Skip to comments.Heroes of the Vietnam Generation("Mr.Brokaw,Mr.Matthews,Mr.Bennett,Mr.Spielberg,Meet My Marines")
Posted on 06/01/2005 8:10:13 AM PDT by fight_truth_decay
The rapidly disappearing cohort of Americans that endured the Great Depression and then fought World War II is receiving quite a send-off from the leading lights of the so-called 60s generation. Tom Brokaw has published two oral histories of The Greatest Generation that feature ordinary people doing their duty and suggest that such conduct was historically unique.
Chris Matthews of Hardball is fond of writing columns praising the Navy service of his father while castigating his own baby boomer generation for its alleged softness and lack of struggle. William Bennett gave a startling condescending speech at the Naval Academy a few years ago comparing the heroism of the D-Day Generation to the drugs-and-sex nihilism of the Woodstock Generation. And Steven Spielberg, in promoting his film Saving Private Ryan, was careful to justify his portrayals of soldiers in action based on the supposedly unique nature of World War II.
An irony is at work here. Lest we forget, the World War II generation now being lionized also brought us the Vietnam War, a conflict which todays most conspicuous voices by and large opposed, and in which few of them served. The best and brightest of the Vietnam age group once made headlines by castigating their parents for bringing about the war in which they would not fight, which has become the war they refuse to remember.
Pundits back then invented a term for this animus: the generation gap. Long, plaintive articles and even books were written examining its manifestations. Campus leaders, who claimed precocious wisdom through the magical process of reading a few controversial books, urged fellow baby boomers not to trust anyone over 30. Their elders who had survived the Depression and fought the largest war in history were looked down upon as shallow, materialistic, and out of touch.
Those of us who grew up, on the other side of the picket line from that eras counter-culture cant help but feel a little leery of this sudden gush of appreciation for our elders from the leading lights of the old counter-culture. Then and now, the national conversation has proceeded from the dubious assumption that those who came of age during Vietnam are a unified generation in the same sense as their parents were, and thus are capable of being spoken for through these fickle elites.
In truth, the Vietnam generation is a misnomer. Those who came of age during that war are permanently divided by different reactions to a whole range of counter-cultural agendas, and nothing divides them more deeply than the personal ramifications of the war itself. The sizable portion of the Vietnam age group who declined to support the counter-cultural agenda, and especially the men and women who opted to serve in the military during the Vietnam War, are quite different from their peers who for decades have claimed to speak for them. In fact, they are much like the World War II generation itself. For them, Woodstock was a side show, college protestors were spoiled brats who would have benefited from having to work a few jobs in order to pay their tuition, and Vietnam represented not an intellectual exercise in draft avoidance, or protest marches but a battlefield that was just as brutal as those their fathers faced in World War II and Korea.
Few who served during Vietnam ever complained of a generation gap. The men who fought World War II were their heroes and role models. They honored their fathers service by emulating it, and largely agreed with their fathers wisdom in attempting to stop Communisms reach in Southeast Asia.
The most accurate poll of their attitudes (Harris, 1980) showed that 91 percent were glad theyd served their country, 74 percent enjoyed their time in the service, and 89 percent agreed with the statement that our troops were asked to fight in a war which our political leaders in Washington would not let them win. And most importantly, the castigation they received upon returning home was not from the World War II generation, but from the very elites in their age group who supposedly spoke for them.
Nine million men served in the military during Vietnam War, three million of whom went to the Vietnam Theater. Contrary to popular mythology, two-thirds of these were volunteers, and 73 percent of those who died were volunteers. While some attention has been paid recently to the plight of our prisoners of war, most of whom were pilots; there has been little recognition of how brutal the war was for those who fought it on the ground.
Dropped onto the enemys terrain 12,000 miles away from home, Americas citizen-soldiers performed with a tenacity and quality that may never be truly understood. Those who believe the war was fought incompletely on a tactical level should consider Hanois recent admission that 1.4 million of its soldiers died on the battlefield, compared to 58,000 total U.S. dead.
