Tags: 'Pro-war' | Sentiments

'Pro-war' Sentiments

Monday, 20 September 2004 12:00 AM

We can either hope it quickly goes away again; or use the occasion to relieve ourselves of feelings that have been moldering in our hearts and minds since the mid-1960s. I surely choose the latter.

During the entire Vietnam War I was the already-over-draft-age host of a local radio show in New York. Having volunteered for the Army during the Korean War, even though I was never close to combat, I felt somehow empowered - not hypocritical - to unfurl my “Win the War” sentiments at the time and do almost nightly battle over microphones with the other side.

Did you feel the same way? Do you still? If the answer to both questions is ‘yes,’ would you like some consolation, some vindication? If so, here comes a great big helping.

My adversaries, my neutrals, and even a lot of my allies referred to my position as “pro-war.” I never let them get away with that without a fight. “Pro-war,” indeed! How can anybody be “pro-war”? I insisted, and still do, that I was not pro-war. I was pro the defense of South Vietnam against communist aggression from the north. I deeply regret that we failed to succeed in that noble mission.

“Wrong war!” “Quagmire!” “Disaster!” “Fifty thousand young American lives wasted!” I understand your point of view. Let’s see if you can understand mine.

At a New York banquet one evening in the early 1990s I found myself the tablemate of Gen. William Westmoreland, the American commander in Vietnam. When cocktails were served I raised my glass and offered a toast to Gen. Westmoreland. Some of our other tablemates may have suspected it was not my first drink of the evening!

“Gen. Westmoreland,” I said, “I want to thank you and congratulate you for your excellent job resisting aggression in Vietnam. It was all the more remarkable considering the political encumbrances thrust upon you by Washington. If you had not made victory so horribly expensive for the communists, there would have been no collapse of the Soviet Union and the Pacific Ocean today would be a Red Lake.”

The general seemed startled to hear such a sentiment out loud in New York City, but he was clearly pleased.

The throaty chorus today excoriates President Bush for finding no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a political jape which ignores Saddam's history of WMD use and his ways, means and intent to develop more, if allowed. Those same choristers, after Vietnam, were then triumphantly shouting, “You see; we TOLD you there was no ‘Domino Theory’ to fear if the communists won Vietnam. They took Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and THAT’S ALL!”

And that argument deftly ignores the point of my Westmoreland toast. It’s natural for us to concentrate on our losses during that awful war. Overlooked is the staggering price paid by the communists for outlasting us. I've always wondered what the coaches and fellow football players say in the locker room after the game to the defensive lineman who picks up an enemy fumble on his own 10-yard line and, despite a clear field ahead of him, manages to run only as far as midfield before collapsing in exhaustion.

That’s what communism did after Vietnam. American resistance caused that exhaustion. Things like communism don’t collapse when they’re on a roll. Deterioration awaits stagnation. When it comes, Berlin Walls come down and Boris Yeltsin says to his once-communist parliamentarians, “While we’re at it, why don’t we just go ahead and make the Communist Party illegal in Russia?”

There were really three Vietnam Wars, and our side won two of them. The only Vietnam War we lost was the one in Vietnam. Beginning in 1950 there was a “Vietnam War” in Korea; the communist north invaded the south. Before you could say “focus group,” President Harry Truman ordered American troops in to defend South Korea.

It was a bitter fight, but the truce line agreed upon as the fighting ended three years later was roughly the line that marked the original border before the North Korean attack. In fact, North Korea was diminished by a few acres.

In personnel and treasure, however, North Korea paid a terrible price for having adventured against its neighbor. And today, the successfully defended South Korea is a democracy with one of the most impressive economies on earth. North Korea is a total failure. Its main industry is blackmail: “You give us food and supplies,” says North Korea to the surrounding world, “or we'll make big trouble for you.”

North Koreans are starving. A few years ago the North Korean government actually put out propaganda claiming their scientists had “proved” it’s healthy to eat only one meal a day!

The third “Vietnam War” was won by our British allies on the Malayan peninsula, today’s Malaysia. During the Vietnam War there was a communist insurgency designed to overwhelm all opposition and raise the red flag over Malaysia, which, had they succeeded, would certainly have included Singapore. British strategy involving, as I recall, a network of “fortified hamlets” eventually won enough hearts, minds and battles to sink the insurgency.

When you consider the “political correctness” imposed on the American military by the Washington leadership – no bombing of Haiphong harbor until too late, no invasion of North Vietnam to slice across and cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, no ability to unleash the full force of American power – and when you consider the morale-melting role of American media – our ability to force communism to settle for only three dominos is really its own kind of victory. (The overwhelming majority of Americans to this day believe the Tet Offensive was a communist victory. It was a bruising communist defeat, but the video images in American living rooms destroyed America’s will.)

Buried underneath the history of that period, but reachable without serious drilling, is the fate of Indonesia. That sprawling archipelago with over 200 million people and enough natural resources to make it the richest nation in the world, had an oddly motivated founding ruler, Sukarno, who admired Communist China and wanted Indonesia to join forces with Mao. His anti-communist generals got wind of Sukarno’s plot and struck first, killing up to half a million communists and overseas Chinese living in Indonesia over one weekend!

We can safely assume that if America did not have a credible – not necessarily a winning but at least a CREDIBLE – military operation going in Vietnam at the time, Indonesia would have become Red China South, not to mention Red China Rich!

(Why did his mutinous generals spare Sukarno’s life? One of them explained to an American reporter, “You don’t shoot George Washington.” Unquestionably one of the funniest headlines of the 1960s was the one that proclaimed “Sukarno’s Attempt to Overthrow Himself Fails!”)

The people in “victorious” Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia lead lives the people of South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan would call wretched. Even more than I wonder how that team feels about the out-of-breath lineman who failed to run for the easy touchdown, I wonder what the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia think when they realize how well the people are eating, dressing, driving and consuming in South Korea and the other countries where communism tried and failed to extinguish freedom.

By the way, it was my first drink of the evening.

And when I offered that toast to Gen. Westmoreland, I hadn't even sipped from it yet.


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We can either hope it quickly goes away again; or use the occasion to relieve ourselves of feelings that have been moldering in our hearts and minds since the mid-1960s.I surely choose the latter. During the entire Vietnam War I was the already-over-draft-age host of a...
Monday, 20 September 2004 12:00 AM
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