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Warren Graham's Blog

Postings by Warren on a variety of timely and (hopefully) interesting topics

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nostalgia for Vietnam

In the increasingly hard-to-remember days of my youth, the 1960’s and 1970’s (they say that “if you can remember it, you didn’t live it), there were a number of seminal events for those of us who share the sobriquet of the “Baby Boom Generation”: the Kennedy Assassination(s), the murder of Martin Luther King, the Woodstock Music Festival and Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk (worth at least 100 of Michael Jackson’s, I daresay). But the defining, and continuing backdrop for the whole era, that which caused a profound schism in American society and its body politic, and led to noisy and sometimes violent college campus unrest and the so-called “generation gap” (but, on the other hand, gave us fodder for some excellent music), was the Vietnam War.

So divisive was that War, that nearly 40 years after the fact, we are unable, as a Nation, to achieve any real consensus on what the object lesson of this failure of U.S. foreign policy really was. Many argue that it was the absence of a plan for an endgame and exit strategy which kept us mired in Southeast Asia. Others maintain vociferously that we should never have been there in the first place; that we were propping up a corrupt regime as part of a misguided and doomed cold war strategy designed to fend off complete Communist domination in that region. Even today, people continue to argue whether the debacle of Vietnam proves that the “domino theory” was proven to be fact, or utter nonsense. I remember participating in the very same arguments, in haec verba, in 1969. And this, mind you, is with the benefit of decades of hindsight!

So traumatic was that War, that since that time, every time this Country and its leaders have contemplated military action of any kind, someone, either in political opposition or in the news media inevitably and predictably raises the hackneyed cliché of a question: “but will this become another Vietnam?”

Yet now, as the events of the present day unfold, I find myself wistfully nostalgic for the halcyon days of the Tet Offensive, Viet Cong guerrillas, Da Nang, Hue, the DMZ and Ho-Ho-Ho Chi Minh. I long for the comfort of the Cold War’s “balance of terror” and reliable (if nasty) enemies like Brezhnev and his merry pranksters in the Soviet Politburo and Mao Tze Tung (before I woke up one morning and discovered that we had all been spelling his name wrong, and that it was really Mao Zedong, and that Peking was really Beijing, by instant international media consensus). Yes, these guys were as evil as they come, but somewhere in their warped sensibilities, they understood that a modus vivendi with the West was necessary, if only to ensure their own survival.

All of that pales with the state of affairs we face now. The international situation is, today, ever so much more grave. During Vietnam, it is true, the Russians and Chinese lurked in the background, as they had during the Korean War, and there was a sense that our efforts were somewhat hamstrung by the notion of triggering a “Hot War” between the two (or among the three) Superpowers, but we were not, on a daily basis, at least after the Cuban Missile Crisis, really in fear of an Armageddon scenario in this Country,

Now, we are. And if we are not, we certainly should be. Aside from the Osamas and Nisrallahs of the World, the international community contains at least two absolute rogue nations (and a pretty good argument could be made that there are others, as well). They are each within a hair’s breadth of achieving full nuclear weapon capability, and are ruled by apparently unbalanced individuals, who, I would submit, cannot be reasonably relied upon to eschew the use of such weaponry on a mere whim.

We are, in short, a hiccup away from a Third World War. For now, I believe, that War is still winnable by civilized humanity, but that will not necessarily be so once Iran and North Korea possess the means to detonate AND deliver nuclear devices to international targets, in a reliable way. Once that happens, and the nuclear threat is present from all sides, we are no longer assured of survival. The bad guys (and they are bad guys, to be sure) have an abiding commitment to their cause, however degenerate that cause may be. We, in the meantime, cannot even get out of our SUV’s. They are willing, indeed, seemingly happily so, to die for their misguided and perverted cause. We, by contrast, are obsessed with the daily doings of Jessica Simpson and Lindsay Lohan and the present-day Golden Calf that is American Idol.

In our political discourse, we have never been more divided; not even during Vietnam. Except now, the stakes are so much higher. While the nut jobs in Tehran and Pyongyang prepare themselves for thermonuclear war, our isolationist wing, now apparently in charge of the Democratic Party, argues for withdrawal from Iraq by a date certain. Hey, guys, why not just surrender, and save both time and lives?

I recognize, as, I think, do many or most Americans, that there is a legitimate debate to be had about the wisdom of having chosen Iraq as the principal site of our War on Terror. We should (and no doubt will) be arguing about that for many years to come. But there is one thing about which there should be no real debate: we absolutely, positively cannot afford to lose this War. We must see it through, because the consequence of an ignominious departure has to be crystal clear to all: an understanding in the Islamic Fascist World that the West has no staying power, no conviction, and no commitment, and that we can and will be beaten. These principles are already an article of faith on the so-called “Arab Street,” and much of the blame for that may be laid at the feet of our feckless “allies” in Europe and elsewhere and the dithering do-nothings at the United Nations, who pass resolutions they have neither the will, nor even the slightest intention of enforcing.

Regrettably, it falls, once again, to the United States, and a VERY small select group of its allies, to stand up against the forces which would destroy Western Civilization. We have the strength, yes. But do we have the will? Are we about to turn over both Houses of Congress to the Howard Deans and Ned Lamonts of the not-so-loyal opposition who will, I believe, promote a policy either of appeasement or unilateral withdrawal? We need to pray—and pray hard, and in equal measures, for the wisdom of both our electorate and elected officials, and of course, for our men and women in uniform. All these are necessary ingredients to achieve success in the treacherous days ahead.

Divisiveness is, to an extent, an inevitable by-product of democracy. But the question is not whether we have the right to disagree. Of course we do. The real question is whether, given a grave international crisis, which presents a clear and present danger to the future of humankind, it is responsible to pursue a cynical opposition for partisan political gain. With all my heart, I hope that, as Americans, we prove capable of rising above our petty differences, and subordinate them to the good of the civilized world, the survival of which we can (I dare presume) we can all agree is worthy of our support.

Warren R. Graham
Copyright 2006


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