Review May 1, 2000 /26
Prevailing myths of the Vietnam War
THE VIETNAM WAR marked the first time in American
history that we waged war not only against a foreign enemy, but against
Truth was the first casualty of that internecine fight,
which means that now, on the 25th anniversary of our departure from Vietnam,
many younger Americans know little about the war other than the grim
idiocies passed on by the professors and the press.
Let's refute some of those popular myths.
- Vietnam was an unjust war. Members of the
self-described New Left argued in the '60s that the people of Vietnam
loved communism and that the South Vietnamese hungered for the
ministrations of Ho Chi Minh. That proved thumpingly untrue. Within weeks
of the American withdrawal from Vietnam, the Vietnamese people expressed
their feelings about communism by crafting crude boats and trying to drift
to freedom -- much as Cubans do today.
- We had no reason to enter the battle. Vietnam
differed from previous wars in that the Vietnamese could not conceivably
bring the fight to American shores. But John Kennedy, the architect of the
war, perceived a different reason for engagement. He was deeply
anti-communist and believed in the "domino theory" -- that if one nation
in the region were to fall to communism, others would follow. Although
college students of that era jeered at the notion, it turned out to be
true. After Vietnam fell, so did Cambodia and Burma (now Myanmar).
Millions subsequently died in communist "liberations."
- The United States was an imperialist aggressor.
Just the opposite was true. The United States, like
France before it, was attempting to prevent communist imperialism. Like
France, it failed. The Johnson and Nixon administrations, following the
lead of Truman and Eisenhower in Korea, refused to call the war a "war,"
designating it a "conflict" instead.
This verbal sleight of hand spared the presidents the
trouble of having to seek a congressional declaration of war. But in
failing to seek Capitol Hill's blessing, these presidents doomed the
effort. Congressional debates force planners to sharpen their war aims and
make presidents make a popular case for sending young men and women into
The arguments used in Vietnam failed both tests. The
case for fighting was abstract in nature. Johnson and Nixon did not
stimulate the patriotism that sustained us through World War II. They
issued no clarion calls to national interest or American greatness. The
Pentagon instead tried to justify the war by tossing out body counts --
estimating that we were inflicting 10 times as many deaths as the Vietcong
were inflicting on us. That wasn't good enough for those who had to bury
- Vietnam War protests set off an age of youthful
Vietnam War protesters -- of which I occasionally was
one -- began their opposition to the war in earnestness and ended it in
Most protesters got involved not because they had
lofty feelings about war and peace. They joined in because they were
bored, because disobedience was exciting, because the movement provided
the next best thing to a dating service and because they wanted a
high-minded way to dodge the draft.
In retrospect, the tactics were wonderfully stupid.
The Moratorium, which Bill Clinton helped organize in England, was built
on the premise that college students could put an end to global conflict
merely by standing around in the street and chanting slogans. Instead of
inspiring peace, the young scholars goaded communists into waging a
broader war on human liberties. The Soviets and their proxy armies
concluded that Americans lacked the spirit or will to fight back.
Even worse, anti-war organizations proved to be every
bit as delusional as the Pentagon's bean-counters. The boat people proved
beyond all reasonable doubt that the Vietcong were peddling death and
misery -- and yet, left-wing commentators refused to acknowledge the fact.
Many still do. Only communism could have turned the Vietnamese people into
paupers. Here in America, Vietnamese immigrants have demonstrated their
entrepreneurial and economic genius.
- We're finally giving Vietnam veterans their due.
Although Ronald Reagan and subsequent presidents have
lavished Vietnam vets with praise, we can never give them what they
deserve, which is their youth.
We lost nearly 60,000 Americans in a war plagued by
shabby planning on one side and a narcissistic anti-war movement on the
other. Young people were instructed to fight, but not given the means to
win. And when they stumbled home from the hell of jungle warfare, they had
to endure taunts from a protest movement that viewed its cowardice as a
form of nobility.
This sorry legacy does, however, permit us to
formulate a pithy summary of the "lessons of Vietnam." First, if you enter
a war, declare war and build popular support. Second, fight to win. Third,
honor those who serve. And fourth, remember: A strong military is
necessary not just to fight wars, but to prevent them. No sane outfit will
mess with a superpower that not only has the means to fight, but the will
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate