This is the only section of BBHQ that is specifically for today’s
teenagers.... those of you for whom Vietnam is only a strange word.
Decades after U.S. soldiers left Vietnam, we believe we
can finally give it some needed perspective. This is a basic
description of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, from a middle-aged
boomer’s viewpoint. We explain why, for many of us, the Vietnam War was a
major, defining event for us - and for our country.|
We’re not taking sides here, and we have no axe to grind. Do not look at
this as the complete story. This is merely an attempt to paint a
picture... from a distance.
We have a comparison between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq in 2005.
Did we get ourselves into another Vietnam by liberating Iraq? Read our
analysis to find out.
The Cold War Climate and the Domino Theory
During World War II, the U.S. and the Soviet Union (Russia and its member
states) - the U.S.S.R. - were allies against Germany and Japan. They won
the war together. But the two countries had very different ideas on
governing. The U.S. believed in the right of people to elect their
leaders and live freely; the U.S.S.R. believed in limited freedom and a
strong, dominant central government. Free people will never knowingly
choose to place themselves under a communist government, so the U.S.S.R.
was trying to force itself on other countries with military force. It had
done so in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and other countries. The U.S.S.R. had
a formidable army, whose weapons included atomic and nuclear bombs and
the means to deliver them. So the U.S. and other free countries feared
that communism would spread. This was the essence of the domino
“You have a row of dominoes set up; you knock over the first one, and
what will happen to the last one is that it will go over very quickly.”
– President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954.
Memories of Hitler’s attempt to dominate the world were still
fresh. It could happen again. Both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson
believed that the domino theory was applicable in Indo-China. There was
real concern in the United States, and outright fear in much of the rest
of the free world, that communism might overtake us.
In 1950, the United States announced that it would provide military and
economic support to countries that were being invaded by communist
Vietnam is a relatively small country located south of China in
Southeast Asia. Vietnam had been engaged in an internal struggle for many
years. Before World War II, France had claimed Vietnam as a colony. After
the war, the Vietnam’s leader, Ho Chi Minh, declared Vietnam
as an independent, communist country. The French tried to protect their
interest, if only to keep Vietnam out of communist control. But the
French abandoned Vietnam in 1954, having determined that it was not worth
the cost. Vietnam was divided into two parts: North Vietnam was under Ho
Chi Minh’s control, while the south remained free.|
Do You Feel a Draft Here?
Back in the bad old days, registering for the selective service meant you
were probably going to be drafted into military service. And once you
were drafted, you were probably going to Vietnam. Oh, you might get lucky
and end up in South Korea or West Germany. But you had no say in the
matter. (It was mostly a guy thing... women were not drafted and served
no active combat role in the military.) At age 18, we were required to
register for the draft and perhaps serve in the military, and maybe die
for our country. But since the voting age was 21, we were not allowed to
select our leaders. There did seem to be something wrong with that.
Oh, you could get a deferment if you were a full time high school or
college student. But aside from that, and a few other special cases, you
were going to see a lot more of the world than you wanted to...
compliments of Uncle Sam. About 40% of eligible boomer males eventually
Ten thousand boomers took another way out... by heading north to Canada.
The Canadian government would not force them to return. But it was a
one-way trip; if you tried to come back into the U.S., you were subject
The typical tour of duty in the military was two years.... six weeks of
rugged basic training, 10 months in direct preparation, and then a year
in Vietnam. If you made it through that with no physical or mental
scars... you were in the minority. If you volunteered before you were
drafted, you might get to choose a specialty (and thus, perhaps avoid
front line combat); or, you might get to serve somewhere other than
Vietnam. But if you volunteered, your term was four years, not two.
I should also note that millions of boomers willingly served proudly in
the military; tens of thousands chose the military as a career and have
spent their entire adult life serving honorably in the military. But they
were, by far, the exception, not the rule.
