaceful, civilized nations.
More astounding is the fact that there are some, even in those places that sponsor terrorism, who plead for our help. How easy it would be to lend them a hand, even a kind word of encouragement would be welcome. And yet our government denies they even exist. We continue to exhibit weakness despite the fact that history cries out to us to be strong.
It reminds me of a popular TV series Kung Fu (1972-75) wherein a Shaolin Monk played by David Carradine, exiled to America in the days of the early westward expansion, wanders into one misadventure after another. Even though he has the ability to stop bad people from committing crimes or otherwise perpetrating evil deeds, he refuses until someone is hurt. Then, and only then, he acts, and the problem is resolved. Is there something more noble in fixing a problem rather than preventing it?
Ultimately, we who served in Vietnam, won our battles there. Name just one that the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army won. We lost only when we returned to be vilified by the antiwar protesters. Is it possible that they were the real losers?
All that pacifists believed in and struggled for has proven illusory. The peace that they sought is always beyond their reach. They abandon tried and proven principles of what works, and replace them with what they believe ought to work. They are driven by the best of intentions only to discover that their path leads straight to the gates of war and hell.
Why won’t they learn?
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 7 of 8
THERE WERE LIES. Everybody was telling them during the Vietnam War era. Politicians lied. The anti-war movement lied. The military lied. Everybody lied to win popular support for their position.
As a student of history I have to admit that these accusations amuse me. They put me in mind of the American Civil War when President Lincoln employed a detective, Allan Pinkerton, to build a civilian spy agency so that he would not be wholly dependent on his military commanders for battlefield intelligence. As it turns out, Pinkerton didn’t do much better than the generals. He often sent multiple agents to discover enemy strengths, then added together their individual reports, and arrived at grossly inflated estimates.
Today, we recognize that all battlefield intelligence, regardless of the source, is subject to the fog of war. Everybody is inclined to interpret facts in a way that suit their preconceived notions.
Misleading reports and conflicting interpretations left the American public confused and, without their support, the war effort in Vietnam was threatened.
“It is evident to me that he believes our Achilles heel is our resolve... Your continued strong support is vital to the success of our mission... Backed at home by resolve, confidence, patience, determination, and continued support, we will prevail in Vietnam over the Communist aggressor!” – General William C. Westmoreland in a speech to Congress, April 28th, 1967
General Westmoreland was correct; our lack of resolve was our Achilles heel, and the North Vietnamese communists exploited it with their own lies.
I met General Westmoreland briefly when he stopped at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii for a physical exam following his replacement by General Creighton Abrams as the Commanding General of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). I was the Special Services officer there at the time and provided facilities and equipment for recreational activities. Westmoreland was an avid tennis player.
Throughout his career, General Westmoreland earned a reputation as caring for his men and their welfare more than any other commanding officer. In Vietnam, he excelled by using mobility and a highly flexible logistics system to support rapid deployments to confront the enemy wherever they might pop up. As a former artillery officer, he also pioneered the use of mobile fire bases to provide fire power wherever a battle might develop. However, there was one problem he could not overcome. He could not find an effective means of communicating results. Body and weapons counts simply failed to impress the American people favorably.
The problem in Vietnam was that it was not like any previous war. There were no battle lines. Objectives were taken and surrendered, and then retaken repeatedly. Strategic targets were off limits, so Westmoreland had to content himself with engaging the enemy in small unit actions until enough had been killed to persuade them to abandon their invasion of the south. Thus, body counts seemed significant. However, body counts were gruesome reminders of the tragedy of war, and coupled with uncensored television images, repulsed the American public. Where Westmoreland saw a light at the end of the tunnel, Americans saw only the darkness of horror.
