I've been reading, or trying to, Henry Kissenger's White House Years. Though this is an enormous volume (which Kissenger described as "necessarily shortened" at 800+ pages covering 1968-73), the problem I'm having is not from its size. The problem I'm having is specifically about the chapters on Vietnam. It is so discouraging and frrustrating to see the allied hordes of the "enemy"; the North Vietnamese, who had only one negotiating stance- leave immediately, remove all support from the RVN government, and like it. Their idea of a compromise was to set up a "transitional committee" consisting of themselves, the fictional Viet Cong leadership, and elements of the south which they could work with ( i.e. none of Thieu's people and no opponants of the North). Also, you had the raging students of the American universities who were being instigated by leftist intellectuals in the guise of "professors" to riot and commit all manner of violence, including the most heinous example, their treatment of returning veterans. And finally, a traitorous congress led by the likes of Mike Mansfield and Ed Muskie, and Birch Bayh, who ignored every thing the North Viets said and got their info from the New York Times, that bastion then as now of journalistic integrity, who took what Hanoi said and turned it into, "the Administration is rejecting terms that this nation and the RVN can easily live with".
Add to these the emerging Hollywood Left, led by that insufferable whorebag Jane Fonda and using Walter Cronkite as their mouthpiece. Finally put into the center of this maelstrom President Richard Nixon and Kissenger, trying to find an honorable way out while dealing with devisive pressures from political opponants and misled students at home and lying deceitful enemies in the war and the negotiating table. Frankly I don't think that the surprise is that Nixon was the first POTUS to resign; it was that he wasn't the first POTUS to strangle someone with his bare hands. Now that I've set this table, let me break it all down in my view.
1. The smartest thing that ever could have been done in this situation would have been for JFK to tell the French, so sorry about Dien ben phieu, better luck next time. Why Chris, the domino theory, the suffering South Vietnamese. First off, the "dominos" fell, is the world Communist now (all easy Obama jokes aside)? Hindsight is 20/20, but Vietnam is united, softly communist, an apparent success on the world stage. Yes, there was some bloodletting after the fall of those who had strongly opposed the North, but in 1961 they might just have been assimilated.
1a. Then what about Korea? Keep in mind, Korea had been divided for millenia; one nation, one people was hardly the norm. Unlike Vietnam. Also, Vietnam was hardly a Chinese puppet; they went to war with Vietnam within a couple of years, if you recall. Tell me how much "independance" a China controlled Korea would have had. By forcing the Chinese back we did the North Koreans the biggest favor they'll never appreciate. Not only that, but the Soviets got out of the whole thing with just a UN embarrasment. How would it have been if it were just them watching the Chinese cross the Yalu? I think that both Korea AND Vietnam might have been just the distraction/deterrant that kept the two Communist superpowers from full scale war in the 60s- early 70s. God knows they came close as it was.
2. Once in, we should have tried to do it the right way- arm thr ARVN properly, train them properly, educated the populace properly, provided security, and stayed out of local politics. We did absolutely none of those right until after Tet, and Congress made sure we were handicapped in doing them thereafter. By the time Nixon got into office, virtually none of these goals were possible- not physically or militarily, but politically. Congress' idea (and their NYT "conscience")of helping the Vietnamese was to teach them to put the noose around their necks themselves.
3. Given this, I think we faced a handfull of options by 1970 that ranged from bad to putrid.
a) win the thing outright. This would entail bombing the whole of North Vietnam and all their bases in Cambodia and Laos into the neolithic period. Leave not a bit of infrastructure standing. Rebuild the South and get the hell out. And I'd wager within 20 years we'd have ended up just where we did.
b) Follow through with Nixon's plans; wipe out the Ho Chi Mihn trail and all bases, step up the Vietnamization process, scaled withdrawl over ,say ten years. We'd get out with honor, somewhere around the same amount of casualties on our side and a lot fewer for the ARVN and Vietnamese populace. And within about 15 years, we'd be right where we ended up.
c) do what we did- create the illusion of an honorable withdrawl, let congress starve the South of what they needed so they could die a slow death, spend 2 years watching the ARVN get slaughtered in a fight we'd promised to help them in, and make ourselves feel better by evacing some small pittance of survivors at the end. Personally, I think this was the most disgusting option, and I hope every member of congress involved in its occurance gets weighed on this issue on their judgement day.
d)pull out immediately like a craven dog; the option that Hanoi (and apparently the New York Times) wanted all along. At least here we wouldn't have the option of lying to ourselves about what we were doing, and a lot fewer of our boys would have died by bullets on the battlefield and betrayal in the capitol building.
Option #1 would have achieved (temporarily) the stated goals and left us an international pariah for years to come; it might just have succeeded in uniting the Soviets and Chinese at just the time we were learning to play them against each other.
Options 2 and three are similar in that they revolved around the concept of "honorable withdrawl", in which we pay in lives for a good looking way out that is still just losing in a pretty package. #2 has the advantage of not making us look like idiots to the communist world, a perception that wasn't fixed until Ronald Reagan finally showed us how to deal with Communists. While we did manage, as I postulated before, to keep the Soviets and Chinese from full out war the way we did things, How different might it had been if we weren't dealing with enemies who were chuckling behind our backs. Option 4 would have destroyed us; hell, #1 and 2 would have, too, and three very nearly did. Maybe how it happened was for the best on the big picture; try telling the Vietnamese refugees or the victims of the Khmer Rogue that. (more blood on the hands of the congress and the NYT.)
Once upon a time, there was a vast empire, with the greatest of the world's treasures within their hands. Division and political infighting became a way of life, though; dealing with enemies weakened them, national loyalty transformed to national apathy. Eventually, their creditors overwhelmed them. Though they recovered somewhat and reformed, they were never quite the same. The future? Maybe. True story? Yes. The vast empire was what we call Byzantium; the overwhelming at the hands of the Fourth Crusade (!) in 1204. Though they recovered- somewhat- they had begun their slow death, filled with unnecessary military displays, confiscatory taxes, and deals with nations set to destroy them. A nation that had ruled the world in the dim past died friendless 249 years later. The thought of this leads me to 2 questions; consider them valid, or don't. One, if 1973 was our 1204, how soon comes our 1453? Second, when we reach that final, tragic end, will we have a Constantine IX, going out to fight and before God give the last drop of blood for his people? Or will we have a ... Barack Obama?