I am beginning to get that pit in my stomach that tells me that I am experiencing a feeling that I last experienced almost 50 years ago. Or, as that great philosopher Yogi Berra said, “it’s deja vu all over again.” So sayeth the late Yogi.
This feeling of discomfort is being caused by my memories of the Viet Nam War and how we are approaching the handling/elimination of radical Islamic military groups. In particular, our recent involvement in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
People that are younger than the baby boomer generation were never exposed to the turbulence and violence of the Viet Nam War. It was also known as the Second Indochina War and, by our antagonists the North Vietnamese, it was known as the Resistance War Against America.
Because of the US strategy for curbing the spread of communism, we got involved in Southeast Asia. The Eisenhower administration had a strategy that was called the ‘domino theory.’ The domino theory was the belief that if one country fell to the Communists, in this case South Viet Nam, then other surrounding countries would also fall to communism. Specifically, there was concern about Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand and, believe it or not, concern about India, Japan and the Philippines. In retrospect, this all seems surreal, but at that time, it was a concern that formulated into a strategy.
Viet Nam became a Cold War era proxy war. In one corner, we had the US with its anti-communist allies. Most of these allies were members of SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization). In the other corner, the North Vietnamese were supported by Russia, China and other communist countries. Did you know that Castro visited and Cuba supported the North Vietnamese with troops?
In 1950, American military advisors arrived in what was then French Indochina. US involvement escalated in the early 60s, with troop levels tripling in 1961 (3,200) and again in 1962 (11,300). The US involvement escalated further following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident in which a US destroyer clashed with a North Vietnamese fast attack craft. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed through congress, which gave the POTUS authorization to increase the military presence. Thus, regular US combat units were deployed beginning in 1965. Operations crossed international borders. Laos and Cambodia were heavily bombed because the Ho Chi Minh trail ran through both countries and moved men and material from the North into the South. Our troop level reached its zenith in 1968 with 536,100 US military personnel in Viet Nam.
Any time the enemy massed their forces and attempted to fight the US/South Vietnamese forces in conventional warfare, the US side was the winner. An example of this was the infamous Tet offensive, which was launched by the North Vietnamese on January 31, 1967. Over 100 cities were attacked by over 85,000 North Vietnamese troops at a time when there was suppose to be a cease-fire truce. The US forces, after the initial shock, responded and decimated the enemy with the use of the US superior firepower. Tet was also the turning point for American civilian support for the US war effort. The Tet offensive came as a surprise and generated many American deaths. It did not matter that we won that battle decisively, it was more a belief that our military and political leaders were losing credibility in the conduct of the war.
Viet Nam has been called the ‘Living Room’ war. That is because on every newscast, there were very explicit pictures of injured, dying or dead Americans. It was reality TV before reality TV was ever concocted. Cameramen had no scruples when it came to sticking a TV camera inches from the face of a dying American. They also did this with the faces of the dead. How would you like to have seen your loved one dying on the 6PM newscast? That is exactly what happened. Don’t get me wrong, I think the reality of war should be shown……but our news broadcasts went on broadcasting steroids and showed all of this night, after night, after night. And the more bloody and violent, the more the media reveled in bringing it into your living room. It was little wonder that American support for the war waned as the war continued. I have not watched a newscast since the Viet Nam war because of this. I read my news or select my news sources on the internet; but I have held true to not watching a TV newscast since the 70s.
Our enemy was smart and patient. They conducted large scale operations infrequently and relied more on small unit or gorilla tactics. They were much more successful with this tactic. Eventually, we realized that Viet Nam was a losing proposition. This was mostly because of weak and unstable South Vietnamese leadership. Direct US military involvement ended on 15 August, 1973. Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese army in April 1975.
There you have it. Five presidents, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were all involved in some degree with placing military advisors or military troops in Viet Nam. There were 58,220 American causalities. The best estimates of North Vietnamese causalities is 1.1 million!
I can tell you from firsthand experience that the Viet Nam War turned the lives of draft age men upside down. Draft? Do you younger readers have any idea of what the draft entailed? Men were needed to fill the ranks of the military, so the government reinstituted the draft for the first time since World War II. This was handled by the Selective Service Administration. December 1, 1969 was the fateful night the first draft was conducted since 1942! Your fate, your future was dependent on what order your birthdate was drawn on one of the 366 little balls that looked exactly like bingo balls. And the first winner of this wonderful lottery? September 14 was the first number selected. Bummer. June 8 was the 366th ball drawn. You were golden! All of the men drafted were from the first 195 numbers drawn that night.
There were deferments for college, married with children, sole source of family support, physical disability and a myriad of other conditions. But the college deferment was a double edged sword. If you flunked out, or dropped out from lack of money…you immediately received your ‘Order to Report for Physical Exam.’ If you were physically fit, you then received your ‘Order to Report for Induction.’ Many men chose another military branch before being drafted into the Army or Marines. 72,000 chose to flee to Canada, as Canada did not support our Viet Nam War effort and provided a safe haven.
At this point, I need to interject that I am not a lucky person. I will never win the Powerball. I began college in the fall of 1966 and enrolled in ROTC. I was commissioned in 1971 and missed the Viet Nam experience as the war was rapidly winding down by the time I completed my Office Basic Course. My draft number? 293. I would never have been drafted. Many of my ROTC classmates that dropped out of college for any reason, were immediately drafted as the Army already had a file on them and they had already passed a physical. There were times when they dropped out of college and were inducted within 2 weeks! I have never visited the Viet Nam memorial, as I know too many men killed in Viet Nam from my ROTC classes of 1967-1970. The class of 1968 was decimated.
In 1973, we went to an all volunteer military system.
Remember my deja vu feeling from the first paragraph? Well, here is why I have it. During the Viet Nam War, Lyndon Baines Johnson escalated the war like no other president. He had a ‘war room’ in the White House. He and his staff would determine targets to be bombed or not bombed, and then send their decisions to the Pentagon. Micromanaging at its finest. I am a believer that war is the result of the failure of political processes. No war in the US was ever started by the military. Once the politicians turn our forces loose on an enemy, they should let the war-planners do what they do best…..win one for the home team! But that was not what happened in Viet Nam. The politicians not only put their fingers in the pie, they were in up to their elbows. The result? We lost. We decided to fight this war with one arm behind our back and we lost many lives needlessly.
Another example? Remember ‘Stormin’ Norman’ Schwarzkopf and the first Iraqi War? It was a marvelous example of military planning and execution. We won the war with cunning and daring with a minimal amount of casualties. Then the politicians got involved. They thought it would be cute if it could be called the ‘100 hour’ war even though the largest battle took place after that 100 hour mark. Then the politicians decided that we needed to stop knocking out tanks and leave Saddam Hussein in power. The result? Iraqi War II.
So here it is. What is our strategy to defeat Islamic terrorism at home and abroad? Do we have a strategy? Are we using airplanes to attack this enemy, when a knife would be more appropriate? Is the White House directing our efforts or is the Pentagon? Is there an effort? Quite honestly, with the number of generals and admirals that have been ‘voluntarily retired’ during this administration, I am losing confidence in both. Shades of Viet Nam. I’m feeling that pit in my stomach again.
PS: HB2U, HB2U, HB Common Sense by Grandpa T, HB2U.
Yes, December 28 is the third anniversary of when I established this website. I began writing after the election in 2012, but did not establish the blog until December 28. After our first year, we had 42,556 unique hits. On our second anniversary last year, 130,612 unique hits. This year? 277,463 unique hits! More than double the first two years! Wow and thank you. Grandpa T