The truth appears to be that MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) was as guilty as the rest. It intentionally falsified estimates of enemy strengths at times to help justify additional resources. It may be that Westmoreland realized the trap he had stepped into using body counts to indicate progress in the war. Inasmuch as the Viet Cong refused to engage in decisive battles, subtracting a few hundred here and there from a total strength that may have exceeded half a million insurgents would blind the public to the fact that the Viet Cong could never defeat the Americans in the same manner that they had defeated the Chinese, Japanese, and French, and that the United States could hold the enemy at bay while South Vietnam crafted a representative government that was responsive to the citizenry and relatively free of corruption, if the American public would support the effort.
Westmoreland's house of cards was about to crash about his head when CIA, State Department, White House, and Army officials met in Saigon to clear up the conflicting assessments of enemy strength. Threats and recriminations were traded until, surprisingly, the Army relented and agreed to higher estimates than they had previously reported. Many have speculated on the reversal of the Army position. However, it is possible that Westmoreland learned of the Viet Cong's plans to mount a massive offensive during the lunar festival, Tet, and he would have the major battle he needed to deliver a decisive defeat without resorting to body counts.
Ultimately, when the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong agents staged the Tet Offensive of 1968, few cared that U.S. forces smashed the enemy in the first major battle the communists had attempted. They reacted only to the lies and grossly deflated estimates of enemy troop strengths. Inflamed by exaggerated reports from correspondents who hunkered down in terror in Saigon for several days, Americans believed that the Viet Cong had won the battle. Walter Cronkite sealed the fate of the counterinsurgency effort when he proclaimed that the war was lost. Indeed, I did not hear a shot fired in anger from the time of the Tet Offensive in January, 1968, until I left the country the following May 4th, the beginning of “mini-Tet,” when North Vietnamese Army regulars had infiltrated and took over the prosecution of the war against the south.
Until the Tet Offensive, the antiwar movement had castigated Cronkite and his network, CBS, for broadcasting the body count numbers without challenge. After the Tet Offensive, Cronkite, the most trusted voice in America, observed, “It is increasingly clear that the only rational way out will be to negotiate, not as victors but as an honorable people who lived up to the pledge to defend democracy,” to which President Johnson responded, “If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America.” Thus, Cronkite rose to mythical proportions among the antiwar movement.
Generally, Vietnam Veterans also hated the body counts. In a war of small unit engagements, small body counts were not impressive enough to sway anyone's opinion, and some commanders inflated them. Counting bodies also forced young soldiers to confront the consequences of their actions in ways soldiers in previous wars had avoided.
How else could the war be reported? The Army tried to use statistics gleaned from civic action programs. Patients treated. Latrines built. Tons of food stuffs delivered. However, no one believed that any war could be won with humane treatment of the enemy. You see, most Americans believed that we were fighting a popular insurgency when, in fact, we were battling an invading army. It ceased to matter that neither the Viet Cong nor the North Vietnamese Army ever won a significant battle. The myths contrived by the antiwar movement simply got in the way.
So, which were worse: The lies told by the politicians or the ones told by the antiwar movement?
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 6 of 8
I ARRIVED IN Vietnam in 1967, as part of the build up of American forces that led to the escalation of the Vietnam War. (In Iraq it was called a "surge.") The last of the military leaders to preside over the country, Nguyen Van Thieu, who would be elected as a civilian president, was then in charge of the Vietnamese army. General William C. Westmoreland was in command of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), which would quickly grow to become a half-million man army. President Johnson was determined to put an end to what was, by then, a North Vietnamese/Soviet invasion of South Vietnam. Was this invasion precipitated by America blocking the free elections promised in the Geneva Convention that gave Vietnam its independence?
“I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held... possibly eighty percent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower
There you have it – the anti-war argument damning the American government for its refusal to allow the Vietnamese to freely choose to reunify under the communists. Why were we sacrificing American lives and squandering its fortune if, as Eisenhower himself admitted, all Vietnamese preferred to be communist?
So, whatever happened to the provisions of the Geneva Convention that ended the French-Indochinese War and mandated free elections to reunify Vietnam? The truth is, that isn't exactly what Eisenhower said. The President was commenting on a hypothetical election between Ho Chi Minh and Bao Dai.
