The Ten Thousand Day War
Vol: 43 Issue: 30 Saturday, April 30, 2005
Thirty years ago, I sat with my comrades in our barracks community room watching on TV as the last helicopter lifted off from the US Embassy in Saigon, leaving behind thousands of loyal Vietnamese supporters who were most likely immediately executed by the victorious north.
Pretty much everyone above the rank of corporal sitting in that room had served in-country and probably all of us knew someone who died defending what ultimately became a lost cause.
In those final 24 hours before the United States abandoned the South Vietnamese to their fate, there were just fifty-two Marines left guarding the American Embassy near the Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon.
On April 29, only twenty-four hours before the last Marines were evacuated, 19-year-old L/Cpl. Darwin Judge of Marshalltown, Iowa and Cpl. Charles McMahon of Woburn, Massachusetts earned the distinction of becoming the last two US Marines to lay down their lives in defense of their comrades. It was more than a year before their bodies were recovered and returned to the United States.
This morning’s papers are filled with recollections from veterans, most of whom continue to suffer from the demons that they can’t quite exorcise from their minds, even a lifetime after the conflict came to its unsatisfactory conclusion.
For the majority of Americans, Vietnam was a strategic blunder and a military misadventure that should never have happened. But it did happen, and it was a strategic blunder and a military misadventure because we lost.
Vietnam has morphed into what is now called the American ‘experience’ but Vietnam wasn’t an ‘experience’ — it was a war. And, despite claims to the contrary from the revisionists, it had a purpose.
The purpose was to prevent the Communist government of North Vietnam from imposing a Communist dictatorship on the South. That is contrary to the commonly-held belief that Vietnam was an evil war that America deserved to lose.
The War in Vietnam began during the Kennedy administration, escalated during the Johnson and first Nixon administrations, and ended when the Democrats in Congress voted to pull out and leave South Vietnam to the tender mercies of the communist North.
The Tet Offensive that so many credit as the reason for America’s defeat in Vietnam was a disastrous military defeat for the North and a massive military victory for the United States.
Groups like Vietnam Veterans Against the War turned on their country and their fellow veterans, and worked actively to secure an ignominious American withdrawal from Vietnam, betraying the South Vietnamese whose generation-long war of liberation ended in defeat and absorption by the Communists.
“In Vietnam, police reportedly killed hundreds of Christians at a peaceful prayer protest over Easter weekend. More than a thousand Christian Montagnards had been protesting religious repression and confiscation of their tribal lands.Vietnam’s communist government has been persecuting the Montagnards for years. One reason is because massive numbers of Montagnards have converted to Christianity since the early 1990s. A Montagnard Christian who escaped to the U.S. says his people are ‘crying out for freedom.’ ” — Christian World News, April 16, 2004.
THIS is what those 56,000-plus Americans who died in Vietnam died to prevent. We were in Vietnam to advance only one cause. Freedom. We failed.
Consequently, an entire generation has grown up knowing nothing but authoritarianism and the tyranny of the unelected. Vietnam was comprehensively hung out to dry, first by Western elite opinion, and then by governments that failed to stand firm against the combined force of that opinion.
In the end Saigon fell, not because of the popularity of the North Vietnamese cause, but because Washington lost its stomach for the fight and abandoned its ally.
The War in Vietnam was styled by Democratic politicians as a Republican conflict designed to feed the ‘military-industrial complex’ that all the long-haired pinheads of the era demonstrated against.
This fiction survived despite the fact that Kennedy and Johnson were Democrats, and Republican Nixon ended the war.
One can only wonder what Vietnam would have been, had we not abandoned the South.
What it is now is a backward, rotting tyranny surrounded by its much wealthier neighboring democracies who grow richer in freedom while the Vietnamese we left behind dream of escape from the Communist prison it became following our retreat thirty years ago.
Per capita income in the communist worker’s ‘paradise’ of Vietnam runs about $450 per year per worker, while inflation is running at about 14%.
It was thirty years ago today that the last helicopter lifted off from the US Embassy in Saigon.
Seems like yesterday.