This morning, Drudge had the following headline: "Dem Rangel Promises To Cut Off Funding For War In Iraq If Dems Win House..." with links to an article at The Hill. I have been unable to get the link to work and the article (which was on the front page of The Hill site this morning is no longer listed at all) but the headline is consistent with the approach that the Democratic party has taken on the Iraq War. This is sadly reminiscent of the approach that the Democrats took during the latter days of the Vietnam War, though their desire to be defeated in Iraq has emerged with only ~5% of the casualties we suffered in Vietnam.
[NB: Apparently, Free Republic was able to grab the story before it disappeared: Anxious Dems eye power of the purse on Iraq(Rangel Promises-Cut Off Funding In Iraq If Dem Win House]
Not long ago, a frequent commenter on my site, Jimmy J, sent me an e-mail detailing his experiences and the evolution of his thinking during the Vietnam era. With his permission, I am posting it here. This is much more than a recap of a difficult era; it is also a pre-history of the War on Terror if we lose our nerve:
Before my stint as a recruiter I was essentially apolitical. I was raised during WWII. No one questioned what we were doing then. The military did the work of defending the country from our enemies as designated by the government. That was it. No questions, no doubts, just do or die.
When I encountered the anti-war movement I felt like I had landed on an alien planet. Who were these people that they thought they knew more than our elected leaders? Where was their information coming from and why had they decided that Communism wasn’t something to worry about? Where did they get the slogan of “Better Red Than Dead?” What had happened in this country since 1954 when I graduated from college and it was a sane, middle of the road, basically pro-American society?
I started looking for answers. I haunted book stores, read magazines, read newspapers, and watched television searching for answers to why an anti-war movement had grown up so quickly in this country and why, when in the 50s Communism was generally accepted as an enemy of democracy, all of a sudden it was not the enemy. Instead the enemy was now “American Imperialism.”
As you might guess, I found what to me were some answers, and I found many of them in books. At the end of this chapter I will list some of the books that I think gave me the most insight into what happened to the United States between Korea and Vietnam.
We have to go back to the end of WWII. Shortly after the war was over the Soviet Union started gobbling up Eastern Europe and withdrew behind what Churchill named the “Iron Curtain.” This was the beginning of the so called Cold War. The Red Menace was pretty apparent to anyone who was paying attention, so when we got into a hot war to save South Korea from Communism most people accepted it as a necessary thing to do.
Korea is a barren place and the Communists couldn’t carry out a guerilla war there. They had to face the combined power of the Allied and South Korean forces. In a matter of three years the war reached a stalemate because the U.S. was not willing to take on China in all out war. (We might have been way ahead today if we had, but that is only conjecture on my part.) During the Korean conflict there were politicians who wanted to appease the Communists rather than defeat them. These were the first signs of people who would rather appease the Communists than stand up to them.
Fighting ended at the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), and truce negotiations began. Which, by the way, continue to this day. We have kept a military presence in South Korea right up to the present day. In the meantime, with stability established, the South Koreans started working their way toward democracy. And guess what? It worked! South Korea today is an “economic miracle.” While just across the DMZ the Communist regime cannot even feed its people.
The government, under President Eisenhower, formulated a policy of containment of Communist aggression. It was known that the Soviet Union had a long range plan to try to control countries with most of the world’s natural resources. If they could accomplish that the United States and her allies, which at that time were major manufacturing countries with heavy needs for iron, copper, molybdenum, titanium, oil, and natural gas; would have to dance to their economic tune.
This may sound improbable to some people but the Soviets were willing to be patient. They had a fifty to hundred year plan to reach world domination, and they counted on the impatience and lack of staying power of western democracies.
If one looks at the little wars - civil wars, wars of liberation, and guerilla wars that took place from 1946 until 1985 you will see that they were in Asia, in South America, in the Middle East, in Central America, and even in the Caribbean. And they were always fomented by Communists or their fellow travelers. They patiently kept at their trouble-making and believed that the west would tire of conflict, particularly if we were forced to contribute blood and treasure.