Bao Dai was the Chief of State of South Vietnam from 1949 to 1955. Previously, he had been the King of Annam (1926 – 1945), the portion of the French colony in Indochina that eventually became Vietnam. He was very unpopular as he was seen as a symbol of French occupation and abandoned the people during the Japanese occupation. Of course, he could not win an election in Vietnam against anyone. Bao Dai was replaced by Ngo Dinh Diem, the first President of South Vietnam, when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu and the nation was partitioned between the communist north and free south.
Ngo Dinh Diem. Remember the protests – Buddhist priests burning themselves in the streets of Saigon – weren't they protesting to join North Vietnam? Hardly. They were Buddhists! Why would they want to submit to a government with an absolute stricture against religion – all religion? The truth is that the Buddhists constituted the majority of the population in the south. They were protesting the nepotism and corruption of the administration presided over by Diem – a Roman Catholic.
Catholicism was an irritant to the Vietnamese in and of itself. It was a vestige of French colonialism. The French had introduced it for much the same reason as the Roman Emperor Constantine purportedly created it: To help maintain the empire. It is far cheaper to enslave a people with religion than with an army.
Still, Eisenhower's statement being irrelevant, the Vietnam era anti-war activists argued – and college professors still argue today – that the United States reneged on its agreement to support reunification elections. Not true. The United States never agreed to such elections because the communists enjoyed an unfair advantage. Nearly eighty percent of the Vietnamese lived in the more industrialized north, while the remainder lived in the agrarian south. The results of any election would have been extremely lopsided.
Of course, none of this would have mattered if the people living in South Vietnam wanted to join their communist brethren in the north. After all, wasn't the Viet Cong a populist movement in the south? Prior to the Tet Offensive of 1968, there is no way of proving the argument one way or the other. It is clear that the Viet Cong were armed, supplied, and led by the communists in the north – under the command of General Vo Nguyen Giap. However, there are no records proving whether or not the majority of the members of the Viet Cong were southern born or if the people in the south freely supported them. Following the Tet Offensive, there is no doubt that the Viet Cong ceased to exist as a viable organization. The prosecution of the war against South Vietnam and the Americans was openly prosecuted by North Vietnam Army regulars.
It is clear that, following the Tet Offensive of 1968, North Vietnam was invading South Vietnam. They coveted the fertile rice-growing region of the Mekong Delta just as the Chinese had for centuries. They were encouraged by the Soviets to further the cause of world domination by, not communism per se, but rather by Stalinism.
Ultimately, President Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War failed because he hamstrung the military from pursuing the enemy into their sanctuaries and attacking their supply trains.
Following the Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) assumed the full weight of prosecuting the invasion of South Vietnam. They violated the sovereignty of neighboring nations, Laos and Cambodia, to move troops and supplies south to attack the flanks of South Vietnam. American and armies of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) were forbidden from pursuing them when they retreated into these sanctuaries to regroup, rearm, and resupply. To Americans watching the war on their televisions, it seemed that the NVA was unbeatable, and they were under those conditions.
It’s interesting that American diplomats and politicians didn’t learn the lesson. Their attempts to instill democracy in Iraq failed for much the same reasons and in much the same manner as Vietnam, and the results appear to be headed in the same direction. No, communism and Stalinism are not the motivating forces in Iraq, but the vision of world conquest by religious fanatics is equally as aggressive.
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 5 of 8
IN THE BEGINNING the communist incursion into the south was disorganized. Weapons and supplies, but little else, were contributed from the Soviets via North Vietnam. However, Ho Chi Minh was too busy consolidating his hold on the north to give much attention to the south. When he did, the United States took notice.