Those who believe that it was a dirty little war where the bombs did all the work might contemplate that is was the most costly war the U.S. Marine Corps has ever fought-five times as many dead as World War I, three times as many dead as in Korea, and more total killed and wounded than in all of World War II.
Significantly, these sacrifices were being made at a time the United States was deeply divided over our effort in Vietnam. The baby-boom generation had cracked apart along class lines as Americas young men were making difficult, life-or-death choices about serving. The better academic institutions became focal points for vitriolic protest against the war, with few of their graduates going into the military. Harvard College, which had lost 691 alumni in World War II, lost a total of 12 men in Vietnam from the classes of 1962 through 1972 combined. Those classes at Princeton lost six, at MIT two. The media turned ever more hostile. And frequently the reward for a young mans having gone through the trauma of combat was to be greeted by his peers with studied indifference of outright hostility.
What is a hero? My heroes are the young men who faced the issues of war and possible death, and then weighed those concerns against obligations to their country. Citizen-soldiers who interrupted their personal and professional lives at their most formative stage, in the timeless phrase of the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, not for fame of reward, not for place of for rank, but in simple obedience to duty, as they understood it. Who suffered loneliness, disease, and wounds with an often-contagious élan. And who deserve a far better place in history than that now offered them by the so-called spokesman of our so-called generation.
Mr. Brokaw, Mr. Matthews, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Spielberg, meet my Marines. 1969 was an odd year to be in Vietnam. Second only to 1968 in terms of American casualties, it was the year made famous by Hamburger Hill, as well as the gut-wrenching Life cover story showing pictures of 242 Americans who had been killed in one average week of fighting. Back home, it was the year of Woodstock, and of numerous anti-war rallies that culminated in the Moratorium march on Washington. The My Lai massacre hit the papers and was seized upon the anti-war movement as the emblematic moment of the war. Lyndon Johnson left Washington in utter humiliation.
Richard Nixon entered the scene, destined for an even worse fate. In the An Hoa Basin southwest of Danang, the Fifth Marine Regiment was in its third year of continuous combat operations. Combat is an unpredictable and inexact environment, but we were well led. As a rifle platoon and company commander, I served under a succession of three regimental commanders who had cut their teeth in World War II, and four different battalion commanders, three of whom had seen combat in Korea. The company commanders were typically captains on their second combat tour in Vietnam, or young first lieutenants like myself who were given companies after many months of bush time as platoon commanders in the Basins tough and unforgiving environs.
The Basin was one of the most heavily contested areas in Vietnam, its torn, cratered earth offering every sort of wartime possibility. In the mountains just to the west, not far from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the North Vietnamese Army operated an infantry division from an area called Base Area 112. In the valleys of the Basin, main-force Viet Cong battalions whose ranks were 80 percent North Vietnamese Army regulars moved against the Americans every day. Local Viet Cong units sniped and harassed. Ridgelines and paddy dikes were laced with sophisticated booby traps of every size, from a hand grenade to a 250-pound bomb. The villages sat in the rice paddies and tree lines like individual fortresses, crisscrossed with the trenches and spider holes, their homes sporting bunkers capable of surviving direct hits from large-caliber artillery shells. The Viet Cong infrastructure was intricate and permeating. Except for the old and the very young, villagers who did not side with the Communists had either been killed or driven out to the government controlled enclaves near Danang.
In the rifle companies, we spent the endless months patrolling ridgelines and villages and mountains, far away from any notion of tents, barbed wire, hot food, or electricity. Luxuries were limited to what would fit inside ones pack, which after a few humps usually boiled down to letter-writing material, towel, soap, toothbrush, poncho liner, and a small transistor radio.
We moved through the boiling heat with 60 pounds of weapons and gear, causing a typical Marine to drop 20 percent of his body weight while in the bush. When we stopped we dug chest-deep fighting holes and slit trenches for toilets. We slept on the ground under makeshift poncho hootches, and when it rained we usually took our hootches down because wet ponchos shined under illumination flares, making great targets. Sleep itself was fitful, never more than an hour or two at a stretch for months at a time as we mixed daytime patrolling with night-time ambushes, listening posts, foxhole duty, and radio watches. Ringworm, hookworm, malaria, and dysentery were common, as was trench foot when the monsoons came. Respite was rotating back to the mud-filled regimental combat base at An Hoa for four or five days, where rocket and mortar attacks were frequent and our troops manned defensive bunkers at night. Which makes it kind of hard to get excited about tales of Woodstock, or camping at the Vineyard during summer break.
