A tale my father told me about the war

My late father once told me a story about war, and how the U.S. military interacts with presidents.  The story was about the Vietnam War, but the lesson it teaches applies just as much today.

Who was my father?  He was Lt. Col. Anthony R. Nollet, USMC.  He fought Japan in WWII, flying USMC dive bombers.  He participated in the occupation of Japan after the war — I inherited and still have the samurai sword souvenir he was awarded during the occupation.  I don't believe he fought in Korea, but he was posted there for a couple of years after the Korean War.

The USMC was and still is a small service, and all the senior-level officers knew each other.  My father took retirement around 1963, and he told me about a reunion and a party he'd attended some years later.  It was a poker party and was well lubricated with lots of, shall we say, stimulating beverages.

One of the attendees present was a former commandant of the USMC.  My father didn't identify him, but from the timing of the story I'm now going to tell, he must have been General David M. Shoup.  According to Wikipedia, Gen. Shoup served as commandant for four years, ending at the end of 1963.  Of him, Wikipedia says:

Recipient of the Medal of Honor. Opposed U.S. involvement in South Vietnam based on strategy and undue influence of corporations and military officials in foreign policy. Historians consider Shoup's criticisms to be among the most pointed and high-profile leveled by a veteran against the Vietnam War.

It corresponds with the story my father told me.

My father went up to the former commandant and asked him, "General, how was it that we went so wrong in Vietnam?"

And the commandant replied, "It was like this, Tony.  Shortly after the JFK assassination, President Johnson called me into the Oval Office and asked, what should we do about Vietnam?

"And I replied, 'Mr. President, Vietnam is like a snake in the grass.  Anytime you have a snake in the grass, your first option is to leave it the hell alone.  But if, for whatever reason, you decide that is just not an option, that you cannot just ignore it, then your only other good choice is war.  Total war.

"'If you decide that the snake just has to go, then you must choose to stomp it to death ruthlessly, with all the might you have.'"

In short, Gen. Shoup told President Johnson that if he decided he had to go to war, then he must be in it to win it.

Gen. Shoup went on.  "I told the president that the one thing he must never do is to play with the snake's tail!  That only makes the snake angry and more dangerous."

Gen. Shoup then went on to say that if the president desired to make him the director of the Vietnam War, he would insist that the president name him the CINCPAC — Commander-in-Chief for the Pacific Ocean.  That would have been unprecedented because up to that point, only Navy admirals had ever been the CINCPAC.

Shoup also told Johnson what he would require.  He would require the 1st Marine Division and either the 82nd or the 101st Airborne Army Division.  The Marines would hit the beach at Haiphong while the Army was dropping paratroopers behind Hanoi.  Then, having surrounded Hanoi, they would capture or kill the entire communist leadership and end the war right then and there.  Naturally, the U.S. Navy also would be heavily involved as well as the U.S. Air Force.

Anyway, so Gen. Shoup told my father, Johnson made his choice — and it was the one the commandant had told him he must never make.  He didn't make Gen. Shoup his CINCPAC and didn't put him in charge of the Vietnam War; that went to Gen. Eilliam Westmoreland instead.  Johnson played with the snake's tail with his insane policy of gradual escalation, which informed the communists that the worst that Johnson would ever do to them was, at most, only a little bit worse than what he was already doing.

And, as Gen. Shoup told my father, the end result was what we got — Vietnam.  That is why we went wrong in Vietnam.

That is the ultimate lesson of Vietnam.  If you have a choice about going to war, you must either decline the opportunity or fight it totally until final victory.  Nothing else, nothing in the middle.

Who remembers the Gulf War, when Gen. Colin Powell assured us that the United States "had learned the lessons of Vietnam" and would apply those lessons to Kuwait and Iraq?

He did no such thing.  While the Coalition did retake Kuwait, it stopped on the Iraqi border.  That was insane.  Like Stalin stopping on the Oder River and Eisenhower stopping on the Elbe River in 1945, when they finally had Nazi Germany on the ropes.  Letting Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime remain in power was insane.  Having gone to all the trouble to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, then they needed to drive on Baghdad right then and there to polish off Saddam Hussein once and for all.  But instead, the feckless George Herbert Walker Bush let Saddam remain in power, and he became a pain in the backside for another 12 years, finally necessitating the second George Walker Bush to do a do-over and invade Iraq and finally put an end to Saddam.

And now we have the mess in Afghanistan.

It is true that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires.  Only the Mongols ever escaped that trap, and they did it the old-fashioned way — mass exterminations — which is unthinkable today.

Biden is far from the only culprit here.  There is plenty of blame to go around, going all the way back to Jimmy Carter.

But Biden's incompetent "leadership" sure does put an exclamation point on the final chapter of this sad and sorry story.

Image: Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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