Jewish World Review May 4, 1999 /17 Iyar 5759
(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
That decade has for so long extended its bony grasp over our cultural life that we hardly notice. It now threatens to become a political nightmare from which we cannot awaken.
Just as every Frenchman was a member of the Resistance by the time Paris was liberated in 1944, every American opposed the war in Vietnam. But there were so many waves of opposition to the war, that it is hard to remember that the build-up of a national near-consensus took seven years, until 1972 or so. Back in our home towns we would ask one another "Hey, man, when did you become radicalized?"
No one now defends that war, or remembers anyone who did. Four years ago the feckless yes-man Robert McNamara- the Albright of his day, except she never got her hands on Ford Motor-produced a book apologizing not for his incompetence in managing the war, but for the good intentions of his superiors in initiating it. At a press conference, President Clinton couldn't help but crow a bit about McNamara's mea culpa, "yes, I feel vindicated"-for having dodged an induction notice.
Now we are at war again, a war many, left and right, think immoral and futile, others, left and right, think that, however ineptly begun, must be won. Although I don't agree, I can understand the arguments of the party of realpolitik, who say we must win in order to save face or save NATO or credibly to contain China, North Korea, and Iraq. What I can't understand is a political class steeped in anti-Vietnam War orthodoxy feeling so comfortable with our war against Serbia. The Vietnam protest generation are not merely supporting this war-they have designed it and are running it.
In Vietnam we fought to preserve a country whose existence was established and guaranteed by international treat, from conquest by a neighboring power. In Yugoslavia we seem to be fighting to separate a portion of a single country from its parent.
In Vietnam we knew that, should the war be lost, there would be a massive refugee crisis, and that the livelihood and perhaps the lives of those who could not flee would be destroyed. Not many of us cared about this-Joan Baez, a woman of rare honor, tried to protest--but we were correct to predict it. The bloodbath, the gulag, the boat people-they happened. In Yugoslavia we all care-but beginning the war produced the very refugee crisis we war to prevent.
In Vietnam we concentrated our forces against the mobile, elusive and efficient enemy fighters, whose primary task was to destroy by murder the free political and legal infrastructure of rural Vietnamese life. We took enormous risks and numerous casualties in this fight, and to a great extent we destroyed Viet Cong power in South Vietnam by 1969.
In this fight we suffered alongside of the South Vietnamese. We coerced our own young men into military service, and exposed them to death and injury-enlisting many of them in what Sassoon called "the unreturning army that was youth." In Yugoslavia we take care that those who suffer are, first, Serbian civilians, second, Kosavar Albanians who have been uprooted in the opportunity we created or been caught in the crossfire. Left unscathed has been the Yugoslavian and NATO military, each of whom do their duty unhampered.
In Vietnam, we fought in our own interest to keep the neighboring countries in Southeast Asia safe from falling into the hands of our enemies-to a certain extent we succeeded, but following Congress' abandonment of South Vietnam the Cambodian and Laotian dominoes fell. The war fit into a well-articulated and sensible policy to contain communism. In Yugoslavia our intervention has wobbled the dominoes all around the region-in Macedonia and Montenegro particularly. In Vietnam we showed our seriousness to our national rivals China and the USSR and protected Thailand and Malaysia; in Yugoslavia we have become dependent on Russia's intervention, and will end no doubt by projecting Russian power into the heart of Europe.
In the event of a NATO invasion, I'd suggest that those of us who ducked this better war might learn to say good-bye to those we're sending to fight in this one. Here's a good farewell:
Good-bye, old lad! Remember me to G-d,
And President Clinton? He has grown fond of apologizing for the policies of
his predecessors around the world. Perhaps before liberating Belgrade, he
will go to Ho Chi Minh city and declare "Ich bin ein
JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.