I recently shared an article on why the US lost the war in Viet Nam. I panned it, because, I believe, the article totally missed the central point of the war. Generalizing from the multitude of comments my post received, that misunderstanding is widely shared.
A huge majority of the responses tried to pin our loss on some portion of the U.S. leadership structure or the other. Regardless of which Americans you blame, such comments repeat the very mistake that I criticized the original article for.
The whole point of my post was that for us to focus solely on the American experience is only natural, but it greatly distorts the reality of the war. If we are going to discuss not just our personal experiences but also offer broad judgments about the war itself, we need to focus on that reality, and reject comforting, simplistic myths, because they are wrong.
The shared article takes an excessively American-centric view of the war, and is thus lousy history. We must not treat the Vietnamese as bystanders in their own war. They, not we, were what the war was about. Their war began long before we arrived, and didn’t end when we left.
The Viet Nam war was not ours to win or lose. Our goal was to establish a Republic of Viet Nam capable of defending itself. To that end we expended both lives and treasure. The RVN failed at that basic task, and so we—the United States, not the military—lost the war. To claim anything else requires, accepting one or more of those comforting, simplistic myths.
There is a difference between remembering what and understanding why. The latter requires a much broader focus, and is particularly difficult for those who actually have to do the remembering. But it’s our job as sentient human beings to not just remember, but to understand. Our post-Viet Nam war history says we have done a poor job of that.
We still get into fights we can’t win, because of our American-centric approach to the world. We have had men—and women--in Afghanistan for seventeen years now, propping up a corrupt and incompetent regime that lacks the support of its people. Sound familiar? Do you expect such a regime to survive after we leave? Should the generation of Afghan vets blame “politicians” who happen to be in office when the end inevitably comes? How about those who got us into the war decades ago?
Sometimes I think the Viet Nam war can be summarized as “Been there, done that, didn’t learn a thing.” But I’m going to keep trying anyway. Truth, not myths about the past, is necessary to deal with the present and to plan for the future.
Thanks to those who read this to the end. Peace, and a Happy New Year to all!