By the late 70s many, if not most, of our politicians and pundits had accepted the idea that the best we could hope for with the Communists was a stalemate based on the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). I might add that I was convinced of this also. However, President Ronald Reagan believed we did not have to settle for that and began a calculated campaign to defeat the Soviet Union. ( I also admit I did not think it would work!) And it worked! In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union fell apart along with their dreams of world domination. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
The Communists of North Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh, had been working patiently to take over all of Vietnam even before World War II. After WW II they managed to throw their old colonial masters, the French, out. However, there was a large population of Catholics in the southern part of Vietnam that wanted nothing to do with the atheistic Communists who wanted to eliminate their religion.
The Communists were trying to subjugate the south and we offered the southerners help in their battle. Our intention was never to get deeply involved, but to help the South Vietnamese win their own battle. As we spent more money and sent more advisers to South Vietnam our politicians and military leaders became more invested in the idea of defeating the North. The Chinese and Russians got involved by sending money and huge quantities of armaments to the North.
President Johnson committed to large scale U.S. intervention after the Tonkin Gulf Incident. What he hoped to do was to get Ho Chi Minh to accept a stalemate at the DMZ ala the Korean War. What had been accomplished in South Korea was what the U.S. hoped to accomplish in South Vietnam. If the North Vietnamese would agree to leave the South alone, a democracy, with a thriving economy could be established.
What many people don’t know is that the Joint Chiefs offered President Johnson a plan to quickly defeat North Vietnam. They wanted to cut all railroads into the country, mine and blockade Haiphong Harbor, and, if necessary, bomb the irrigation dams on the Red River. Their reasoning was that with no access to outside goods and material and no rice crop, the North would have had to come to the bargaining table in earnest. President Johnson refused to follow their advice.
The mistake that President Johnson made was to think he could use limited warfare to put enough pressure on Uncle Ho to agree to that idea. He was worried about starting a larger war with the Chinese and Russians if we went all out in Vietnam. This may have been a valid worry. However, if the North had been isolated quickly and their rice irrigation system destroyed, they would have had little choice but to negotiate in good faith. Had this been accomplished quickly the Chinese and Russians may have accepted it as a fait accompli ala their decision on North and South Korea.
In my opinion it is always a mistake to try to prosecute a limited war. If a nation needs to go to war it should be all out, no holds barred, and aim to get it over with as quickly as possible. That could have been done in North Vietnam, but by using a policy of gradually increasing pressure we allowed them to carry on guerilla war in the south. When the opponents are able to conduct a guerrilla war or rely on terrorist tactics, all out, quick war becomes essentially impossible. There is no fixed enemy or territory to conquer and it becomes a war of attrition. That is why we are seeing those tactics from our enemies today.
The other part of the Vietnam equation was Communist propaganda and the media. There was plenty of pro North Vietnam propaganda being circulated on the college campuses. The North Vietnamese were agrarian reformers. The North Vietnamese were nationalists fighting for their independence from foreign colonialists. The United States was an imperialist country who was in Vietnam for oil. It was a civil war between the Vietnamese and we had no vital interest at stake. And so on and so on.
Naïve college students who didn’t want to be drafted picked up on this and even went further, saying they despised this “fascist” country and would rather be “Red than dead.”
Large anti-war demonstrations on campuses got big TV coverage and frightened the less resolute politicians. They also converted many journalists to their way of thinking. Some of the student organizations became quite lawless and violent. Many of the demonstrations illegally deprived non-demonstrators of their right to go about their business without intimidation. That was certainly the case when they tried to drive military recruiters from the campus scene.
The newspaper and television reporters who were sent to cover the war were a new generation that had not seen war before.
The brutality of it shocked them. They also interviewed many draftee “dog faces” that hated the Army, hated the war, and did not see why they should be there. Little by little the reporters became more negative on the war. A lot of what they saw and reported was the result of a poor understanding of war and their reaction to a conscripted Army that was in a fight for which they had little or no understanding or motivation.