We had been told while training that Marine officers in the rifle companies had an 85 percent probability of being killed or wounded, and the experience of Dying Delta, as our company was known, bore that out. Of the officers in the bush when I arrived, our company commander was wounded, the weapons platoon commander wounded, the first platoon commander was killed, the second platoon commander was wounded twice, and I, commanding the third platoons fared no better. Two of my original three-squad leaders were killed, and the third shot in the stomach. My platoon sergeant was severely wounded, as was my right guide. By the time I left, my platoon I had gone through six radio operators, five of them casualties.
These figures were hardly unique; in fact, they were typical. Many other units; for instance, those who fought the hill battles around Khe Sanh, or were with the famed Walking Dead of the Ninth Marine Regiment, or were in the battle of Hue City or at Dai Do, had it far worse.
When I remember those days and the very young men who spent them with me, I am continually amazed, for these were mostly recent civilians barely out of high school, called up from the cities and the farms to do their year in hell and he return. Visions haunt me every day, not of the nightmares of war but of the steady consistency with which my Marines faced their responsibilities, and of how uncomplaining most of them were in the face of constant danger. The salty, battle-hardened 20-year-olds teaching green 19-year-olds the intricate lessons of the hostile battlefield. The unerring skill of the young squad leaders as we moved through unfamiliar villages and weed-choked trails in the black of night. The quick certainty when a fellow Marine was wounded and needed help. Their willingness to risk their lives to save other Marines in peril. To this day it stuns me that their own countrymen have so completely missed the story of their service, lost in the bitter confusion of the war itself.
Like every military unit throughout history we had occasional laggards, cowards, and complainers. But in the aggregate, these Marines were the finest people I have ever been around. It has been my privilege to keep up with many of them over the years since we all came home. One finds in them very little bitterness about the war in which they fought. The most common regret, almost to a man, is that they were not able to do more for each other and for the people they came to help.
It would be redundant to say that I would trust my life to these men. Because I already have, in more ways than I can ever recount. I am alive today because of their quiet, unaffected heroism, such valor epitomizes the conduct of Americans at war from the first days of our existence. That the boomer elites can canonize this sort of conduct in our fathers generation alone constitutes a conscious, continuing travesty.
Former Secretary of the Navy James Webb was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver Star, and Bronze Star medals for heroism as a Marine in Vietnam. His novels include The Emperors General and Fields of Fire.
Yes, it amuses me to hear them now. In the 60's these same people were throwing off on "The Greatest Generation" for their hard work to build an American society of family and faith. And set out to destroy the values these men and women represented. What hypocrits.
Interesting article..he is completely correct, yet also completely wrong. The folly of the way the Vietnam war was fought is best illustrated by the pictures of LBJ and McNamara reviewing recon photes and deciding which targets to bomb. Remember? And allowing Soviet ships to unload SAMs in Haiphong harbor, without bombing them..when in a few days they would be fired at our pilots as they made bombign raids in the north. Remember? Probably 40K of those killed died unnecessarily, fed into the meatgrinder of war, piecemeal..instead of one decisive push. You fight wars to win..not to achieve a stalemate. And the vast majority of those troops performed valiantly. YET ALL DURING THE WAR, NOT ONE SENIOR OFFICER RESIGNED IN PROTEST AT THE MANNER IN WHICH THE CIVILIAN COMMAND WAS FIGHTING THE BATTLE, AND SACRIFICING TROOPS NEEDLESSLY. THEY ALL PREFERRED TO KEEP THEIR RICE BOWL, THEIR PERKS, AND GET THEIR TICKETS PUNCHED FOR HIGHER SLOTS...THEY COMMITED THE GRAVEST SIN ANY OFFICER CAN..THEY SOLD OUT THEIR TROOPS.
