More than 30 years have passed since North Vietnam, in gross violation of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, conquered South Vietnam. That outcome was partly the result of greatly increased logistical support to the North from its communist backers. It was also the result of America's failure to keep its commitments to the South.
Those commitments included promises to maintain a robust level of financial support, to replace combat materiel, and even the use of air power to support the South in case of aggression by the North. That failure was the doing of a U.S. Congress that had tired of the country's long involvement in a war in Southeast Asia and cared nothing for the sacrifices of its own armed forces or those of the South Vietnamese people.
Since then, whenever America has entered into other military actions abroad or contemplated such commitments, the specter of Vietnam has been raised. It is entirely appropriate that earlier military experiences be examined for such "lessons learned" as they may yield. But it is equally essential that those prior campaigns be accurately understood before any valid comparisons are made. When it comes to the Vietnam War, much skewed or inaccurate commentary has impeded our understanding of that conflict and its outcome.
All the better-known early works on the Vietnam War—by Stanley Karnow, Neil Sheehan, George Herring—concentrated disproportionately on the early period of American involvement when Gen. William C. Westmoreland commanded U.S. forces. As a consequence, many came to view the entirety of the war as more or less a homogeneous whole, and to apply to the whole endeavor valid criticisms of the early years, ignoring what happened after Gen. Creighton Abrams took command soon after the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Now that Democrats are in charge of the Afghan War, they are eagerly repeating the "lessons" of Viet Nam. Since all of these lessons were learned at the Ivies, they are quite wrong. The Real Afghan Lessons From Viet Nam
I know I've said this before, but the history of the Viet Nam War has become so scrambled that you need to make an affirmative effort to learn what happened there. The "history" of the war is little more than an endless loop of Pulitzer Prize winning photos of US atrocities, chanting hippies, My Lai, and helicopters leaving Saigon, all set to the tune of "Turn! Turn! Turn!" by the Byrds. The disastrous Westmoreland is never far from the cultural conversation, but the victorious Abrams is no more well-known than a dozen obscure cavaliers from the Army of Northern Virginia. One of the biggest surprises I got when reading Robert Kaplan's Imperial Grunts was learning that the Marines consider the Battle of Hue to be one of their finest moments. Why wouldn't they? They won! Not that you would ever know that without talking to actual Marines.
Americans are often chastised for their ignorance of history. Yet, with Viet Nam, that ignorance is a deliberate effort by the media and the intelligencia to portray the war as a chaotic hopeless mess. The liberal politicians who charted out the war's disastrous strategy, and then abandoned our allies have played along, united by progressive omerta that would dare not acknowledge that Viet Nam was a war lost by mewling Democrats. Now, when the next generation of Democratic politicians are mulling over matters of war and peace, they find themselves mentally crippled (although they don't realize it) by the evasions and propaganda that constitutes the conventional "lessons" of Viet Nam