Some argue that the American intervention into Vietnam began long before it became independent of France. I cannot find any evidence of this. Indeed, France and America have long had a quarrelsome relationship. Although France aided the American colonies in their fight for independence from England, the rift was clearly evident as soon as that revolution ended. The Founding Fathers were fairly evenly split in their attitudes to France and adamant in their positions.
Truman certainly never evidenced any great love for the French. It is rumored that he directed the newly formed CIA to secretly assist the Viet Minh and the French were most upset when they discovered this. The resulting flap was but one more grievance that ultimately led De Gaulle to chase NATO out of his country.
There were many among the Viet Minh who fought for freedom from colonial rule, and who did not want to trade French masters for Soviet ones. They formed a government in the south of Vietnam led by Ngo Dinh Diem. It was an unfortunate choice.
Diem was culturally segregated from the majority of South Vietnamese in all but one critical measure. He was adamantly anti-communist like the majority of peasants, especially those who fled North Vietnam following the communist takeover there. However, he was a practicing Catholic whereas the majority of the population in the south were Buddhist. Also, Diem was descended from privileged classes whereas the majority in the south were agrarian peasants. These differences caused a rupture between Diem and his people that greatly interfered with the south’s ability to resist the communist incursion. Diem had to be replaced and, with alleged support from the American CIA, he was replaced by Duong Van Minh, the first of a succession of military leaders.
American diplomats worked feverishly though unsuccessfully, to establish a popular civilian rule in South Vietnam. The unrelenting pressures of a communist invasion from the north made this impossible.
The Americans began patrolling the South China Sea when it became evident that the Soviets were shipping vast supplies of war materials through Haiphong harbor in North Vietnam. It was obvious that the newly minted Viet Cong, led from North Vietnam, were preparing to mount a major offensive. It was clear that South Vietnam was going to be hard pressed to defend itself unless something was done. The American excuse to act was delivered by North Vietnamese naval vessels that attacked American warships in international waters.
Anti-war protesters long argued that the attack on one of the American warships, the destroyer Maddox, was a hoax. The problem for them is that such an attack legitimized American involvement.
Under international law, an attack on a vessel is an attack on the nation under which that vessel is flagged, and is a casus belli - a cause for war. In other words, an American warship is a floating extension of the nation. Attacking it is the same as attacking Cleveland.
The USS Maddox (DD-731) was an American destroyer attacked by high speed North Vietnamese torpedo boats while on an intelligence gathering mission in International Waters. The Maddox received air support from warplanes launched off the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, and suffered no significant damage while the North Vietnamese boats were severely damaged and repelled.
A second American destroyer, the USS Turner Joy, joined the Maddox and the patrol was continued. The jittery crews misread radar and sonar signals, and the two ships began maneuvering and firing on phantom attackers. These incidents, one real and one imagined, led to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.
“Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal [sic] any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” – Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, August 7, 1964
Yes, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was flawed – repealed should have been repelled. Beyond that, the antiwar movement argued, it should never have passed Congress.
Politicians recognize that popular support for a war is just as important as a nation's armed forces. Without it, they cannot sustain the strategic support needed to wage war. Fearing that the general population will not be able to grasp the complexities of diplomacy, they fashion slogans and sound bites that will inspire the public.
I was about to begin my last year of law school when the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by Congress and President Johnson ordered the mining of Haiphong harbor as well as strategic air strikes against North Vietnamese military installations. Our involvement escalated from that time and I was determined to enlist. As a sailor and Coast Guard certified operator of vessels, I endeavored to become an officer in the U.S. Navy, but they were slow in responding to my application. Thus, I entered the Army on March 3, 1966, approximately nine months after my graduation. I enlisted to fight the global communist threat. I did not march to war with “Remember the Maddox” on my lips. Indeed, I never heard those words uttered.