By the numbers:
For the duration of the war, there were about 27 million American men of
draft age. Of those, about two million served in Vietnam. That’s about 7
percent. Of the two million who did serve in Vietnam, there were about
50,000 deaths. An American soldier serving in Vietnam, then, had about a
2.5% chance of being killed in combat.
Then there were the boomers.... 76 million spoiled, adolescent
brats, used to getting our way... rapidly approaching draft age.|
The cold war, Vietnam, and the boomer generation were like three
trains heading directly toward each other. The explosion took place in
the late 60s.
How We Got There
The seeds of the Vietnam War go back to the 50s, when President
Eisenhower sent a few military advisors to help the South Vietnam
military. President Kennedy continued this support. Some people speculate
that Kennedy planned to expand U.S. involvement, while other purists have
concluded that he intended to retreat and end U.S. involvement in
Vietnam altogether. In 1961 President Kennedy said, “Now we have a
problem in making our power credible, and Vietnam is the place.”
We will never know his intentions, though Kennedy had eagerly served in
the military; he was aggressive and not afraid to use military strength.
And the global threat of growing communism was very real.
Robert Dallek’s book on President Kennedy, “An Unfinished Life: John F.
Kennedy, 1917-1963,” supports the theory that Kennedy intended to withdraw
from Vietnam in his second term. But that is mostly supposition.
Retreating is not in the style of the WWII veteran who said, “Let every
nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any
price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any
foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
(President Kennedy’s inaugural address, January 20, 1961.)
Of President Kennedy and Vietnam, author and historian George Will wrote,
“Astonishingly callow when inaugurated, he was unable to stem or even
discern the intragovernmental delusions and deceits that propelled the
Bay of Pigs invasion just 87 days into his presidency. Much flowed from
that debacle. Kennedy said that to reverse Nikita Khrushchev’s assessment
of him as weak, he had to find somewhere to show U.S. resolve: ’The only
place we can do that is in Vietnam. We have to send more people there.’
Soon he was at the Vienna summit, where Khrushchev, impervious to his
charm, concluded that he was ’a pygmy.’”
We know that, in 1964, while Republican presidential candidate Barry
Goldwater demanded a strong stance against communism throughout the
world, President Johnson ran as the peace candidate, criticizing Senator
Goldwater’s bellicose position. But at the same time, behind the scenes
President Johnson was preparing a huge military buildup in Vietnam. He
wanted to do away with communism in Vietnam and put it behind him so that
he could focus attention on his domestic social agenda, the program he
called the Great Society.
The president was looking for an “excuse” to prepare for military
involvement in Vietnam. In August, 1964, Congress approved the Tonkin
Gulf Resolution which authorized the president to “take all necessary
measures to repel any armed attack against forces of the United States
and to prevent further aggression.” (The North Vietnamese had fired on
the battleship U.S.S. Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, though some claimed
that no such event took place.)
Lyndon Johnson won the election in 1964; it was one of the biggest
landslides in American history. Shortly after the election President
Johnson announced a substantial increase in U.S. aid to South Vietnam “to
restrain the mounting infiltration of men and equipment by the Hanoi
regime in support of the Vietcong.” (The Vietcong were the “bad guys.”)
The war had begun, though contrary to current popular belief, the
Vietnam War was never a declared war. Officially, it was a “police
action.” By the end of 1964, 23,000 U.S. troops were in Vietnam. As the
fighting continued through the late 60s, President Johnson simply could
not find a way out. He was determined not to be the first American
president to lose a war. This was paramount in his mind.
The Vietnam War was, in effect, a war pitting the U.S. against the
U.S.S.R. and China. Those two countries provided enormous support to the
North Vietnamese, though Chinese and U.S.S.R. troops were not involved.
