Why Vietnam was lost

Revisionism is a booming industry for historians. Columbus was once a hero, discoverer of a new world, carrying the glory of Christendom to savage and pagan lands. Today he is a villain, despoiler of paradise, carrying disease and slavery to utopian societies. This makes the new chroniclers happy; it settles their doubts and soothes their consciences. It serves to fill their current agendas with a righteous glow. And it sells books. But it isn't true.

The Vietnam conflict was a major enterprise of the cold war. It was a noble undertaking by the United States. Over a ten—year period the blood and treasure of this country was used to stop the communist takeover of South Vietnam. In 1975 we abandoned the effort, and the communists swiftly invaded and secured the country. Because we are a proud people we sometimes like to tell ourselves that in the larger sense, because of our triumph in the Cold War, we actually won. But we lost, in any meaningful sense of the word.

Understanding history is more important than revising it. Did we lose because we were militarily defeated? No. Was the enemy better equipped? No. What happened——and why?

As the unquestioned military masters of the world, the United States as a nation and as a people need, as an essential obligation, to understand the historical truth of Vietnam. Unlike a sports fan whose team has lost because 'the ref's stole it' or 'we got a bad bounce,' historians and pundits need to accept facts. Not wish away a loss with excuses and fanciful notions of 'macro' victories. We won the Cold War. Vietnam was lost. Ironically and bitterly, its loss had but little impact on the eventual demise of the Soviet Empire

The enemy in Vietnam, whose leader Ho Chi Minh stated early on, 'You can kill ten of my men for every one we kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.' This determination was never seen for what it was until it was too late. Like the Japanese at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the only way to defeat the enemy, it was belatedly understood, was to slaughter every last one of them. This was not something we were prepared to do.

Since the war was waged without a formal declaration, as an administration and Pentagon directed police action, the need for a formal conclusion, a surrender or treaty was not acute. So we simply gave up trying to win, wasting years and lives attempting to somehow escape the mess 'with honor.' (Even as Nixon was toasting Mao.)

In a time of co—existence and d ente, the communist threat had diminished in diplomatic eyes. The Vietnam struggle was a nasty embarrassment and a source of domestic turmoil and unrest. Yet even at the bitter end the Executive Branch and military leaders were still attempting to avoid the inevitable.  Remember, it was in 1974—75, only when Congress voted to withhold funds requested by both the Nixon and Ford Administrations to continue the fight, that the end came. It ended not with a bang, but with a tragic and humiliating whimper.

It is a credit to the humanity of this nation and its people that we did not attempt a Carthaginian Peace in Vietnam, wiping it off the face of the earth as was in our power.

Unfortunately, liberals have taken their own 'lessons' of Vietnam and distorted them to further their anti—west, anti—American agenda. Rather than see the nobility of the sacrifice or the good intentions that turned sour, they prefer to demonize the participants, impugning their motives and destroying their character. Thus in the 'enlightened' version Johnson, Kennedy and, of course, Nixon, were not fighting the good fight of liberty for subjugated peoples, they were malignant politicians, draining the life—blood of innocents in a distorted attempt for personal glory and the extension of capitalist exploitation.

Douglas MacArthur famously said that in war, 'There is no substitute for victory.' He also warned Kennedy not to fight a land war in Asia. Vietnam was lost because it was a war fought under terms that would not permit victory. The critical lesson of Vietnam is that any nation can lose a war it is not prepared to win. In the modern age you must have the will to win any war you fight, even if it means using immoral and unacceptable means. This is a hard thing to say, but nonetheless true.  It is a lesson that must be taught, reiterated, and understood —— for it is why, even with all our imposing power and overwhelming technical superiority, we need to be extremely wary of any call to arms. History teaches that America will not, 'pay any price, and bear any burden.' We are truly our own most threatening and lethal enemy.

The veterans of Vietnam deserve the thanks and honor of this nation. They did not win a war. They did do their duty. Let us honor them by understanding the truth of what happened. And sustain our appreciation by promising to never again pledge our blood and treasure to a cause we are not willing to win.

Andrew Sumereau is a frequent contributor.