Vietnam: Retrospective Part 1 of 8
This is not an academician's tome. There won't be any footnotes or citations. I want to make it as readable as possible to the widest possible audience. Now you may think that it is the product of an amateur, and that it should not be taken seriously. However, inasmuch as none of the journalists, pundits, politicians, and academics who have guided the debate about the war in Vietnam to this point, have made any effort to authenticate their sources, I don't see why I should be held to a higher standard. If anyone wants to challenge me on a particular point, I will be glad to lay my cards on the table, but they will have to lay theirs down first. After all, they will be the ones calling me. [Note: Find yourself a poker player to explain that metaphor if you don't understand it.]
In this first installment, I will touch on what the war in Vietnam was not.
- It was not inspired by imperialism.
- It was not a “rich man's war.”
- It was not an immoral war.
I will attempt to address each in detail. I say attempt because at least one, “Vietnam was a rich man's war” is indecipherable. It seems only to be a cry of class envy. Although novel in that time, it is one that resonates with many people today.
Before I continue, let me make it clear that I am not opposed to dissent. I have cited President Eisenhower frequently in my writings on this subject.
I have dissented to the policies and actions of our government on many occasions. Indeed, I am vigorously opposed to our current President and his allies in Congress, who have, in thought and in deed, pursued goals for our nation that I deem incredibly destructive and wholly at odds with constitutionally consistent institutions that I hold dear. I am vocal in my dissent. I encourage and support others who dissent at my side. However I may disagree with the current Administration and any citizens who support it, I respect their right to oppose me. I will defend their right to voice and act on their beliefs no matter how misguided I may believe them to be. I expect the same in return.
However, there is a difference between honest dissention and unlawful protest. For as much as I will defend anyone’s right to dissent, I will not support protests like those that included the harassment of servicemen and women. I will not only encourage the prosecution and punishment of those who participate in unlawful acts, but also help their victims defend themselves. In fact, this history is part of that effort.
Our schools and documentarians are promulgating the myths espoused by the Vietnam War dissenters and protesters to this day. They teach them to our children and their progeny. They repeat them among themselves and in public displays and discussions to the continuing detriment of American foreign policy. There are some who still attempt to inflict guilt on the veterans of that war. I know. I have been a target of those assaults. Unfortunately for them and their cause, I am not a willing victim. I believe I not only have the right to defend myself and other veterans, but also an obligation to do so.
“Imperialism” is frequently used as a four-letter word to condemn a nation or its leaders. Do you know what it really means? Simply put, it is one nation making another its subject. It’s the way that empires are created.
America frequently has been accused of imperialism, arguably true in the case of the conquest of the North American Continent including the wars with the native populations as well as Mexico and Spain. Although it later ceded its claims on Cuba and the Philippines, and granted sovereignty to some land to North American native tribes (albeit less desirable land than that which their ancestors held), it was still guilty of blatant imperialism in those times and, like Mark Twain, I am opposed to imperialism.
Was America attempting to subjugate Vietnam? There is no evidence to support this claim. Ultimately, we left voluntarily without reserving any claim whatsoever, thereby belying any charge of imperialism. Anyone who cares to argue this point further must demonstrate that any such intent ever existed. They must satisfactorily explain what advantage there might have been in annexing South Vietnam.
Vietnam had no known natural resources that the United States coveted. I was once told that our fleet of B-52 bombers, one of the legs of the U.S. Triad of Strategic Defense in those days, could not land on synthetic rubber tires. We had to make sure that we had a ready supply of rubber to keep those bombers in the air. Well, I was never able to confirm this theory, even after contacting veterans who had serviced the big planes.
What else did Vietnam have to offer? Cheap labor? Their agrarian population wasn’t qualified at that time to man production lines. Rice? We produced more rice in America than was ever produced in the Mekong Delta. Oil? Yes, deposits of crude have been discovered off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea, but not then. Also, in those days, America had its own abundant oil reserves.
Finally, South Vietnam had no strategic assets, no port nor anything that would warrant the expenditure of lives and treasure to secure it from invasion from its Northern neighbor.
Of course, these days people charge the United States with subjugating other nations economically. It is true that there was a time when the United States could have more easily and cheaply bought many nations instead of bombing them into servitude. That may have been true during other times, but not during the period of the Vietnam War. The invaders of South Vietnam were being financed by the Soviet Empire and they were not to be bought off cheaply.
Anti-war protesters during the Vietnam period were quite adamant that it was immoral. However, veterans of that movement seem to have finally abandoned that argument. They now speak in terms of “just” versus “unjust” wars. I think that they’re on firmer ground there. Morality is, after all, a judgment to be applied to individual actions rather than society at large.
One of the intellectual leaders of the anti-war movement in that time was Michael Walzer, a prominent political philosopher and professor emeritus of Princeton University. I recommend his book, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. (Yes, believe it or not, I read those authors with whom I disagree. I recommend the practice highly.)
Generally, although Professor Walzer allows that a war may be just, he argues that America’s war in Vietnam was not. Basically, I agree with him in almost every detail save one: He declares that the war was unjust. Inasmuch as I will be addressing that in another installment in this series, I beg your indulgence until then. However, I recommend that you read Just and Unjust Wars to prepare yourself to debate if you disagree with me.
The concept that the United States should not engage in war unless its vital interests are at risk was first promulgated by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in 1984. Thus, that argument wasn’t heard in the ranks of the Vietnam war’s defenders or dissenters. In those days, the anti-war movement simply said that “it wasn’t our war.” But, it was.
Again, I’ll beg your indulgence to allow me to debate this point in a later posting wherein it will be more appropriate. I’ve already challenged my reader’s endurance with the length of this posting.
To be continued…
In the coming installments in this series I will address the following:
- What was the war in Vietnam all about?
- Wasn’t the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin just a hoax?
- Who was our enemy?
- What was all the fuss about communism?
- Who was Ho Chi Minh?
- Why did we block attempts to reunify North and South Vietnam?
- There wasn’t really a “light at the end of the tunnel,” was there?
- Didn’t we waste treasure and the lives of our children for no good cause?
- Wouldn’t the South Vietnamese people have been better off red than dead?
- Why didn't we “Give Peace A Chance?”