On Veterans’ Day, we rightly celebrate the sacrifice of our young service men and women but don’t ever speak enough about how we decided to engage in the wars that risked their lives.
This was especially the case in the Vietnam War when young men were drafted to become cannon fodder in a war that defied the wisdom of Indochina history and based on the lie that it was a war of defense.
We “60s kids” were a generation that believed the government would tell us what was true and right for the nation; Vietnam was our awakening that the government could not be trusted.
It’s instructive to re-visit how we went wrong in Vietnam because we have since repeated this questionable toxic war scenario in the Middle East.
In the late 1940s, Ho Chi Minh told the French, then occupying Vietnam, “You can kill ten of my men for everyone I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.”
Ho Chi Minh spoke of the resolve of a nation to be let alone, and his challenge was not meant for the French alone.
Ho Chi Minh succeeded. He beat the French.
An arrogant United States, however, thought to defy philosopher George Santayana’s caveat that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
We never held the high ground in the Vietnam War.
Our government lied that we needed to war in defense of American interests,
President Lyndon Johnson’s war powers relied on a manufactured pretext to go to war. Our government claimed the USS Maddox was targeted in Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin by communist forces. This was untrue. The USS Maddox was never at risk, there was no provocation, and former Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, admitted as much – albeit, long after the fact.
Nevertheless, our Congress empowered the President to war against “communist aggression,” a fatal deceit that killed our young men in combat actions having nothing to do with our national defense.
The United States was complicit in the political assassination of a corrupt Vietnam head of state we had championed, ignored the sanctity of other nation states when we bombed Laos and Cambodia, and lied to the American people about kill ratios and accumulated Viet Cong deaths, and the progress of the war generally.
On January 30, 1968, on the Tet holiday, the Vietnam New Year, a combined force of 80,000 Vietcong and the People’s Army of Vietnam launched a country wide offensive against 100 towns and cities; it was an assault few observers thought was possible; support for the war evaporated; the bold attack proved the communist forces were hardly on the run in Vietnam.
By the time the last American troops left Vietnam on August 15, 1973, Presidents Johnson and Nixon dropped 4.6 million tons of bombs on Vietnam.
We lost almost 60,000 service men and women and millions of Vietnamese were killed.
I do believe that we should honor those who served in Vietnam and every other war.
But we would honor them and this nation more if we only waged righteous wars of defense that were based on what was true, rather than the bald lies, the false propaganda, that the public is urged to believe instead