Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Kerry's Lessons from Vietnam

Before I get started, let me just say that my Clockwork Orange torture would be having my eyes pried open with toothpicks and having to watch continuous loops of Jimmy Roberts doing his little “this will really bring in the women viewers” Olympic stories. It seems that my timing on this is impeccable – everytime I sit down to watch, there he is. And then he’s followed by gymnastics exhibitions, where we see people doing the same damn things they’ve done in the prelims of the team competition, the finals of the team competition, the individual all-around, and the individual single competitions. Why doesn’t NBC simply start a cable channel where they show skaters doing triple sowcows all day long and gymnasts doing whatever it is they do? Show me some track and field! There, got that out of my system.

The history of a war, for better or worse, is written by the winners. For the Vietnam war, the history has been written by the American winners - the radical leftwing in America - represented most forcefully by the protest movement. And this is where John Kerry launched his political career, serving as the protest movement’s useful idiot (a phrase first used by Lenin in describing Western intellectuals enamored with communism). Kerry swallowed hook line and sinker the now discredited testimony of the Winter Soldiers Investigation, which he then spit back to a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Portions of that testimony are replayed in the next Swift Boat Vets ad due to be launched. Though his testimony has since been proven to be far less than legitimate, he has never backed away from it.

Kerry’s perfidy goes beyond smearing soldiers to accusations that the U.S. was fighting a racist war, along with the suggestion that, because the people of South Vietnam apparently didn’t know the difference between democracy and communism, that the U.S. was intervening in a civil war rather than some “mystical” battle against communism, that the people of South Vietnam would be none the worse should we leave them in the hands of Hanoi, and that our allies “were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.”

“Supposedly” – it’s a nice touch that unfortunately did not withstand the test of time. This is part of the grand distortion of Vietnam war history – that the people of South Vietnam would be better off without the U.S. intervention, and that conditions for them would improve upon our adandoning them. It ignores the aftermath of our abandonment of Indochina, which includes on the balance sheet not only the tragedy that befell South Vietnam, but also the rise of Pol Pot in Cambodia, who is estimated to have killed between 1 and 2 million citizens. The protest movement is viewed by many today as having served the useful function of restoring America to some degree of sanity in its foreign policy, saving it from sacrificing its young men for nothing. But they weren’t sacrificed for nothing, as the predictable results of Communist rule played out in that region after we left clearly showed – there was something grave at stake for the people who fought alongside the US and counted on our support. And it can hardly be said that the protestors were concerned with the soldiers they treated as war criminals. What they sought was a Communist victory, pure and simple, and they got it.

As one columnist put it recently, Kerry effectively “Americanized” Soviet propaganda. Which brings me to another specific charge that emanated and persists from Vietnam: that Nixon illegally (in violation of international law) and secretly bombed Cambodia. It is an interesting story, precisely because of its tie-in to Kerry’s lie that he was in Cambodia on a secret mission in 1968 while President Nixon was telling the American people that we weren’t in Cambodia. This was a watershed moment for Kerry, who has recounted the story over 50 times in public, as evidence that the government can lie to its people. The problem is that Nixon was only President elect at the time, and Kerry now admittedly was nowhere near Cambodia on Christmas Eve. But no matter, as a Senator who was lying and was never called on it for 30 years, he’s proved the larger point – that some in government do lie.

Much of what follows is taken from Henry Kissinger’s memoirs (Years of Renewal) from which I will quote often. Here is Kissinger, speaking of how the North Vietnamese used Cambodia to launch attacks in South Vietnam:

“After killing scores of Americans each month and inflicting casualties and destruction, they would return to Cambodia, brazenly using the neutral status of their unwilling host to legitimize their sanctuaries. A flagrant violation of international law became the cover for invoking international law to protect the bases.

The “secret bombing” was Nixon’s reaction to a North Vietnamese offensive … Many of the attacks – if not the majority – were launched from Cambodian bases. After four weeks of this and over 1,000 American casualties, Nixon retaliated.

In an operation lasting two months, 20,000 tons of Communist weapons, vehicles, ammunition, facilities, and other supplies were destroyed, and the port of Sihanoukville, through which many supplies had reached the sanctuaries, was closed to North Vietnam. In the aftermath, the intensity of the war in the southern half of South Vietnam diminished dramatically; most importantly, American casualties immediately dropped by over 50 percent within two months and continued to decline for the duration of the war.”