Still, it was seen as a war between the superpowers, albeit at an arm’s
The lottery: Prior to 1970, men eligible for the draft (in the
18-26 age category) were selected by age; the oldest went first. Once you
lost your deferment, you never knew when your number might come up. But
in December, 1969, the Selective Service Administration conducted the
first of what would be four lotteries. The first one was for every male
between 18 and 26 years old who had not served in the military. (In
subsequent years, the lottery applied only to those men who turned 18
during the year.) Numbers were chosen at random, one for every day of the
year. Your number was based on your date of birth. If you drew a low
number... perhaps, below 150, you were probably going to be drafted. (Each
local draft board was required to provide a certain number of inductees.
They started with number 1 and worked their way up each year, as
necessary.) If you had a high number... maybe over 250, you were probably
safe. The final lottery was conducted in 1972 for 1973 inductees, those
born in 1953.
Here’s Another Fine Mess
An old adage says that “the first casualty of war is the truth.” How
true! In the Vietnam war, everybody lied to everybody! Most importantly,
the top military command on the ground in Vietnam lied to the top
military command in Washington, who then lied to the president. Up to the
very end, they claimed that the enemy was weaker than they were and that
victory was just a few months away and required only a few thousand more
American troops. The president lied to the people, and the press... at
the very least, painted the picture the way they wanted you to see it.
They all lied... while baby boomers paid the ultimate price.
In June of 1965, Congress (controlled by the Democrats) authorized the
use of ground troops in Vietnam. “The Vietcong are going to collapse
within weeks,” said President Johnson’s National Security Adviser, Walt
Whitman Rostow; “Not months, but weeks.” 125,000 U.S. troops were in
Vietnam. The military buildup continued through the late 60s. Vietnam
was always at the top of the news, but there were plenty of other things
that distracted the attention of the country.
We older baby boomers are amused when we hear of gays or women or
some other minority demanding their right to join the military.
(We are not critical... just amused.) Back in the 60s and 70s we were
doing everything we could do to keep from having to join! It was
indeed a different world! The animosity among many boomers to the
military and those who chose to serve was enormous! Students trashed and
burned ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) buildings. The military did
no recruiting on most large college campuses. That would be like marching
unarmed into enemy territory.
I am also amused at the new, crew cut look worn by many of today’s
teens and young adults. When I was in college, the long-hair look was in.
Wearing a crewcut implied that you were in the military, or at least
that you supported the military. (The military forced guys to wear a
crewcut.) I know that’s silly; but we thought a lot of silly things back
then... just as we do now. Some guys in the military serving in the U..S.
or on leave back home would wear a wig to hide their mandatory crewcut.
You need to understand that the U.S. was very, very different in 1968
than it is today! Whew! In addition to race riots in L.A.,
Detroit, and other big cities, two major political figures (Martin Luther
King and Bobby Kennedy) were assassinated within a span of 60 days. The
U.S. troop count in Vietnam was approaching 550,000, and hundreds of body
bags were coming back every week... filled with the bodies of baby
boomers. Look at our outrage in 1995 when 168 Americans were killed in
the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma. Well, the body count
from Vietnam was over 200.... every week. Every week! I
know it is different, but...
The anti-war protests reached their peak in 1970 and 1971. In November
1969, 250,000 boomers had marched against the war in Washington, D.C. (I
was there; it was actually a demonstration against just about whatever
was conventional at the time.) By the spring of 1970, demonstrations were
common on most large campuses, the more liberal, the more demonstrations
there were. (The students usually chose spring because... well, because
the weather was better then.... nobody wanted to march in the streets in
the middle of January! Springtime demonstrations delayed and sometimes
canceled those awful end-of-term exams. It was a bonus and an added
incentive for those to whom the war was not a seminal issue. Not everyone
was against the war, but everyone was against spring
On several campuses, students actually took over the president’s office
or his on-campus residence, trashed the place and occupied the building
for several days while making all kinds of outrageous demands. It was
In fairness, many kids (and many adults) did see the war as a moral
atrocity. (But I see the federal inheritance tax as a moral atrocity,
too.) But for most of them, it was primarily a way to show their
independence, a clear breaking away from the nest, a sharp poke in the
eye of authority. And there were over 50 million of us in our teens and
early 20s. There were just too many of us to ignore.
