Jewish World Review May 1, 2000 /26 Nissan, 5760
Prevailing myths of the Vietnam War
THE VIETNAM WAR marked the first time in American history
that we waged war not only against a foreign enemy, but against ourselves.
Truth was the first casualty of that internecine fight, which means that
now, on the 25th anniversary of our departure from Vietnam, many younger
Americans know little about the war other than the grim idiocies passed on
by the professors and the press.
Let's refute some of those popular myths.
Vietnam was an unjust war.
Members of the self-described New Left argued in the '60s that the people
of Vietnam loved communism and that the South Vietnamese hungered for the
ministrations of Ho Chi Minh. That proved thumpingly untrue. Within weeks of
the American withdrawal from Vietnam, the Vietnamese people expressed their
feelings about communism by crafting crude boats and trying to drift to
freedom -- much as Cubans do today.
We had no reason to enter the battle.
Vietnam differed from previous wars in that the Vietnamese could not
conceivably bring the fight to American shores. But John Kennedy, the
architect of the war, perceived a different reason for engagement. He was
deeply anti-communist and believed in the "domino theory" -- that if one
nation in the region were to fall to communism, others would follow.
Although college students of that era jeered at the notion, it turned out to
be true. After Vietnam fell, so did Cambodia and Burma (now Myanmar).
Millions subsequently died in communist "liberations."
The United States was an imperialist aggressor.
Just the opposite was true. The United States, like France before it, was
attempting to prevent communist imperialism. Like France, it failed. The
Johnson and Nixon administrations, following the lead of Truman and
Eisenhower in Korea, refused to call the war a "war," designating it a
This verbal sleight of hand spared the presidents the trouble of having to
seek a congressional declaration of war. But in failing to seek Capitol
Hill's blessing, these presidents doomed the effort. Congressional debates
force planners to sharpen their war aims and make presidents make a popular
case for sending young men and women into harm's way.
The arguments used in Vietnam failed both tests. The case for fighting was
abstract in nature. Johnson and Nixon did not stimulate the patriotism that
sustained us through World War II. They issued no clarion calls to national
interest or American greatness. The Pentagon instead tried to justify the
war by tossing out body counts -- estimating that we were inflicting 10
times as many deaths as the Vietcong were inflicting on us. That wasn't good
enough for those who had to bury loved ones.
Vietnam War protests set off an age of youthful idealism.
Vietnam War protesters -- of which I occasionally was one -- began their
opposition to the war in earnestness and ended it in fecklessness.
Most protesters got involved not because they had lofty feelings about war
and peace. They joined in because they were bored, because disobedience was
exciting, because the movement provided the next best thing to a dating
service and because they wanted a high-minded way to dodge the draft.
In retrospect, the tactics were wonderfully stupid. The Moratorium, which
Bill Clinton helped organize in England, was built on the premise that
college students could put an end to global conflict merely by standing
around in the street and chanting slogans. Instead of inspiring peace, the
young scholars goaded communists into waging a broader war on human
liberties. The Soviets and their proxy armies concluded that Americans
lacked the spirit or will to fight back.
Even worse, anti-war organizations proved to be every bit as delusional as
the Pentagon's bean-counters. The boat people proved beyond all reasonable
doubt that the Vietcong were peddling death and misery -- and yet, left-wing
commentators refused to acknowledge the fact. Many still do. Only communism
could have turned the Vietnamese people into paupers. Here in America,
Vietnamese immigrants have demonstrated their entrepreneurial and economic
We're finally giving Vietnam veterans their due.
Although Ronald Reagan and subsequent presidents have lavished Vietnam vets
with praise, we can never give them what they deserve, which is their youth.
We lost nearly 60,000 Americans in a war plagued by shabby planning on one
side and a narcissistic anti-war movement on the other. Young people were
instructed to fight, but not given the means to win. And when they stumbled
home from the hell of jungle warfare, they had to endure taunts from a
protest movement that viewed its cowardice as a form of nobility.
This sorry legacy does, however, permit us to formulate a pithy summary of
the "lessons of Vietnam." First, if you enter a war, declare war and build
popular support. Second, fight to win. Third, honor those who serve. And
fourth, remember: A strong military is necessary not just to fight wars, but
to prevent them. No sane outfit will mess with a superpower that not only
has the means to fight, but the will to punish
Tony Snow Archives
© 2000, Creators Syndicate