I treasure the Navy Achievement Medal certificate that this man signed. He was the real deal SecNav. I recieved higher awards, but none more meaningful than the one with his name.
I think Sec. Webb's points were that:
1. The WW2 Generation was in positions of power during the Vietnam War. Politicians from that generation were calling the shots, politically & militarily.
2. His second point -- the one that you seemed to have missed -- was that most of those who served in Vietnam actually agreed with the WW2 Generation (their parents, basically). I was a tad too young for Vietnam, but I personally have found this to be true among those who did serve there.
LBJ & his defense secretary were using the Korean War as the model for prosecuting the Vietnam War. In hindsight, we see that this was wrong. Perhaps a more insightful president might have noticed it at the time. LBJ did not.
If ever a man was more aptly named than Robert STRANGE McNamara, I do not know who it is..
No argument..my comments were directed at SENIOR officers..flag rank..that was thee travesty of the war..
My word, what superb writing and thoughts.
It is ashame that this will not be seen in schools across America. It is too truthful and heartfelt. Now THAT is a tragedy.
I saw a lot of these men cruise through Washington, DC this past weekend on their Harleys. Great, big, tough-looking guys with hearts as big as all outdoors, standing in front of the wall, heads down and weeping for their "buddies". It breaks your heart to see this, but their sacrifice, all of them, continues to make America a good and decent place to live in and to fight for.
Good work By Mr. Webb. My thanks to Gen. Brown for sending it.
I heard a war story from a reliable source who flew over 100 missions over the north! On this particular mission a strike was planned against a North Vietnamese steel plant. Since Mig Airfields were off limits the tactical plan was for the F-105 squadron to drop their bombs and drop to low level where they would exit the area by flying over the airfield. They would go to after burner to shake things up! The expectation was the AA guys would be asleep at the wheel since the field was "off limits". The last F-105 was flown by the newest squadron guy. As he came upon the airfield a Mig was accelerating down the runway. In that split second he had the Mig in his sights. He was a fighter pilot so he squeezed the trigger. The Mig went up in a magnificent explosion and when the pilot returned to U Tapoa, (sic), he claimed a Mig shot down.
He was called into the Commander's office and told that a review of his gun camera film showed that his bullets had struck the Mig's belly tank but that the landing gear was still on the runway, which violated rules of engagement. The options were simple. Change his post mission statement and the film would disappear. Press his claim and face courts martial for violating rules of engagement!
We should have plastered the Mig airfields, mined Haiphong Harbour and bombed Hanoi in 1966 and it would have been over in 1966!
MacNamara's book alludes to these policy blunders and as Defense Chief he could have done something about it but he demurred!
About the only thig I would differ with is your assessment of how JFK would have fought the war, had he lived. Despite his many flaws, he recognizied the need to confront, and stop, Communist expansion.
I agree, and have held and expressed this opinion from the time I was in Vietnam. I remember attending the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial dedication in 1982 and marching by the reviewing stand with Westmoreland standing there and questioning whether he had right to be there. Those of us marching were there not because he had been our leader, but in spite of his leadership. How much more honored he would be today had he laid his stars on Johnson's desk and demanded an end to "the folly of the way the Vietnam war was fought".
The policy was that our F-86 pilots could not cross the Yalu river into Manchuria (where the MiG bases were located). Many times formations of American aircraft were bounced from MiG's forming on the Chinese side of the border. Then the unofficial tactic was to send a pair of F-86's across the Yalu below radar level (so the ATC on our side couldn't see them cross). The Sabres would takeup station over the MiG airfields until the strike package had gone in. Then they'd leave. If any MiG had dared attempt a takeoff, he'd have been dead before he got wheels-up.
This is profoundly true - it is true, as well, of a number of Gulf War vets I've met. One of them told me it was like looking at his old friends through a glass window - and the only people he could talk to about it were other vets.
I am convinced that part of the adulation that the "Greatest Generation" is belatedly receiving is not only compensation for the failings of the anti-war wing of the Vietnam generation, but yet another subtle sneer on the part of that wing's participants on their peers who did serve during and in Vietnam. "You are not worthy." Water off a duck's back by now - they didn't understand then and they choose not to still.