The boomer kids called President Nixon every nasty name on earth... then
they made up a few new ones to call him. (That is ironic, because it was
Nixon who supported the amendment to lower the voting age to 18; it was
Nixon who proposed and set up the military lottery system, which added
stability to the system; it was Nixon who led us out of the war; and it
was Nixon who ended the draft. Still, reason and logic were not part of
the strategy. Civil mayhem was. Trust me... I was there.)
I was a reporter for the campus radio station, WAMU, in Washington, D.C.
On the Friday evening before the big November 1969 protest downtown, I
reported that there was tear gas and riots near DuPont Circle, and
advised listeners to avoid the area. Then I went off the air, and headed
straight for DuPont Circle. The pattern for the protesters was to
provoke the police to take some kind of action, and then retreat to
safety. Yes, there was shouting; yes, there was tear gas. But it was not
about the Vietnam War; it was about getting a reaction out of the police.
(Lemme tell you... tear gas is mighty debilitating... it does what it is
supposed to do!) It was foolish... and dangerous.
The following day I covered a march to the Washington Monument. As they
walked, the marchers shouted, “Peace now! Peace now!” But their attitude
seemed more like, “Peace now; peace now... or I’ll knock your block off.
In fact, I think I’ll knock your block off, anyway. Get out of my way,
Author’s disclosure: I was not a long-haired peacenik in the 60s,
but I was not exactly wild about going to war, either. I was not sure
we should be in Vietnam, but I was willing to accept the judgment of my
leaders. (Wow, I was naive, wasn’t I?) Anyway, I believed that if we
should be there, we should get in, do what we had to do to win, and get
out. But of course, nobody was listening to me.
I was a student at the American University in Washington, D.C. in the
late 60s and early 70s. I saw people and had friends on all sides of
the issue. I did not have any close friends who died in Vietnam or who
served in the military (as far as I knew). Though I was in the center of
the action (stateside), the war never hit close to home for me.
I was subject to the first lottery in 1969; I drew number 273. That meant
that I would probably get a pass. Indeed, I was never called to serve. I
went on to graduate from college and then get a masters’ degree. Uncle
Sam never sent me his “Greetings.” Had I been called.... of course, I
would have served. I considered it my duty... a terribly unpleasant duty;
but... many of them are. My father, though he had been dead for
five years, would have accepted nothing less from me.
The war was on page one of the newspaper every day. And more importantly,
it was the lead story on the network television news nearly every
evening... for eight years. This was the first war in American history
that was fought on television, in front of everyone’s eyes. And like all
hand to hand combat, it was ugly. Oh, we did not have satellite
transmission and live coverage back then. But reporters and cameramen
were on the front lines, filming every gory aspect of the war. The war
was tough to take, even from the confines of your living room couch. And
there appeared to be no end in sight. The war went on and on, from 1965
to 1966... to 1970... and on through 1972.... on and on. And so did the
killing. Though it claimed far fewer lives, it lasted far longer than did
World War II.
Bungle in the Jungle
I am not the right person to write about the fighting in Vietnam; there
are many books on that topic written by knowledgeable authors. But I can
tell you that the Vietnam war was like no other war before or since. It
was not like the Civil War, where disease was as much of a problem as
bullets. And it was not like Desert Storm (1991), where the enemy was
easy to spot and gave up as fast as you could corral him together. This
was different, and very ugly.
The soldiers who fought in Vietnam were much younger than those who
fought in World War II or the Korean War. Oh, maybe not much younger... by
the calendar. But being 19 in 1969 was a lot different than being 19 in
1942. (And it was different than being 19 in 2005, I can tell you that for
sure!) Face it; our troops were not emotionally prepared for what they
encountered in Vietnam.