America has a long history of phantom attacks that led to war. “Remember the Maine” inspired Americans to go to war with Spain. The USS Maine, an American battleship anchored in Havana harbor, was purportedly sunk by the Spanish without provocation – in fact, it was destroyed by an explosion resulting from the accumulation of gases in its coal bunkers. Most recently, America invaded Iraq in search of phantom Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) – though none were ever found. The vilification of President Bush for purportedly lying about WMD in Iraq to justify that war is reminiscent of the vilification of President Roosevelt for purportedly engineering the attack on Pearl Harbor as an excuse to drag the United States into World War II.
President Roosevelt had a problem. He had promised Americans that they would not be drawn into another European entanglement. They were sick of the costs in lives and treasures lost in the previous debacle – World War I. However, Roosevelt and his advisers saw the peril in allowing Nazi Germany to complete its conquest of Europe – America would certainly be next in Hitler's sights. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not sufficient reason for the United States to declare war on Germany, but it was a godsend to those who saw the dangers of American isolationism. It inspired the nation to war.
Ultimately, Roosevelt led us to war in Europe because he decided that the vital interests of America were threatened there. Johnson led us to war in Vietnam for the same reason. No, North Vietnam did not threaten us directly – rather, as a client state of the Soviet Union, it threatened to help spread communism and shrink the free world. Engaging the communists in southeast Asia was a logical extension of the Truman Doctrine of Containment of Communism.
Containment never worked. So long as Stalin's dreams of world domination were allowed to play out unopposed, it was able to seep across borders – thus, the foundation of the Domino Theory. Indeed, the war in Vietnam was America's last attempt at containment. President Nixon replaced it with Detente wherein the Soviets and the Free World would attempt to get along like any two sensible rattlesnakes stuck in the same burlap bag.
Containment failed in Vietnam for one reason only – lack of will. The American people gave up on the effort. The antiwar movement won the day and the communists won the territory even though they had lost the war. Thus, this loss may be directly attributable to the failure of Johnson to craft a better slogan to inspire the general populace. As I said, I never heard “Remember the Maddox,” and few in America heard the clarion call to battle. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution had a flaw that the antiwar movement picked at like a sore until it burst and the will to fight deflated.
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 4 of 8
WHAT WAS ALL THE FUSS about communism? Someone looking back who hadn’t lived through the Cold War Era might well wonder. It’s a defunct ideology practiced in a few backward and bankrupt countries.
Okay, China isn’t exactly backward and bankrupt, but it isn’t exactly a communist enclave anymore. Capitalism rules the streets while a few geriatric communists rule the government palaces.
“It's my fondest wish, that some day, every American will get down on their knees and pray to God that some day they will have the opportunity to live in a Communist Society.” - Jane Fonda Hayden, 1970
Face it. All other arguments aside, there were those anti-war activists who protested our involvement in Vietnam for the simple reason that we were denying the South Vietnamese the fruits of communism that their brethren in the north were already enjoying. They did not care what the South Vietnamese themselves wanted any more than they cared what we wanted for them. It's hard to debate against unless it can be demonstrated that communism would not only fail to provide any material advantage to the South Vietnamese, but also significantly harm them. Fortunately, we do not have to speculate on the possible outcome of a communist victory in South Vietnam. It is an accomplished fact and the results are readily apparent.
Let's be honest. Communism has its allure. In theory, it seems that it ought to work. No class distinctions. Deprivations borne equally. The fruits and benefits of the community be shared equally. Happiness and sadness shared equally. However, communism only exists primarily because, as Thomas Sowell so aptly states, intellectuals have a penchant to “…replace what works with what ought to work.” This is why educators still preach it and, even today, students can be found on any American campus passing out copies of the Daily Worker.
Unfortunately, communism in practice has never matched its theoretical possibilities. One of the problems with communism is that it requires a central authority to decide what the community will produce and how it will be shared. If this central authority is weak, the ideology fails because people are about as easy to herd as cats. This was well proven in one of the early communal experiments here in the United States.
The Pilgrims formed a commune long before anyone defined communism. The land was owned by all and the fruits of their labor were stored in a communal warehouse. Families drew from the communal supplies and all starved equally.
