THE WAY I SEE IT by Don Polson Red Bluff Daily News 7/25/2017
A winnable war lost by media, Democrats
Lewis Sorley provided further evidence of little recognized aspects in the “counter-narrative” of America’s war in Vietnam through his “A Better War: The unexamined victories and final tragedy of America’s last years in Vietnam.” I have also been finding rich sources of “counter-narratives” to the Trump/Russia stories on your evening news (motto: telling you what to think for 50 years). Or, as Obama’s communist Van Jones said: “it’s a nothing burger.”
First, though, here’s a little vignette from the international hub of Yellowstone Park camping at Hebgen Lake, Montana. While license plates display home states that range from California to Minnesota and Texas, the rental cars carry what seems at times to be a virtual United Nations of visitors. Welcomed by all, they fill the markets with numerous native tongues. Pedestrian crossings in West Yellowstone can have a New York City-type of crowd.
A group of mostly young Asian tent campers set up next to us, probably related with one child and an older man. They had a good routine down with early campfires, meals and full days sightseeing in the park. A good time seemed to be had by all without the worry of any personal stories, in Chinese, being overheard. One post-dinner game had the same kind of excited chatter you’d expect from an English-speaking group; occasionally you’d hear an exclamation: “I won!”
One morning they piled in their cars and took off the wrong way through the camp at excessive speed. The camp host, a very congenial Air Force veteran ran out, waving his arms and yelling for them to slow down. Upon their stopping, he poked his head into a window and shocked them when he asked, in perfect Chinese, “Are you crazy?”
Sorley’s book turned some of what is supposedly common knowledge about the Vietnam War a bit upside down. The strategy of Gen. Westmoreland, from 1964 to 1968, never gave the enemy forces a win to brag about—not in one single set battle, not in the Tet and other offensives by the NVA and VC (North Vietnam Army and Viet Cong insurgents), not in any of South Vietnam’s territory permanently taken over, and not in any of the metrics for measuring warfare.
In actuality, though, his strategy and tactics were never “winning” the war in that they achieved no permanent impact on the enemy’s will to fight or his faith that he would achieve his ultimate goals. A more astute, open-minded general would have seen the war from his enemy’s perspective; a military and political leadership (Westmoreland and Pres. Johnson) capable of admitting strategic errors and changing course (by Westmoreland) or changing generals (by Johnson), could have made those years appear to be something other than a quagmire.
Even when General Creighton Abrams was moved into Westmoreland’s position, “Westy” would not make any changes as he was being replaced lest it be a tacit admission that his decisions were flawed and ineffective. Such mindsets have undermined victories in many wars.
Westmoreland’s influence would not entirely fade as his promotion out of direct command in Vietnam left him in charge of implementing other decisions, like the drawdown of American forces after Richard Nixon’s election brought about his “plan” for Vietnam. He admitted later to having no real plan; it was an election ploy.
However, Westmoreland insisted on a “first in, first out” reduction of individual soldiers rather than keeping military units together for cohesive continuity of battle experience. While driven by his sense of “fairness” to the longest-serving men, it actually led to the widely acknowledged destruction of unit effectiveness, cohesion and esprit de corps. Newly drafted and trained soldiers brought a host of disciplinary problems that contributed to an anti-war mindset spreading among the military units, often on their own, furthest from central command.
Sorley also made clear the role that the news media came to play in framing the war in an anti-war perspective. Reporters often conveyed inaccurate information, leaving an impression that bolstered the view that America’s military was failing. Walter Cronkite’s pronouncement, of a stalemate and lack of any way for us to achieve victory during the Tet offensive, is a key example. Cronkite later insisted that he purged from his reporting any hint of opinion. Yet, he did exactly that as he broadcasted futility for America’s military. “Fake news” from CBS’s top guy.
In actuality, every aspect of Abram’s strategy was making progress toward pushing back enemy forces. He increased protection of cities, hamlets and villages and, together with bombing and interdiction of enemy supply corridors, imposed such losses on the NVA and VC that they admitted in their own communications that they could only fight a protracted war of attrition.
Later revelations also proved that, rather than any hope of winning on the field of battle, the enemies of America and South Vietnam placed their hopes in the Paris peace negotiations. Together with prominent anti-warriors like Jane Fonda, the American left was the domestic arm of the Communist effort to undermine our public faith in the war, using negotiating ploys to achieve America’s weakening of resolve to support South Vietnam.
Politicians, primarily Democrats, likewise peddled false information, rarely correcting their statements, while turning a war that America began over the responsible and noble role of protecting a sworn ally, South Vietnam, into just another way to attack a president they loathed and despised. Interestingly, you might say that opposing the war, even ultimately bringing about the loss to communist North Vietnam, was an early battle by 1970s Democrats to undo Nixon’s electoral victory. Some of those same Democrats, and the news media, are replaying parts of the script hoping to do to Trump what they did to Nixon. I believe they will fail.