The environment was much different, too. In the early 60s comedian Bill
Cosby wrote and performed a wonderful comedy routine called “The Flip of
the Coin.” Describing the rules of engagement for the Revolutionary War,
he said, “OK, you rebels (those who wanted independence from England),
you can go anywhere you want, wear anything you want, and fight with
anything you want. You British, you have to wear bright red uniforms and
march in a straight line.”
In a very rough sense, that’s what fighting in Vietnam was like. You had
no idea who or where the enemy might be. We were fighting in their
territory, and they made the most of it. A 10 year-old boy walking toward
you might just want something to eat. Or he might be carrying a hand
In 1968, U.S. General William Westmoreland, the U.S. commander in
Vietnam, claimed that “the enemy has been defeated at every turn.” In a
strict sense, he was perhaps right. The Americans never lost a major
battle of the war.
But the U.S. was always looking for a quick fix, and a quick fix was
simply not possible. The Vietcong were far more patient and willing to
pay a higher price. They were less concerned about how long the war
lasted or how many lives it took; they took a much longer view. They were
in this for the long haul.
Those who were in favor of the use of military power were called “hawks.”
The peaceniks were called “doves.” General Curtis LeMay, a leading
general in World War II, thought we should bomb the North Vietnamese
“back to the stone age.” (That would put him over on the “hawk” side...
way over.) But the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam was never seriously
considered. The court of world opinion would not have tolerated that.
Aside: the fog of war - In “Mission with LeMay: My Story,” General LeMay
writes, “My solution to the problem [of North Vietnam] would be to tell
them frankly that they’ve got to draw in their horns and stop their
aggression, or we’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age. And we
would shove them back into the Stone Age with Air power or Naval
power - not with ground forces.”
However, two years after the publication of this book, The Washington
Post (October 4, 1968) reported that General LeMay said, “I never said we
should bomb them back to the Stone Age. I said we had the capability to
do it. I want to save lives on both sides.”
Such was the fog of war.
The Tet offensive - snatching defeat out of the hands of victory:
In January 1968, during a supposed ceasefire, the North Vietnamese staged
a massive attack on positions in the south. The opposition fought back
and regained most of the territory they had lost and inflicted 45,000
enemy casualties. So this was, at best, for the north, a stalemate with a
horrible loss of life. But the Tet offensive came at a time when
Americans had been led to believe that victory was within reach. It was
horribly demoralizing, and helped turn public opinion against President
Johnson and his conduct of the war.
In the 1940s Ho Chi Minh had told the French, “You can kill ten of my
men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose
and I will win.” |
He was right then, and he was right in 1968.
There was no clearly defined, specific military objective in Vietnam. So
the task for many soldiers boiled down to trying to carry out specific
orders and trying harder to survive.... one day to the next. That is not
a recipe for victory. The soldiers on the ground knew that they were
winning the battles, but losing the war.
Meanwhile... Back at the Ranch
It seems that all we read about today and all we hear is that there was
nothing but protest and dissension back in the states. That is not
correct. For many baby boomers, the war was indeed the primary focus. But
for much of the rest of the country, life went on without significant
change. Detroit came out with new car models every year, the Great
Society rolled on, the economy was strong, the New York Jets continued to
improve, and rock & roll music continued to fill our lives. Right up to
the end, the majority of Americans supported U.S. involvement in
Still... it takes more than a majority. By early in 1968, President
Johnson could see that the war was hurting his party and hurting his
country. In March, he decided not to seek re-election to the presidency.
(President Johnson’s televised speech to the nation on March 31, 1968
was both moving and revealing. You can read it in a popup window
President Johnson’s decision enabled both his vice-president, Hubert
Humphrey, and Senator Robert Kennedy, to speak out forcefully against the
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, a “new” Richard Nixon was
emerging. Even though he lost the presidential election in 1960 and the
California Senate race in 1962, Richard Nixon never gave up. In 1968 he
announced that he had a plan to get us out of Vietnam. He did not reveal
details, but he gave hope to those who wanted to support the war but did
not want it to go on indefinitely.
