Mar 9, 2014
We ‘Support’ the Troops by Burdening Them More
Posted on Dec 2, 2009
By T.L. Caswell
Today’s state of affairs probably would not be much different if 58,000 Americans had not died in the Vietnam War. It is a bitter and sobering thought that so many thousands of U.S. military personnel perished for so little benefit to the nation that foolishly sent them into what amounted to a civil war.
The prime architect of the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara, would later admit that Washington’s actions had been “wrong, terribly wrong.” The one-time secretary of defense went to his grave this year burdened with sorrow for his role in the conflict.
Because of audiotapes now made public, we know of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s anguish over sending more troops to Vietnam, an anguish he concealed from the nation he led. Before he ordered a military buildup, he told national security adviser McGeorge Bundy in 1964: “The more I think about this, I don’t know what in the hell. ... Looks to me like we’re getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me. ... I don’t think it’s worth fighting for.” But the United States did fight the war, however worthless it might have been, and as a result the presidency of a man who envisioned a Great Society fell in shards.
Johnson had been goaded toward escalation by influential advisers including Bundy. William Pfaff, in his column that appeared Nov. 24 on Truthdig, quotes from the recently published and aptly titled “Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam,” by Gordon M. Goldstein. Pfaff tells of a 1967 memo from Bundy to Johnson saying, “The fact that South Vietnam has not been lost, and is not going to be lost, is a fact of truly massive importance in the history of Asia, the Pacific and the United States.” Pfaff then writes: “Looking back at the memo, nearly 30 years after he had written it in triumph, he [McGeorge Bundy] noted on it, for Goldstein to read and quote, ‘McGB all wrong.’ ”
The U.S. public has overwhelmingly acknowledged that the country should not have gotten militarily involved in Vietnam. The Gallup Poll said: “ … [I]n retrospect, Americans feel it was a mistake to send troops to Vietnam. Three polls conducted from 1990 to 2000 found about seven in 10 Americans saying it was a mistake.”
The nation slipped into the Vietnam swamp bit by bit, under four presidents. None of those presidents—whatever their moral or political defects might have been—shipped soldiers to that Asian land to pursue a military campaign for gold or petroleum or territory. The stated goal was loftier and arguably less material: to save the world—or at least the United States—from communism.
As it turned out, communism was a cardboard tiger that not only couldn’t devour the planet but generally couldn’t even save itself. Today only Vietnam and four other nations are officially communist … and two of the five (Vietnam and China), at least when it comes to commercial expansion, look as though they were brought up by a money-hungry Uncle Sam rather than an anti-capitalist Papa Karl Marx.
An appalling portion of the United States’ young population was squandered in Vietnam because U.S. leaders had forgotten a fundamental rule of poker: You’ve got to know when to fold. Starting in 1962, more and more Americans were tossed into the pot each year as the troop level surged: 8,498 … 15,620 … 17,280 … 129,611 … 317,007 … 451,752 … 537,377. Ever bigger wagers were made in a futile attempt to save a bad bet. Even in 1971, after a couple of years of U.S. pullback, the American deployment remained at more than 200,000.
The mission in Vietnam was disastrously wrong-headed, and much American treasure and blood could have been spared if our leaders simply had had the political guts to say: “Enough. This is not working. Let’s go home.”
* * *
Soldier No. 2: ‘Numb and Withdrawn Upstairs’
The story of Peter Sinclair is poignantly laid out by staff writer Jia-Rui Chong in a Page 1 story in the Nov. 2 Los Angeles Times.
When Sinclair was 20, he enlisted in the Army and later was sent off to the Persian Gulf War. Afterward, he became an L.A. cop and a member of the Army Reserve. In the first year of the Iraq war, he was back in the regular Army.
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