February 21, 2003


The immorality of losing (Hillel Halkin, 2/20/03, Jewish World Review)
I didn't have to move to Israel to outgrow my left-wing sympathies, nor to acknowledge the brutal nature of the North Vietnamese regime that took over South Vietnam, from which hundreds of thousands of "boat people" risked (and often lost) their lives fleeing; or the genocidal barbarism of its Khmer Rouge ally in Cambodia, which perpetrated an Asian Holocaust on its own people.

And I could have remained in America and realized that wherever in the world democratic, pro-American countries were compared with totalitarian, anti-American ones - South and North Korea, for example - the comparison was between prosperity and freedom on the one hand, and poverty, degradation and fear on the other.

There was nothing intrinsically wrong about the American intervention in Vietnam. It was a terrible war and the American conduct of it was often reprehensible. And yet had America won, not only would the peoples of Indochina have been far better off, the world would have been a safer place.

It might have been a world, for example, in which the Soviets thought twice about invading Afghanistan a few years later, thus setting off a chain of events that ended with the Taliban in power.

The perspective of Israel is hardly necessary to grasp this, even if it does help one to imagine more clearly how many South Vietnamese must have felt toward America in the 1960s: grateful that it cared about them, insecure about its ultimate intentions, and fearful of being cruelly abandoned by it - as indeed they eventually were.

It was not fighting the war in Vietnam that was immoral. It was losing it. Or rather, it was immoral to fight it if there was reason to believe it could not be won.

Perhaps, given the situation in Vietnam in those years, in which a series of weak and corrupt governments in Saigon could not rally the support of their own people, this was indeed the case. But Americans like me who did not make the distinction between a war that deserved to be fought if it was winnable and a war that did not deserve to be fought at all helped, by their protests, to make it unwinnable.

Those who still do not make this distinction are now marching blindly against a war in Iraq.

If anyone has failed to learn the lesson of Vietnam, it is they.

Unfortunately Mr. Halkin hasn't learned the lesson yet either and is, therefore, nowhere near harsh enough on himself for opposing America during the Vietnam War. Even though domestic opposition may have forced us to fight the war in ways that made little sense--for instance, not simply attacking North Vietnam--we nonetheless did manage to win it, in the sense of crushing the Viet Cong and leaving the South in a position where it was able to maintain itself against the North. It was only the subsequent cut off of all aid by the Democrats in Congress and the refusal to continue strategic bombing that enabled the North to finally triumph.

The lesson to be learned, as suggested below, is that we may well "win"a series of battles in the war on Islamicism--toppling the Taliban, Saddam, and maybe a couple other regimes--but sooner or later the opponents will prevail, long before the war has been seen to its completion, and we'll leave a sufficient problem in place that we'll end up having to go back in a few years and start the whole process over again. It may well be immoral to "lose", but we always do because we refuse to "win".

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 21, 2003 11:05 AM

Thank you for speaking the truth about Vietnam. Very few do so. We told those poor people we hould help them, we got it in writing, and then we walked away from the whole thing. There are many, many admirable things about America, but our treachery to South Vietnam is not among them. And now the lies are told over and over until they almost look like the truth. Since the leadership of the Vietnam generation is largely composed of slackers and cowards, who are deeply invested in the lies, the truth is so very hard to find.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 21, 2003 3:56 PM

Unfortunately, Republicans like Nixon and Kissinger deserves great blame also.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2003 4:23 PM

OJ writes:

"Unfortunately, Republicans like Nixon and Kissinger deserves great blame also."

Ah, can we start at the head of the line? There is not enough venom and vindictiveness in one lifetime for LBJ and Robert Strange McNamara to endure for their roles in the Vietnam War.

Before there is criticism for Nixon and Kissinger, let's admit that they at least they didn't cut and run and Nixon was honest enough to follow his stated policy of "Peace With Honor". They at least saw it through the Paris Peace Accord.

Posted by: Erik at February 23, 2003 6:20 AM