Up to now they didn't have to. But it became a great mystery to many of them why Kerry was so loathed by their counterparts who did serve and why he lost so decisively within that demographic. I see no sign whatever that anyone who rode the antiwar wave to a lucrative career in politics or journalism actually understood that during the election campaign of 2004. To them Webb's article might as well have been written in Greek.
While at Squadron Officers School in 1968 a classmate who had over 100 F-105 sorties over the North told of such "Cowboys" who were doing the same thing. The movie Top Gun suggests that the State Dept would classify those "incursions" and that those involved would fall into the black hole of cover ups!
The Vietnam war was the longest in our nation's history.
1st American advisor was killed on June 08, 1956,
and the last casualties in connection with the war occurred on May 15, 1975, during the Mayaquez incident. Approximately 2.7 million Americans served in the war zone; 300,000 were wounded and approximately 75,000 permanently disabled. Officially there are still 1,991 Americans unaccounted for from SE Asia.
Vietnam was a savage, in your face war where death could and did strike from anywhere with absolutely no warning. The brave young men and women who fought that war paid an awful price of blood, pain and suffering. As it is said: "ALL GAVE SOME ... SOME GAVE ALL"
The Vietnam war was not lost on the battlefield. No American force in ANY other conflict fought with more determination or sheer courage than the Vietnam Veteran. For the first time in our history America sent it's young men and women into a war run by inept politicians who had no grasp of military strategies and no moral will to win. They were led by "top brass" who were concerned mainly with furthering their own careers, most neither understood the nature of the war nor had a clue about the impossible mission with which they'd tasked their soldiers. And the war was reported by a self serving Media who penned stories filled with inaccuracies, deliberate omissions, biased presentations and blatant distorted interpretations because they were more interested in a story than the truth! It can be debated that we should never have fought that war. It can also be argued that the young Americans who fought so courageously, never losing a single major battle, helped in a huge way to WIN THE COLD WAR.
Thanks for the ping brother! Good article by Webb.
This was actually published last year...
I suspected as much. People are people. Not everyone is going to hold to a restrictive ROE for long if it means a decided disadvantage in a knife fight. Somebody is going to "Cowboy it". I expect we'll hear something more definitive about unauthorized missions during Vietnam in the next few years. After all, it took almost 50 years for the Korea vets to come out with it.
Kick it to the top
Thanks for the ping!
"How much more honored he would be today had he laid his stars on Johnson's desk and demanded an end to "the folly of the way the Vietnam war was fought"."
Not only Westmoreland, but Harold K. Johnson, Earle Wheeler, and every other general officer should have done so.
Vietnam Heroes ~ Bump!
What the heck! That was surely no way to fight a war, and I don't know anything about fighting wars. I just know we should have fought to win.
I am one Baby Boomer who felt no "Generation Gap" other than what is normal for any teenager. I did not protest the war in Viet Nam, and I don't know anyone in my community who did.
Today, the anti-war crowd ignores or does not understand this precept.
Their logic is simple.
War is Bad!
I'm aganst war.
Therefore, I am Good and anyone who adopts or embraces war is Bad!
Simplistic fools is an understatement. The Cold War was a stuningly stupid time with complex issues boiled down to that ridiculous logic!
a good read. thanks!
Don't know if anyone has posted this yet. It's gut-wrenching and beautiful. Thanks to all our Vets.
The highest honor in my life was serving as a Hospital Corpsman with the Fifth Marines out of An Hoa in 1969. I was in L 3/5 and never crossed paths with Lt. Webb, but I read his material whenever I find it. Always a sound analysis from a demonstrated patriot of our day. Semper Fi!
That is one AWESOME video! Thanks for posting it.
Pass it around. This Mark Schultz needs a bump!
Didn't you love trying to run an active engagement with 3 or 4 UH-1s circling above you, all with field grade or general officers, all with contradictory "advice?"
Got so the only Huey I would talk to was the one with the best Arty FO.