Unfortunately, many of the higher ranking officers were there only to get combat service on their record because it improved their promotion possibilities. Some of the senior leadership (Lt. Colonel to Brigadier General) bordered on incompetent. There was also a certain amount of cynicism among our higher ranks. They looked on the war as a test laboratory for new weapons as well as an opportunity to enhance their branch’s claim on the defense budget. This inter-service rivalry caused our efforts to be far less efficient than they might have been.
There was also a tendency to “massage” reports as they progressed up the chain of command. A realistic report of the difficulties and problems on the battlefield was often transformed, as it passed up the chain of command, into a glowing report of our military accomplishments.
We were never defeated militarily. The constant negative reports by the media coupled with the propaganda pouring into and out of our colleges eventually turned public opinion against the war. No less an authority than General Giap, the Supreme Commander of the North Vietnamese forces, pointed this out some years after the war.
And what of the aftermath of the war? We know that there was a barbaric blood bath in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in which millions were killed. So much for the claim that the Communists were “agrarian reformers.” In addition, many hundreds of thousands were put into re-education camps and forced to become Communists or die.
We here in the United States read about all this with little or no outrage. The media treated it as something that “those barbaric Southeast Asians” do when they fight. We weren’t hurt or threatened so they saw little reason to protest. Fortunately for us the Chinese and Russians had spent so much money and material supporting their Communist allies that there was no enthusiasm for pressing on to try to conquer Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. They were content to consolidate their gains.
The Soviets turned their attention to creating mischief in the Middle East and Central America, while the Chinese embarked on a paroxysm of brutal activity to make their society ever more Communistic.
In the meantime there was a barrage of books and movies that proclaimed that the war was unnecessary and immoral. This outpouring of adverse material made both our military and political leaders very wishy-washy about committing military forces to any kind of foreign involvement. It also gave the media the idea that they had the power to influence political and military decisions in whatever directions they wanted them to go.
In summary: It was a noble effort, but was executed poorly. Our propaganda machine was no match for the Communists. When the media turned against the war, they did the Communists’ work for them and turned most of the public against the war.
Besides my own experiences, this is a list of a few of the more important books that have informed my opinions about the Vietnam War:
1. PROTRACTED CONFLICT, A Study of Communist Strategy. By Robert Strauz-Hope, William Kintner, James Dougherty, Alvin J. Cottrell
2. THE RICH NATIONS AND THE POOR NATIONS. By Barbara Ward
3. MAJOR PROBLEMS OF THE VIETNAM WAR. A compilation of documents and essays by Robert J. McMahon
4. AIR WAR IN VIETNAM. By Phil Chinnery
5. STEEL MY SOLDIERS HEARTS. By Colonel David Hackworth
6. WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE…… AND YOUNG. By Harold G. Moore
7. FIVE YEARS TO FREEDOM, THE TRUE STORY OF A VIETNAM POW. By James N. Rowe
8. VOICES FROM VIETNAM, Eye Witness accounts of the war, 1954-1975. By Richard Burks Verrone & Laura M. Calkins
9. ALPHA STRIKE VIETNAM, The Navy’s Air War, 1964-1975 By Jeffrey L. Levinson
When people insist on viewing current reality through the lens of the past and cannot see how their behavior and attitudes led to disaster in the past, they tend to repeat their past dysfunctional behavior. In fundamental ways, Iraq is not Vietnam, yet in several particulars the parallels are quite apt. Much of the MSM and Academia have effectively become agents of Islamist propaganda, whether through inadvertence or by design. The demonization of the Bush administration and the defeatism of the left are also similar. Further, if the Democrats succeed in taking over Congress and cutting off funds for the Iraq War, we will have repeated the abandonment of our allies that led to so much misery and death in Southeast Asia. If we decide to give up the fight, we will consign millions to death and torment and embolden our enemies so that when we finally do have to confront them again, the death and destruction will be orders of magnitude greater.
There is much to consider in the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq; I am most appreciative for Jimmy J's instructive work.