Soon after I designated Diego Garcia’s comment on this post a Comment of the Day, I realized that it had to have the context of the Chris Marschner comment that Diego was responding to in order to be appreciated. So this is another rare tag team Comment of the Day on the post, “The Insidious News Media Disinformation Campaign.” I’ll have a brief comment at the end of the two COTDs.
What exactly was the purpose of our involvement in Viet Nam? I know what we were told that it was to stem the rise of Communism in the world where countries in Asia would fall like dominoes if we did not intervene. If Communism will collapse upon itself because it is inherently flawed why do we need to hurry it along by killing people? You don’t win hearts and minds with coercion.
Wasn’t it learned that General Westmoreland falsified data to show we were actually winning when in fact we were mired down in a quagmire that only benefitted the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about?
Maybe we were all duped. Maybe we are still being duped. Maybe we were all seen as suckers by Kennedy and Johnson. Maybe politicians and the public have been being duped for years by guys with scrambled eggs on their hats and stars on their epaulettes whose retirement plans include running Lockheed Martin or Boeing or just sitting on boards as they collect millions for a few days work because of what they know about defense contracts.
Maybe the smart parents were the ones that spirited their 19 year old’s off to Canada or paid their way to college and then on to Canada. I have no idea. However, those who served did so as patriots but even patriots can be suckered by politicians. I got suckered by Romney and McCain. I thought they were honest brokers of information until Trump forced them to expose themselves. I learned that integrity takes a back seat when someone challenges their power.
Why are we still in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years? Why is it that modern warfare lasts for generations while a poorly resourced rag tag bunch kicked the British ass in far less time? How could we defeat two enemies, forcing them to unconditionally surrender at the same time in roughly the equivalent of one presidential cycle? Could it be that the wars prior to Korea were existential imperative while today profits from equipment and expended munitions help keep the defense industries highly profitable? One has to ask, with all the budget hikes to improve the military’s readiness along with the positive changes in services for veterans, why do all these Generals have an ax to grind with the President who sees war as wasteful. Could it be that their business is war and part of their mission is to keep the public believing that these never ending wars are beneficial because it keeps them all in business. Tell me General’s Mattis and Kelly, which wars did you win to make you both experts on ending war?
If I recall correctly John Kerry told school kids to work hard and study because if they don’t they will wind up in Iraq. Maybe, just maybe Kerry and Trump have something in common. They can see when war is a gross waste of blood and treasure. They just have different ways of stating it.
Diego Garcia replied,
It’s me again.
Vietnam, the predominant Ethics Train Wreck of my generation, is something I’d rather not think about or talk about, but I can provide some perspective as one who was facing the draft in those years, and on a college campus where opposition to the war was virtually universal. I also had the benefit of expert commentary from my war hero, war-hating father, whom I listened to debate the Vietnam war with many astute critics, including the tenured Harvard professor of government who lived next door, and the pacifist MIT professor who was probably Dad’s closest friend who didn’t grow up with him. Here are some random points:
- We weren’t so sure that Communism would, as Chris says, “collapse upon itself because it is inherently flawed.” Americans had been terrified of Communism since the Russian Revolution; remember, Hitler initially assumed that we would join him in fighting Stalin. It wasn’t called “The Red Scare” for nothing: people were frightened, and the news media initially aided politicians in the scare-mongering. Communism was regarded as a civilization-wrecking contagion that had to be wiped out or it would over-run civilization, and Kennedy, then Johnson, spurred by “experts,” decided that Vietnam was where a stand had to be taken. Remember, the Korean War had been successful in keeping the North from over-running the South.
It is said that every war is fought as if it was the last one, and that is especially true of Vietnam.
- Unlike in Korea, however, where nearly the whole international community was united against the China-backed Korean surge, Communist nations had gained power and a foothold in the U.N. in the Fifties. Nikita Khrushchev was scary, banging his shoe at the U.N and threatening to “bury us.” Yet the nation was war weary, and also terrified of nuclear war, especially after the close call in Cuba in 1962. Thus Vietnam was not so much fought as a war of attrition but as a “limited war.” Indeed, the war of attrition strategy was Vietnam’s, and it worked.
Vietnam was also the equivalent of the Colonies in the Revolutionary War, with us playing the British. This was often commented upon at the time.
- It was a limited war because we—the public and the government—were so afraid of getting into a full-on fight with Russia, China, or the two allied, that would result in nuclear war and the ending of “Dr. Strangelove.” Thus, while the U.S. could have ended the Vietnam war in a couple of months or less if it used everything at its disposal, it was wary of the consequences. What the Vietnam war was missing was a General Sherman, willing to use total war methods to end the conflict as quickly as possible and save American lives.
This drove my father, an admirer of Sherman, crazy. It also drove him crazy watching Iraq and Afghanistan later. “If you go to war, you do what’s necessary to win the war,” he kept saying. “If you are not willing, then don’t go to war.“
- That was what made the Vietnam War “immoral”: that American lives were being ended or destroyed in pursuit of a half-assed, irresolute strategy.
The Jane Fonda rationale that we were fighting a benign, blameless nation led by a patriot and mensch, Ho Chi Minh, was naive and offensive. Indeed, proponents of the war dug in in part because the arguments of the anti-war crowd were so frequently juvenile and offensive, like “Better Red Than Dead.” They were also often proto-Communists.
- Why are we still in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years? It’s the dreaded “mission creep.” We had to attack Afghanistan because the Taliban had enabled and hidden Osama Bin Laden. Nobdoy seems to remember that President Bush gave the Taliban an ultimatum: hand Bin laden over to us, or we’re coming. There was no choice in that: no nation, especially this one, can absorb a foreign attack that kills 3000 civilians and fail to retaliate. So you go in, do as much damage as possible, declare victory and get the hell out, sending a clear message that the next time, our response will be twice as deadly.