I think he's saying that the generation (your parents and mine) who fought WWII either laid the groundwork for Vietnam or were the ones in "power" that got us involved... JFK, for one, was a WWII hero who actually got a lot of advisors in-country, though Ike also had some involvement after the Frogs got their asses whipped in the '50's. It was LBJ, who I think served Stateside in the Navy (token service at best) who presided over the vast bulk of Vietnam. Nixon was also a squid officer during WWII amd he's the one who listened to Kissinger (cursed be his name) and abandoned over 2000 men (our MIAs) so that Henry could get his Nobel Peace Prize.
We are truly different generations, with utterly different wars, but our common bond is the valor on our respective battlefields of the grunts on the ground and the pilots in the air!
Ah, but we won the Cold War thanks to President Reagan. War is not bad if fought for the right reasons. What happens during war is bad, though. The loss of lives is a terrible waste. Every sane person wishes that we did not have to fight wars. However, every sane person knows that we sometimes have to, like now. God bless our troops.
I never made it to Nam....after I was commissioned in 68, I had an eye problem...because I spoke a few languages, I was sent to the Naval Intelligence school in Providence...then got detailed to the US embassy in Madrid...spent three years in Madrid and Barcelona..lucky me..except for 3 month in Kabul...yep..even way back then..when the crazies blew up the new US embassy in Islamabad in 69...they pulled people from all over Europe to beef up staff and security at US embassies/consuils all over the regio. My luck.I got Kabul. Truly the armpit of the universe. Was there just short of three months...got cholera...a bad case...was evactuated.. Never shed b;ood for my country, howver, I sure shed s**T....
MEL's -PASSION- sparked by -WE WERE SOLDIERS-
I attended the "Vietnam and the Iraq War" presentation given at the University of Chicago Law School by Professor Geoffrey Stone 20 January 2005. As a veteran of the Vietnam War from August of 1969 to January of 1971, serving as an infantry squad leader in a mechanized infantry company, and with another unit as a tank commander on an M48A3 tank; I was keenly interested in the form that the lecture might take. After a cursory reading of Professor Stone's curriculum vitae, I suspected that Professor Stone's take on the South East Asian conflict might indicate a general disapproval of the United States war effort. My suspicions were proven correct. The lecture was an attempt to paint the American war effort in Vietnam as misguided at best and an imperialistic effort to establish SE Asian capitalistic hegemony at worst. The antiwar left was portrayed as being noble and idealistic rather than populated by a hard core that actively hoped and worked for a US defeat, the US government as destructive of basic civil liberties in its attempt to monitor their activities, and the North Vietnamese and Vietcong as nationalists who wished to preserve their unique culture against an imperialistic onslaught. He described the South Vietnamese government in terms that were heedless of the South Vietnamese governments struggle to survive a relentlessly ruthless Communist assault while he stated the South Vietnamese government was engaged in an unwarranted assault on human rights. He neglected to mention ANY of the numerous genocidal atrocities of the Vietcong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA). He described the Tet Offensive as a surprise for the United States in which 1100 American soldiers died and 2300 ARVN soldiers, and not much more about it.
I challenged Professor Stone on the following. The reason that the United States opposed nationwide elections that were to be held in accordance with the 1954 Geneva accords was due to the murder and intimidation campaigns carried out by Ho Chi Minh. This fact is in Professor R. J. Runnel's book Death by Government, in which he cites a low estimate of 15,000 and a high figure of 500,000 people in the murder by quota campaign directed by the North Vietnamese Communist Party Politburo that would have made the election a corrupt mockery. This campaign stipulated that 5% of the people living in each village and hamlet had to be liquidated, preferably those identified as members of the "ruling class." All told says Runnel, between 1953 and 1956 it is likely that the Communists killed 195,000 to 865,000 North Vietnamese. These were non combatant men, women, and children, and hardly represent evidence of the moral high ground claimed by many in the antiwar movement. In 1956, high Communist official Nguyen Manh Tuong admitted that "while destroying the landowning class, we condemned numberless old people and children to a horrible death." The same genocidal pattern became the Communists standard operating procedure in the South too. This was unequivocally demonstrated by the Hue Massacre, which the press did a great deal to downplay in its reporting of the Tet Offensive of 1968.