During the campaign, President Johnson halted bombing in Vietnam to try
to promote peace talks with the Vietnamese and give his party a better
chance at winning the presidential election. But it was too little, too
late. Nixon won, but by only a razor-thin majority.
In November 1968, the unofficial National Turn in Your Draft Card Day
featured burning of draft cards and war protest rallies at many U. S.
campuses. The U.S. death toll in Vietnam was nearly 30,000.
In the summer of 1969, President Nixon announced his “Vietnamization"
program. This was his secret plan. He intended to focus U.S. effort on
training the South Vietnamese to fight their own battles so that the U.S.
could extricate itself from southeast Asia. In October, Nixon said, “I
will say confidently that looking ahead just three years the war will be
over.” In fact, he was not far off. Still, there was much more fighting
How it Ended
Sometime in the late 60s, comedian Bob Hope suggested that the U.S.
should just declare victory and come home. (In fact, that was the
essence of a recommendation made to the president by Vermont Senator
George Aiken in 1966.) That is not far from what President Nixon was
trying to do. But it was not quite that simple.
The election of a new president in the U.S. gave the North Vietnamese
some political cover to be able to negotiate. But they had the upper
hand; they had both time and mounting pressure from within the U.S. on
their side. While the fighting went on, peace talks were scheduled to
take place in Paris in 1969. But the bickering on every little detail
seemed to take forever. I remember that the press reported a major
breakthrough when the U.S. and North Vietnam finally agreed on the shape
of the table at which they would negotiate and now many people from each
side would sit at the table. Really! It was excruciatingly slow and
painful. Still... the fighting and the dying went on.
In 1970 the peace talks went into a second year. Washington reduced U.S.
troop strength in Vietnam to less than 400,000 in response to mounting
public pressure. The North Vietnamese knew they were winning... if not on
the battlefield, in the larger arena. On May 4, 1970, an anti-war
demonstration at Kent State University (Ohio) went too far. A crowd of
students rushed toward a team of National Guard troops that had been
called in to maintain order. The troops fired on the crowd; four people
were killed; eight others were seriously injured. The war was now having
serious consequences back home. By 1971, fewer than 200,000 American
soldiers were still in Vietnam.
In 1972 actress Jane Fonda, an outspoken critic of almost everything
American, went to Vietnam as a guest of the North Vietnamese. She was
photographed sitting on an anti-aircraft gun that had been used to shoot
down U.S. planes. Her actions fueled the fires of dissent in America.
That is exactly what the North Vietnamese wanted.
Hoping to outlast another U.S. president, the Vietnamese dug in deeper as
peace talks stalled in 1972. But Nixon’s Democratic challenger in the
election, George McGovern, didn’t stand a chance. Nixon knew this better
than the North Vietnamese did. In an effort to show resolve, Nixon
ordered U.S. planes to bomb the North Vietnamese capital for the first
time since 1968.
A resounding election victory for Nixon (November 1972) seemed to make a
difference. Less than three months after the election (January 28, 1973),
a negotiated ceasefire ended U.S. ground troop involvement in Vietnam.
The war had claimed the lives of nearly 50,000 Americans. That is a very
small percentage of the total number of troops that served in Vietnam.
(And for comparison purposes, about the same number of Americans died in
traffic accidents on U.S roads every year. And over 400,000 Americans -
combat and non-combat - lost their lives in World War II.) But 50,000 is
American soldiers and prisoners of war came home. The South Vietnamese
Army fought on their own. The U.S. maintained an embassy in South
Vietnam, but everyone knew what the eventual outcome would be. President
Gerald Ford asked Congress to authorize financial support for South
Vietnam. But neither the Congress nor the people were willing to pay any
more. The Vietnam War had already cost far too much.