Many think that the Pilgrims were saved by the American natives who were their neighbors. In fact, the Pilgrim’s colony was on the verge of collapse even after the indigenous people taught them how to fertilize their crops with fish and hunt the forests. It was only after the Pilgrims abandoned their communal system and every family worked for themselves that the colony began to prosper. In all likelihood, it failed because the community was under the direction of a council of elders, a committee if you will. Their management was fragmented. Opportunities were missed and problems went unresolved for too long because committees are notoriously slow in responding to issues.
Fortunately, the Pilgrims chose to relinquish responsibility for making economic decisions to the individual members of the community, thus giving birth to capitalism in America and giving them the liberty to take care of themselves. Had they chosen instead to retain the reins of authority, they would have ultimately attracted a tyrant.
Tyrants always are drawn to the centers of power where they can grasp control. When people are free to exercise control over their lives as individuals, power is much too diluted to be grabbed by any one person. This is why history’s most iconic communist societies have all been ruled by tyrants, and they rule with a heavy hand. Stalin reputedly murdered at least 20 million of his own citizens. Mao murdered more than 80 million. Castro had a smaller population to work with and his death count only numbers in the tens of thousands.
When communism failed, some communist leaders, most notably Chairman Mao Zedung, concluded that failures in communism were rooted in flaws in their citizens. They reasoned that people simply weren't constituted to live in a Utopian society. Mao attempted to create “perfect communists” during the Cultural Revolution. Children were taken from homes where they learned traditional Chinese values and mores, and sent to re-education centers where they were taught the skills and attitudes needed to be successful communists. Young intellectuals in the cities were sent to the countryside to learn the rigors of hard work. Youth gangs known as the Red Guards scoured the countryside for counter-revolutionaries, setting up their own tribunals, and persecuting many. Children were returned home to denounce their parents as traitors of the People's Revolution. Another appealing idea, but now a proven failure. Indeed, not only have the Chinese abandoned Mao's Cultural Revolution, but also, those who would redeem it are branded criminals.
These communist leaders missed the point. The truth they refused to face was that their societies failed because of their own poor judgment. In a society where choices, especially economic choices, are left in the hands of individuals, their mistakes only harm themselves. However, in a centrally controlled society, the mistakes of leaders impact everyone. In Russia, for example, a committee had to set prices periodically on every one of the commodities and services sold there, from toothpaste to an oil change in a car (for those few who actually owned one). In a capitalistic society, these prices are set by agreement between buyers and sellers, and can vary greatly even within the same market region. Mistakes are borne only by the individuals who make them. As Thomas Sowell has observed so accurately, no one person, no matter how intelligent, can possess all the mundane information needed to know everything and make all decisions.
Poor decisions lead to unintended consequences. Even in America, economic control has become increasingly centralized, and a large segment of the population is more than happy to accept entitlements when they equal or exceed the rewards of marginal employment. The incidence of welfare families has grown steadily ever since the inception of President Johnson's Great Society programs.
Although the fate that waited the Vietnamese at the hands of the communists may have been a surprise to Ms. Fonda and company, it was no surprise to those who knew the Soviets or, as President Reagan called them, "The Evil Empire." The human toll was staggering. Stalin's disciples sent millions of South Vietnamese to re-education centers – prison camps – where more than 150,000 died (the toll may be exponentially greater). Hundreds of thousands were lost at sea attempting to flee communist deprivations. Three million refugees were forced to live in relocation centers – a few fortunate enough to integrate into other free societies.
Antiwar protesters argued that these were casualties of the United States intervention in Vietnam. The two halves of the country should have unified “peacefully” under the terms of the Geneva Convention that ended French Colonial Rule. But, there were those Vietnamese who didn’t want to live under communist rule. Shouldn’t they have been allowed to live the lives they chose in peace? Isn’t that what we were attempting to help them do?
Still, the protesters argued: What right did America have to intervene?
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