Tuesday, July 18, 2017

THE WAY I SEE IT by Don Polson

                THE WAY I SEE IT   by Don Polson   Red Bluff Daily News  7/18/2017

                   Musical campsites; war stories

Observing the passing scene of campers is no small part of spending the summer in forest service campgrounds. Over 14 to 16 days, everyone around us arrives and leaves.
Of course, our being retired with no place cooler to hang out, we have time to compare. There are the means of camping: from motorhomes like ours, to trailers of various sizes, to so-called “fifth wheels,” pop-up tent trailers and the tents of every imaginable size. People have their systems mostly down pat but not always; personal belongings and sleeping bags go in the tents, camp chairs get arranged, and the food-related stuff finds places on the picnic tables.
What never ceases to amaze us is when, as just occurred next to us while I peck at the keyboard, a group of adults with various aged children and friends, arrive mid day, set up, recreate in their own style, eat dinner, make fire, wake up to breakfast—and then pack it all up to move to the next stop. Repeat. That was Barbara’s dad’s routine; we stay put for a while.
Generators: can’t live with them or without them. There are rules; we abide; we don’t like listening to ours more than needed. Some folks can’t seem to spend a waking minute in camp without the darn thing running. To each their own; I just think they need better batteries.
I like to include both fiction and nonfiction in my reading fare; that way my escapist, spy/terrorist/thriller-killer stories, by Brad Thor or Daniel Silva, are balanced with some learning. A ski friend gave me “American Sniper” by Chris Kyle, an autobiography of America’s most prolific sniper, a Navy SEAL. I’ve seen the movie; I know how it ends. The book is rough but superb.
I took away a profound and deep sense of the necessary, but noble, skill set that comes into force when America sends its young, even not so young, men to train and deploy, through times of sheer boredom as well as so-called “kinetic contact” with the enemies of America for what can be hours or even days of exhausting, draining, terrifying and rewarding heroism.
That calling can drive soldiers, sailors, flyers and Marines to nearly obsessive devotion to the mission in deployment after deployment, even into reenlistments that take a mighty toll on, in Kyle’s case, his wife and children. As Kyle relates his personal story, you easily become drawn into his all-consuming experience. Kill after shot after hit—over 160 by all accounts—have to be placed in perspective that every enemy, every militant, terrorist and combatant he killed, represented usually several American fighters that would have died had he not pulled the trigger.
There is the ever-present pressure to justify his decision, to confirm the circumstances if questioned by a military lawyer because of an Iraqi civilian that knows the value of propaganda and accusation to undermine the mission of our military. Very often, seeming futility breeds lowered morale that shows itself in the cynicism toward the Iraqis he was there to liberate. There remain the willing-to-die sacrifices for the brothers-in-arms around him. It’s a great read.
I bought Lewis Sorley’s “A Better War” because it examined the post-1967 years of the Vietnam War or, as the subtitle reads, “The unexamined victories and final tragedy of America’s last years in Vietnam.” I had read that the war was winnable in several ways and times. The loss of those opportunities cascaded into the national disaster, even disgrace, of America having nobly gone to fulfill its obligation to prevent the communist takeover of South Vietnam, but leaving in shame, defeat and the fall of that same nation’s people to the totalitarian North Vietnam.
No one can honestly look at the post-war “reeducation camp” slaughter, the desperation of the “boat people” lost at sea, and the “killing fields” of Cambodia—and not wish that it had gone another way, any way that would have achieved a win for us and South Vietnam. Even the Islamic terrorist massacres, brought about by Al Qaeda under Osama bin Laden, relate to inspiration he took from America’s defeat in Vietnam, believing that we were a “paper tiger.”
 The first lost opportunity, if you will, that Sorley—a West Point graduate, Army veteran, Pentagon staffer and CIA official—points to transpired while I was in high school. General Westmoreland spent 4 years from 1964 to 1968 conducting “big sweeps” with a “large force” military, meeting and defeating the North Vietnam Army (NVA) and Viet Cong they found.
As often as not, the enemy forces, recognizing the futility of relying on set battles and the massive casualties to their forces, would fade away and retreat into the endless jungles while Westmoreland’s after-action press releases would hold up “body counts,” useless for actual measurements of progress in a war where the NVA could endlessly replenish its troops.
General Creighton Abrams’ strategy, begun in 1968, of counter-insurgency, “clear and hold” pacification, adapted to the actual war the enemy, NVA and VC, were conducting. When the simultaneous trends of interdicting and destroying enemy stockpiles of pre-placed materiel, withering attacks on the supply of men infiltrating through the “Ho Chi Minh” trail, and the improved security in villages that supported their elected leaders and the South’s military—when that strategy created the grounds for securing protection and freedom for the South’s people from attacks, we were winning.

Unfortunately, too many years were wasted, using Westmoreland’s tactics, for the domestic support to be sustained, leading to bombing cutbacks, pauses and cessations under both Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Those bombing halts and the “peace process” were used by the Communists to prepare for further battle and by Ambassador Harriman, an antiwar fanatic, to make concessions that led to untenable losses of military advantage and the ability to prevail. 

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