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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

A VIETNAM LESSON MOSTLY FORGOTTEN It wasn’t before I read Victor Davis Hanson’s fascinating Why the West has won that my conscious mind registered the suffering inflicted on South Vietnam and the Vietnamese people by the US disengagement. David Gelernter has just made a point along similar lines:

We are haunted by the consequences of allowing South Vietnam to collapse. Tens of thousands of executions (maybe 60,000), re-education camps where hundreds of thousands died, a million boat people.

(. . . )

We betrayed our allies and hurried home, to introspect. They stayed on, to suffer. We were eager to make love, not war, but the South Vietnamese weren't offered that option. Their alternatives were to knuckle under or die.
It was my fault, mine personally; I was part of the antiwar crowd and I'm sorry. But my apology is too late for the South Vietnamese dead. All I can do is join the chorus in shouting, "No more Vietnams!" No more shrugging off tyranny; no more deserting our friends; no more going back on our duties as the strongest nation on Earth.

That doesn’t make the catastrophe that was the Vietnam war any less horrible, but it is very important to remember that after the mistake that was the phase 1964-69 which saw the intense levels of direct US actions on the ground, strategy shifted correctly to a more efficient use of force. The only major error, understandable though that it was in the context of the Cold War, was to refrain from closing down the Ho Chi Minh trail and threatening or actually invading North Vietnam. It’s a lesson we should never forget about war: an initial escalation can hasten the end of the war and thus actually shorten the war and lower the amount of human suffering. A lesson that hadn’t really sunk in in regards to Iraq during the 1990s. A resumption of the war by the US, UK and our allies would have been an intial escalation but it would have spared many Iraqi lives lost due to Saddam’s rule in the intermittent years in which a “peaceful” solution to the war was sought via the UN mechanisms.

Another interesting thought on comparison between Iraq and Vietnam is in regards to “the plan”, which was absent in Korea (and West Germany and Japan), and Vietnam, where there was a detailed plan of how to proceed. We all know what turned out to be the better way. To the limited extent that Gelernter is right about the successes of Vietnamisation, this clearly reflects just this turning away from a fixed detailed plan.

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