Now ask yourself – do you care that we broke an international law that the North Vietnamese were breaking in order to kill Americans? If Nixon was denying that such bombings were occurring to avoid the reflexive anti-Americanism that would assume such bombings were not provoked by a desire to aid our soldiers, and instead were more symptoms of our moral degeneracy as a nation, would you blame him? Kissinger relates that Nixon had briefed many in Congress on both sides of the aisle prior to the bombing, so there was little that was secret only to Nixon. Kissinger goes on to describe how later, such efforts were pointed to by the left as giving rise to Pol Pot:

“…the so-called secret bombing, tacitly endorsed by its government, of an essentially uninhabited territory, and the later effort to buttress the successors to Sihanouk openly, were blamed for all the tragedies that befell Cambodia, including Pol Pot’s genocide. This bizarre expression of self-hatred makes as much sense as blaming Hitler’s Holocaust on the British bombing of Hamburg.”

In the fall of 1974, without the US effectively out of Indochina, “Hanoi … poured in weapons and ammunition” to the Khmer Rouge in its efforts to impose its rule in Cambodia. Kissinger again:

“The smug theme that nothing could be worse for the Cambodian people than a continuation of American military aid was pervasive. That a cutoff of arms aid would end the suffering was treated as self-evident; the administration’s warnings of a possible bloodbath were derided as baseless, insincere, outweighed by the presumed horror of the continuing battles, or rejected as a McCarthyesque ploy to blame Congress for the imminent loss of Indochina.”

Sirik Matak, a former PM of Cambodia, in rejecting the offer from the U.S. ambassador for safe transport out of Cambodia, wrote the following:

“I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we all are born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you (the Americans).”

Sirik Matak was shot in the stomach and left without medical attention. It took him three days to die. He was one of the lucky ones. Because of a shortage of ammunition, most of the hundreds of thousands massacred in the aftermath were clubbed to death, hung, or stabbed. Even George McGovern eventually called for a US invasion of Cambodia to stop the genocide; a genocide that would not have occurred had we ignored McGovern in the first place.

This is the legacy of the U.S. in Vietnam – the cause was noble, but we cut and ran to appease an anti-Democratic pro-Communist protest movement in our own country. And that is to our everlasting shame. Kerry can stick to the received wisdom, that our actions while there in Indochina speak to our moral failings as a nation and a people, but the truth is quite the opposite. Kissinger movingly discusses his thoughts as we pulled out of Vietnam:

“Protestors could speak of Vietnam in terms of the excesses of an aberrant society, but when my colleagues and I thought of Vietnam, it was in terms of dedicated men and women – soldiers and Foreign Service officers – who had struggled and suffered there and of our Vietnamese associates now condemned to face an uncertain but surely painful fate. These Americans honestly believed that they were defending the cause of freedom against a brutal enemy. Vilified by the media, assailed in Congress, and ridiculed by the protest movement, they had sustained America’s idealistic tradition, risking their lives and expending their youth on a struggle that American leadership groups had initiated, then abandoned, and finally disdained. It was they and not the few bad apples, their goals and not their ultimate failures, American responsibility for the safety of the free world and not the frustration associated with it that formed my thoughts as I sat at my desk and Vietnam wound down.”

That is more consistent with the truth and how most Americans view their proud history, but some, like Kerry, are more than willing to believe anti-American propaganda, especially when it suits their prejudices.

British journalist William Shawcross, the first to blame the US intervention for the later actions of the Khmer Rouge, had second thoughts in 1994, when he admitted being “too ignorant of the inhuman Hanoi regime, and far too willing to believe that a victory by the Communists would provide a better future. But after the Communist victory came the refugees to Thailand and the floods of boat people desperately seeking to escape the Cambodian killing fields and the Vietnamese gulags. Their eloquent testimony should have put paid to all illusions.” But of course they haven’t, as it otherwise would be inconceivable that John Kerry, who has never expressed regret over his words and actions, would be a viable candidate for President. It is not only the Swift Boat Vets who have reason to see him as unfit for command.


Blogger pbryon said...

I'm too ill-informed to get into an intelligent Vietnam debate. But I'll ask a question anyway. Why is Kissinger's memoir being taken as fact? My guess is that you wouldn't afford the same privilege to the recently-published "My Life."

Don't take this as a knock on Kissinger--he loves baseball, so he can't be all bad--but just a question about what you might call "reliable sources."

9:24 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

Well, most of what I cite from Kissinger is subject to confirmation from other sources, with the possible exception of Nixon having briefed members of Congress prior to bombings in Cambodia; but even that I would guess you could confirm from other sources.

9:37 AM  

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