By Dick Martin
Today is a day to honor all of those soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. All of those veterans are special and have been duly honored over the years. I have spent hours writing their stories and honoring them as best I could.
About 15 years ago, I was talking to a Springfield local, Bob Coleman, about the different wars, and he talked about the Korean War as his war. He did not mean his own personal war, but his generation’s war. For my generation, it was the Vietnam War. It was an ambiguous war that hung over the heads of my generation during our youth. Without forgetting any of those from all wars who have given their lives, today, I would like to pay a special tribute to the Vietnam veterans who gave their lives in service to our country and to all those who answered the call and served in the controversial war in Southeast Asia.
Those who spent significant time in the bush can astound us with the personal measures they had to take to survive and function in the hellish weather and terrain conditions they encountered in Vietnam. Some came home to verbal and physical abuse and all came home to indifference and lack of gratitude from the American public for their service.
Most have probably long ago closed the book on the Vietnam War. I have never been able to do that. Today, for just a few minutes, so that we can properly appreciate and honor our Vietnam veterans, I would like to ask you to reopen that book and let me take you back to the situation in the world at that time, and our response to it. At that time, I had no clue about American foreign policy, so my opinion was knee-jerk patriotism. I was not obsessed with the war but it was always at the back of my mind as I read history of the war and what lead us to get involved. Gradually, over about 30 years of research, I was able to draw some conclusions. Contrary to what the general consensus is, I learned there were very good reasons why we got involved. I think my conclusions stand up to scrutiny. However, as you recall, there was plenty of controversy back then, so don’t be surprised if you disagree with me.
The Vietnam War took place long ago in a far-off land. More than any other war, the Vietnam War was questioned as to whether or not it was justified. At that time, except for believing Communism to be bad, I had no idea what the prevailing thinking was, what it was based on, and why we got involved. After years of reading plenty about that era and the times leading up to it, I determined that the decisions to get us involved were based on logical and rational assumptions arrived at from easily observable actions and statements from the Communist world. Unfortunately, despite a plethora of evidence to validate those assumptions leading up to the war, as the war progressed and in subsequent years, they proved to be false, giving rise to the argument that our involvement in Vietnam was a costly mistake. To be specific, I see two main assumptions that drove us to our involvement in Southeast Asia:
In short, what we were looking at was an aggressive Communist North threatening the non-communist South lead by a leader indoctrinated in the Communist ideology bent on spreading throughout the world, or so we thought. Consequently, US policy was solidly committed to stopping the spread of Communism as evidenced by the United States’ participation in preventive measures such as the following:
In order to avoid involvement in Vietnam when the Communist threat developed there in the 1950s and 1960s, the decision makers would have had to ignore the well-justified assumptions that Communism was monolithic with the goal of taking over the world, and that Ho Chi Minh had substantial ties to Communism. In addition, they would have had to ignore the Truman Doctrine, violate the SEATO treaty, and blow off the 37,000 Americans killed in Korea successfully stopping the spread of Communism there.
With all of that making up the prevailing thinking, we were committed to enforcing the Truman Doctrine, honoring our membership in SEATO and employing the methods that worked in Korea. The loss in credibility, sustained by the United States by abdicating those responsibilities, would have had far-reaching and long-lasting effects on its standing and foreign policy in the world.
After the war, the validity of the assumptions began to fade. Ultimately, Ho Chi Minh proved he was a nationalist first, and a Communist a distant second. Stalin’s death ended any thoughts of a monolithic Communism taking over the world. Mao used that opportunity to break with Khruschev and the USSR resulting in China’s dangerous confrontations in competition with the USSR and backing the opposite side in regional wars involving client states of the USSR and China. With both of our assumptions losing steam, Vietnam, today, is, in many respects, better than we could have hoped for and certainly no monolithic threat to the world.
Three years ago, I toured Vietnam and was overwhelmed by the peaceful hustle and bustle of free enterprise thriving everywhere. Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, noted free enterprise economists, would be very happy with the strides the country has made since the war.
For all of those who have examined Communism and Ho Chi Minh after the war and discovered Communism far from monolithic and Ho Chi Minh mainly a nationalist rather than Communist; and therefore, boldly conclude that our involvement in the Vietnam War unnecessary, I would say “Hold the Phone.” That is not how it works. You don’t get to make decisions based on conditions that appear years later. You have to make them based on the current situation.
Our military is a very important leg of our foreign policy. It has no value if it has no legitimacy. Its legitimacy comes from its professionalism, and the men and women who make up its ranks. Due to the dedication and service of those who served in Vietnam, our military has been able to maintain its legitimacy and it continues to do so today as a supremely important leg of our foreign policy. With those thoughts as a backdrop, I would like to give a special salute to all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice or served in Southeast Asia and were so important in maintaining the legitimacy of the military leg of our foreign policy. For the rest of the Springfield Veterans who served or gave their lives for our country, I salute them too and will do my best to continue to recognize them by telling their story.
Finally, I would like to say how proud I am of all of the Springfield Veterans who served their country no matter what war they served in.