Every time that Iraq is on the news, which is every time the news is on and when ever it’s raised for discussion in a political fray of some sort, the dominant question posed is, “Is this becoming another Vietnam?” Sometimes, I wish my generation would just shut up about Vietnam. Unfortunately, it appears to be the only reference point for this [my] generation’s politicians and news reporters. Inevitably, during discussion of the topic a newsperson will question, “Did we learn our lessons from Vietnam?” and a politician will drone in reply, “It doesn’t look as though we’ve learned our lessons from Vietnam.” Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam…. What’s interesting to me is that both participants in this conversation, if either were alive at the time, were more likely protestors of the Vietnam War and the draft than participants in either.
A while back, in an article, I questioned whether Americans have forgotten that we are now engaged in a global war against a dangerous enemy. While writing it and pondering the persistent Vietnam comments that fall from the tip of every reporter’s and politician’s tongue, I too started to wonder if any of us really learned the important lessons of Vietnam.
In 1968, during the Democratic Convention in Chicago, I was a sophomore in High School. My brother had just completed a tour in Vietnam, surviving TET and coming home in April that year. Vietnam was on the news every single day. My friend Bob also had a brother there. He saw his brother on the evening news one night. Shortly after that, his family received news of him being wounded in action. Fortunately, it was not so serious. If the combat wasn’t on the news, the protests of the war by the anti-draft, anti-war and practically anti everything else that didn’t involve smoking Pot and taking hallucinogenic drugs group was.
The hippie anti-war – which was more accurately anti-draft – movement was in full swing in 1968. Some of you old timers may recall the riots at that year’s Chicago Democratic Convention. I lived in Chicago then and watched the spectacle on television, that part which was on the news anyway. My Dad had some choice words for the flower-children. He’d throw a glance my way occasionally to make sure that I was getting the gist of how he felt about them damn hippies. Dad was a WWII veteran. He worked 30 years as a coal miner, and in 1968 was still breaking his back in a Chicago factory. Like Dad, I had trouble connecting with the youth of the time even though I was one of ‘em.
In August of 1968, a group known as MOBE (Mobilization to end the war in Vietnam), along with hippies and yippies decided to protest at the Democratic convention. You may find it an odd twist, but they were protesting the Democrats who they held responsible for American involvement in Vietnam, as opposed to the warmongering Republicans. The flower-children took to the streets and Mar Daley’s police force overreacted a tad gassing and beating the daylights out of many of them. When the war touched you personally, it was difficult to sympathize with a hippie getting his butt kicked by a cop. I read an article by David Horowitz, FrontPageMagazine.com, published September 27, 2001, that addresses the question of did we learn our lessons from this time better than I ever could:
The hindsight of history has shown that our efforts in the 1960s to end the war in Vietnam had two practical effects. The first was to prolong the war itself. Every testimony by North Vietnamese generals in the postwar years has affirmed that they knew they could not defeat the United States on the battlefield, and that they counted on the division of our people at home to win the war for them. The Vietcong forces we were fighting in South Vietnam were destroyed in 1968. In other words, most of the war and most of the casualties in the war occurred because the dictatorship of North Vietnam counted on the fact Americans would give up the battle rather than pay the price necessary to win it. This is what happened. The blood of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, and tens of thousands of Americans, is on the hands of the anti-war activists who prolonged the struggle and gave victory to the Communists. – David Horowitz
Mr. Horowitz made another interesting point in his article concerning the level of out and out hate that some citizens of our country display. It’s quite similar to how many talk and act today.
I know, better than most, the importance of protecting freedom of speech and the right of citizens to dissent. But I also know better than most, that there is a difference between honest dissent and malevolent hate, between criticism of national policy, and sabotage of the nation’s defenses. In the 1960s and 1970s, the tolerance of anti-American hatreds was so high, that the line between dissent and treason was eventually erased. - Horowitz
Just so that you don’t thing that Mr. Horowitz is some wild-eyed neo-conservative I dug up to support my argument, I thought I also share with you the opening words of his article.
I AM a former anti-war activist who helped to organize the first campus demonstration against the war in Vietnam at the University of California, Berkeley in 1962. I appeal to all those young people who participated in "anti-war" demonstrations on 150 college campuses this week, to think again and not to join an "anti-war" effort against America’s coming battle with international terrorism. –Horowitz
While doing my usual limited amount of research, I discovered another interesting document about the Vietnam War at the Ford Library web site. This document was a memorandum for the President, written in 1975 by then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger titled, Lessons of Vietnam. You can read all of it at
It’s written in the subtle, diplomatic and non-confrontational tone you’d expect from Kissinger.
A frequent temptation of many commentators has been to draw conclusions regarding the tenacity of the American people and the ultimate failure of our will. – Kissinger
Don’t you hear this question raised repeatedly by today’s news media and many of the expert analysts? Does America have the will to stay, for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan until the job is complete? After all, our leadership skeedaddled from Somalia so why shouldn’t we expect it to do the same from other difficult situations? Our actions in recent history cause this question to linger and possibly even contributed to our current predicament. Fortunately, I believe we have leadership now that’s willing to stay the course.
Dr. Kissinger raises some other interesting points in his lessons.
The Vietnam debate often turned into a fascination with issues that were, at best, peripheral. – Kissinger
Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Interesting isn’t it? The bed of the fanatical terrorism that confronts us and the rest of the civilized world today is the Middle East. Before we can confront and defeat it, we must establish a foothold in the region. We’ve done that in Iraq and our focus should be defeating this brand of terrorism at its birthplace. Unfortunately, too many Americans may not realize this until we are hit at home as frequently as is Israel. I fear then, that the tune would quickly change to “The administration is not doing enough.”
I believe that Mr. Kissinger was being prophetic when he wrote this into his report:
We often found that the United States could not sustain a diplomatic position for more than a few weeks or months before it came under attack from the same political elements that had often advocated that very position. – Kissinger
Democrat presidential candidates, Democrat Congressmen and women, the United Nations… need more?
We have a problem with lesson learning in our country, which goes beyond the unlearned lessons of Vietnam. We stayed out of WWI too long and our military was so ill-prepared for it that we didn’t have enough rifles to pass out to the Army we raised. We stayed out of WWII until it smacked us in the kisser, and by then, we had much territory from which to push a good German Army at the cost of a great many American lives not to mention the millions slaughtered by the Nazis while we stood by.
In October 1983, there was a terrorist bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon. That’s 20 years ago. From then, until September 2001 we had the World Trade Center in 1993, The Murrah Federal Building 1995, Khobar Towers 1996, the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 1998, and the USS Cole 2000.
Just like our other World Wars, it took us much too long to become engaged in this one. Now we have to endure rooting out and destroying a sophisticated and entrenched enemy. Unfortunately, it seems that the most important lesson of those other World Wars and Vietnam are lost on America. That most important lesson is that once engaged, it takes a focused nation with one purpose and the will to win it.
Copyright © 2003, JD Pendry, All Rights Reserved