North Vietnamese troops continued to march south toward the South
Vietnamese capital of Saigon. In April, 1975, South Vietnam’s President
Thieu resigned, marking the end of the struggle for a free Vietnam. U.S.
helicopters evacuated the last U.S. personnel from Saigon.
The picture on the right shows people lining up to board a helicopter
atop a building on the U.S. Embassy grounds in Saigon. It does not show
the surrounding chaos and the struggle of the people who fought to be
among those evacuated. Many South Vietnamese people who had been loyal to
the U.S. were left behind. There was just not enough time to get them
all. It was an ugly exit.
The draft lottery along with required military service ended in the
mid-70s, in time to save many boomers (and generations that have
followed) from that unpleasant letter from Uncle Sam.
In the mid 70s, President Ford offered limited immunity to U.S. draft
dodgers who had fled to Canada. Later President Carter expanded the
offer, and most draft dodgers returned home.
It was over.
So... What Did We Learn?
Whew! Entire volumes have been written trying to answer
this one. Let me try to sum it up here:
Was the domino theory valid? Maybe. Communism did not spread in
Southeast Asia. But it did not spread anywhere else in the world,
either. Did the U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia serve as a deterrent?
Maybe; for sure, the North Vietnamese paid a horrible price for whatever
they gained. But throughout the world, communism is dying of its own
ineffectiveness more than anything the U.S. military has done to defeat
it. Of course, we did not know that in 1965. We had made a commitment to
support South Vietnam. But we did not place limits on that commitment.
You cannot force freedom and independence on a society that does not
hunger for it. In 1965, the Vietnamese hungered more for food than they
did freedom. They will recognize the failure of communism eventually, but
not because of bullets or rockets that somebody may hurl at them.
In a free and open society, when pursuing a military engagement, you must
have overwhelming public support. A strong, vocal, significant minority
can turn public support against the action.
It is nearly impossible to win against a determined, large enemy in their
territory, in rugged terrain, hills, or other places where the enemy can
easily hide — unless you choose to ”bomb them back to the stone age.”
In any military engagement, you must have overwhelming force, a clearly
defined objective, and a precise way to measure vistory and a specific
plan for achieving it.
The domino theory, however valid it may have been in 1965, is an obsolete
notion in the 21st century. Certainly we will never fight a war in the
manner that we fought the Vietnam War. Technology and lessons from
Vietnam will keep another generation from enduring what we had to.
That is the legacy of the Vietnam War. We learned a great deal... but we
paid an enormous price.
A Terrible Mistake?
Was the Vietnam War a terrible mistake? Well, it is easy to conclude that
today. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to ask how we could have
been so stupid as to get involved in such a mess. But it was not so
black-and-white back then. Just as I cannot imagine the fear and
suspicion my parents’ generation had of the Empire of Japan or Hitler’s
Third Reich, today’s young adults cannot imagine the fear and suspicion
we had of communism in the 50s and 60s.
Forty years later, former desense secretary Robert McNamara seems
ambivalent about the right-or-wrong of Vietnam. He quotes Robert Kagan,
who wrote that the Vietnam War was a “logical consequence of the policy
of containment,” a policy which we had held for half a century.
“Of Paradise and Power: America vs. Europe in the New World Order,”
Robert Kagan, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International
“The Vietnam War was not the brainchild of three or four people. It was a
product of a whole way of thinking about the world. It was, for better or
worse, the logical consequence of the policy of containment. And the
breadth and depth of support for American policy in Vietnam, certainly in
the elite intellectual class, was enormous: journalists, government,
policy. Let’s not suggest that this was somehow just the Bundys or Walt
Rostow. This was national consensus.”
A “logical consequence” — something to think about, huh?
Iraq - Another Vietnam?
We delve into the notion that the war in Iraq is “another Vietnam"