When We Lost the Winnable War
Forty years ago this April, our nation lost the Vietnam War – a war that America could easily have won, and should have. South Vietnam had been invaded by North Vietnam, although the conflict was portrayed by communist apologists as a “civil war.” The Viet Cong did fight, but the primary enemy of the South Vietnam was North Vietnam.
The SEATO alliance pledged France, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan and America to come to the aid of South Vietnam if that nation was attacked by another nation. The moral obligation of France, the colonial power that held Southeast Asia, and Britain, which held Malaya, was greater than our obligation. We had, after all, granted independence to our only possession in Asia, the Philippines, before Pearl Harbor.
North Vietnam was not just an aggressor, but a particularly brutal aggressor and a particularly evil regime. The conduct of the war by the communists in South Vietnam was calculated and sadistic terrorism, particularly focusing on threats to members of the family or the local village, who had no political views at all. Children, for example, were tortured and maimed if their parents opposed the communists.
The consequences of losing a winnable war were even worse. Cambodia experienced genocide equal to the worst crimes against humanity in modern history. The victorious North Vietnamese sent millions to their own concentration camps, and millions of “boat people” fled in desperation as well. Throughout the new communist region, people suffered appallingly.
Communism, as always, promises to help the people but always instead delivers grinding poverty. The noncommunist nations in Southeast Asia – Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia – are all much more prosperous than Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. These communist nations also have dramatically less political and civil freedom than their neighbors.
The whole faux “moral argument” waged by draft-dodgers and communist sympathizers during the 1960s and 1970s against the Vietnam War was wrong. America had a treaty obligation and a moral duty to save South Vietnam and its neighbors from the horrors and poverty of communism. The only real argument that remains is whether we could have “won” this war or not.
Not only was the war winnable, but it was winnable without the sacrifice of blood we made in losing. Democrats, especially LBJ and his cronies, had all the tools to defeat North Vietnam as easily as George H. Bush defeated Iraq in Desert Storm.
North Vietnam was a long and narrow coastal nation. Our four Iowa-class battleships, all of which were in excellent condition, each had nine 16-inch guns that could hit almost any target in North Vietnam with complete impunity, including, critically, the air defense systems of the North Vietnamese. If all these battlewagons had been in service at the same time, the rate of fire from these thirty-six guns would have been one round every two seconds. The guns were very accurate and very long-range. The battleships were also invulnerable to attack by the North Vietnamese.
North Vietnam depended almost completely on Haiphong Harbor for supplies. We had the ability to mine this harbor – by military aircraft, by submarine, by surface minelayers – so that nothing would get in at all. Had our battleships, in concert with air strikes, degraded the air defenses, we could have shut down what few supplies were sent by rail from China.
Without endangering a single American soldier, we could have dramatically weakened North Vietnam. We could, then, have actually landed troops in North Vietnam, with South Vietnamese forces fighting alongside us. This could have ended the war. Something similar had happened in Korea, and it had worked: South Korea is a free, prosperous democracy today, an ally, and it dwarfs the barbaric North Korea in every way.
As sickening as it seems, craven politicians in Washington and communist sympathizers on American campuses, safe and comfortable in America, bartered away the courage of better Americans who fought and bled in Vietnam and condemned tens of millions of innocents in Southeast Asia to genocide and slavery.
There is, of course, a lesson for us today. The same sort of spoiled and selfish political class in Washington today surrenders the willing sacrifices of all those good Americans who have fought in this, our longest war, so that Obama or his flacks can gain a few polling points or bask for a moment in false glory. We are, today, losing another winnable war.