A Lesson of Vietnam

Ken AshfordElection 2004Leave a Comment

The truth is that atrocities were committed in Vietnam. The worst and most horrendous atrocity was officially sanctioned. The American command coldbloodedly set about to deprive the Communists of the recruits and other assistance the peasantry could provide by emptying the countryside. Peasant hamlets in Communist-dominated areas were deliberately and relentlessly bombed and shelled. Free Fire Zones – anything that moved, human or animal, could be killed – were redlined on military maps.

By 1968, civilian deaths, the great majority from air strikes and artillery, were estimated at about 40,000 a year and seriously wounded at 85,000. The wholesale killing cheapened the value of Vietnamese life in American eyes. It created an atmosphere that fostered the massacre at My Lai hamlet on March 16, 1968, when 347 Vietnamese old men, women, boys, girls and babies were butchered. That same morning another 90 unarmed Vietnamese were slaughtered at a nearby hamlet by a second army unit.

In Vietnam, America the exceptional joined the rest of the human race and demonstrated that it could do evil as easily as it could do good. Mr. Kerry undoubtedly said some intemperate things in 1971. That is the way of youth. But he also showed the moral courage to try to persuade his fellow citizens to halt actions that were disgracing their nation.

— Neil Sheehan (author of 1989 Pulitzer Prize winner "A Bright Shining Lie", here)

Morally, militarily, politically, strategically — there were many lessons to be learned from Vietnam. However, many — from Rush "Abu Ghraib is just fraternity antics" Limbaugh to, regrettably, many of the Swift Boat veterans — have not learned this particular painful lesson of Vietnam: that, yes, even America and Americans are capable of singular evil.

I don’t fault them for that — it is, after all, human nature to pretend that such atrocities do not exist.

But I just don’t think we should pay attention to the voices of people who deny realities. I don’t think we should place credibiliy in those who demonize truth-tellers simply because they don’t like the truth.

A patriot isn’t someone who turns away on those rare occasions when America acts evil. A patriot is someone who fights that evil, who says "no more".

Anyone who thinks patriots must experience a shot fired in anger during wartime is simply wrong. Sometimes a person can be a patriot by taking action in the streets, and bucking governmental authority.

Kerry did both. Bush did neither. Kerry showed up for the 1960’s; Bush drank and chased girls. If we must go back 30 years to decide "character" issues, THAT’S the bottom line, my friends.