While enrolled in the Army’s Command and General Staff College, I studied the historical account of how the Vietnam War had ended. This was not a political account, but one based on a painstaking compilation of reports and detailed analysis by Army historians of the battles and events that led up to the final, desperate evacuation of U.S. personnel and refugees by helicopter from the top of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon on April 30, 1975. The muddled media reports at the time and slanted political analysts of today still cast the Vietnam War as one that the U.S. lost to an internal civil insurgency. Nothing could be further from the truth, for the Viet Cong had long before been decimated and defeated, much as the surge had defeated Al Qaida in Iraq.
In the Paris peace talks in 1973 the U.S. agreed to remove all U.S. ground troops in return for the North Vietnamese agreeing to withdraw their own troops from South Vietnam and to forswear the use of arms in favor of peaceful negotiations with the South on future reunification of the country. The U.S. thereby negotiated away its right to station troops in South Vietnam to support the fragile democracy. This was in contrast to what had been done 30 years earlier in Germany, Italy and Japan and 20 years earlier in South Korea where U.S. troops were stationed for decades to preserve conditions where seedling democracies could take root and where the national defense forces to protect them could mature.
Unfortunately even after our troops had withdrawn, radical anti-war politicians in Congress demanded that South Vietnam “stand on its own” and systematically reduced our military aid to South Vietnam from $2.8 billion in 1973 to a mere $300 million in 1975. When North Vietnam, having the world’s 5th largest army, broke the treaty and launched a surprise, all-out ground invasion flush with massive amounts of Soviet equipment and supplies, the armed forces of South Vietnam, caught off guard and weakened by diminishing U.S. support, collapsed. President Ford sought to turn the tide of battle with decisive air support and emergency military aid, but radical elements of the 94th congress using existing law blocked him from providing help.
As a result, in only 55 days hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese lost their lives or were swept into Stalinist “re-education programs.” With this the sacrifices of the 58,209 Americans who over the previous decade had selflessly given their lives to honor America’s commitment to liberty had ultimately not sacrificed their lives for that liberty but rather to satisfy the lustful ambitions of self-righteous politicians who wanted to prove at any cost that Vietnam had been a mistake.
It is often said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, a price that the current administration has thus far been unwilling to pay in the war against terrorism. Ignoring contrasting historical outcomes of the wars when we have supported the peace by stationing troops or where we have abandoned our allies to their own resources, this administration has sought only to shed itself of the burden of our commitments and to tidy up the president’s domestic political support by declaring victory and leaving. In turning our back on the allies and pro-western groups we had encouraged in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and Libya, we have fostered chaos, vastly expanded the global reach of the terrorism, and dishonored the sacrifices of thousands of our dead.
Though God may forgive us for these grave sins of omission, the penance visited upon each of us and our families may one day be terrible, indeed. As Dr. Ben Carson, retired pediatric brain surgeon and now potential 2016 presidential candidate, warned in his book “America the Beautiful,” “There is no question that terrorists will soon acquire nuclear weapons. Radical Islamic extremists are not satisfied to peacefully co-exist with those they consider infidels”.
Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired), Madera