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Vietnam Lessons

December 7, 2015

A recent op/ed column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch blamed the loss of the Vietnam War on bad strategy and the anti-war movement.  It is that kind of thinking that may get our country into the wrong wars today and in the future.

Without going into a detailed history of a very complex conflict, let me state a few relevant facts.  In 1963, with the sanction of the U.S. government, the South Vietnamese military leadership assassinated Prime Minister Diem, who–rightly or wrongly–was viewed as incompetent to fight the communists.  This plunged South Vietnam into even greater political chaos than it was already experiencing.  For the rest of South Vietnam’s existence, the government struggled unsuccessfully to gain legitimacy and broad support among its citizens.

The U.S., seeking to stem communist advances in South Vietnam, and fearing that if South Vietnam fell, all of Southeast Asia would fall to the communists, committed combat troops to Vietnam in the latter half of 1964.  Congress authorized the use of military force based on American warships being attacked by North Vietnamese gunboats in the Gulf of Tonkin.  However, subsequent research seriously questions whether any attacks occurred at all.

After nine years of intensive bombing and battles, and the deaths of some 60,000 American troops (and about a million Vietnamese civilians and soldiers), the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam.

The U.S. may have used a flawed strategy in Vietnam, and certainly the anti-war movement undermined the government’s efforts to keep the war going, but this ignores the reality that we were fighting a war for an unsustainable South Vietnamese government.  It also ignores that we went to war on a false pretense (enemy attacks in the Gulf of Tonkin) and based on a false assumption (otherwise all of Southeast Asia will become communist).  The Vietnam War, after 1963, was unwinnable, and our military involvement was tragic and unjustified.

Americans seldom lose a war, so when we do we look for excuses and people to blame.  In the case of the Vietnam War the blame, lately , has been falling on the anti-war movement, when in reality the anti-war movement represented the most honest assessment of what was going on.  Vietnam vets came home to disapproval.  This was also tragic since the carnage and uselessness of the war wasn’t their fault; it was the fault of our government.

In the past dozen years the U.S. has initiated at least one unjustified war (Iraq), and is currently at risk of getting bogged down militarily in unwinnable wars (those being fought for unsustainable governments that lack popular support).

ISIS is presenting us with a challenge quite different from North Vietnam and more dangerous to the world.  Our warplanes and military advisers may be able to contain ISIS, but it will not be defeated by bombs (or ground troops).  ISIS is an ideology that is attracting thousands of radicalized Muslims from around the world.  Sick ideology is defeated by a superior healthy vision.  Islam and Christianity will both need to be part of the solution.  Both religions will need to replace people’s fears and prejudices and desires for dominance and revenge with a commitment to the God of love for all people.

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One Comment
  1. Randall Bowman permalink

    Amen and amen

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