I pointed out that the National Liberation Front was the creation of the North Vietnamese Third Party Congress of September 1960, completely directed from North Vietnam. I pointed out that the Tet Offensive of 1968 was a disastrous military defeat for the North Vietnamese and that the VC were almost wiped out by the fighting, and that it took the NVA until 1971 to reestablish a presence using North Vietnamese troops as local guerrillas. I pointed out how the North Vietnam military senior commanders repeatedly said that they counted on the U.S. antiwar movement to give them the confidence to persevere in the face of their staggering battlefield personnel losses and defeats. I pointed out the antiwar movement prevented the feckless President Lyndon Johnson from granting General Westmoreland's request to enter Laos and cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail or end his policies of publicly announced gradualist escalation. The North Vietnamese knew cutting this trail would severely damage their ability to prosecute the war. Since the North Vietnamese could continue to use the Ho Chi Minh Trail lifeline, the war was needlessly prolonged for the U.S. and contributed significantly to the collapse of South Vietnam. The casualties sustained by the NVA and VC were horrendous, (1.5 million dead) and accorded well with Gen. Ngyuen Giaps publicly professed disdain for the lives of individuals sacrificed for the greater cause of Communist victory. To this day the anti-war movement as a whole refuses to acknowledge its part in the deaths of millions in Laos and Cambodia and in the subsequent exodus from South East Asia as people fled Communism, nor the imprisonment of thousands in Communist re-education camps and gulags.
When he tried to say that United States should have known it could not put down a local popular insurgency, I pointed out that the final victorious North Vietnamese offensive was a multidivisional, combined arms effort lavishly equipped with Soviet and Chinese supplied tanks, self-propelled artillery, and aircraft. I pointed out to him that it was the type of blitzkrieg that Panzer General Heinz Guederian would have easily recognized. I said how I didn't recall seeing any barefoot, pajama-clad guerrillas jumping out of those tanks in the newsreel footage that showed them crashing through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon. This spectacle was prompted by the pusillanimous withdrawal of Congressional support for the South Vietnamese government in the wake of the Watergate scandal, which particularly undermined this aspect of President Nixons foreign policy. It should be noted that a similar Communist offensive in the spring of 1972 was smashed, largely by US air power; with relatively few US ground troops in place.
There were legions of half-truths and omissions that this professor spoke to in his extremely biased lecture. When I asked him why he left out so much that was favorable to the American effort in Vietnam, he airily dismissed my argument as being just another perspective, but tellingly he did not disagree with the essential truth of what I said.
Professor Stone struck me as just another liberal masquerading as an enlightened academic.
He was totally unable to relate how the situation in Iraq is comparable to the situation in Vietnam, so I volunteered a comparison for him. A seditious near traitorous core of anti-war protesters is trying to undermine U.S. efforts there with half-truths, lies, and distortions. I said that in that respect, the war in Iraq and the war in Vietnam are very similar. A significant difference is that thus far the current anti-war movement has not succeeded in manifesting contempt for the American military on the part of the general U.S. public as it did in the Vietnam era.
When I was in Vietnam, I recall many discussions with my fellow soldiers about the course of the war in Vietnam and their feelings about it. Many, if not most felt that "We Gotta Get Outta this Place," to cite a popular song of the time by Eric Burden and the Animals, but for the most part they felt we should do it by fighting the war in a manner calculated to win it. I do not recall anyone ever saying that they felt the North Vietnamese could possibly defeat us on the battlefield, but to a man they were mystified by the U.S. Governments refusal to fight in a manner that would assure military victory. Even though there was much resentment for the antiwar movement, and some (resentment) toward career professional soldiers, I never saw anyone who did not do his basic duty and many did FAR MORE THAN THAT as a soldier. Nineteen of my friends have their names on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington DC. They deserve to have the full truth told about the effort for which they gave their young lives. The U.S. public is not well served by half-truths and lies by omission about such a significant period in our history, particularly with their relevance toward our present fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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