Vietnam: The battle for historical truth

Thirty-eight years ago today, the war in Vietnam, for Americans, came to its inglorious, ignominious official conclusion. For many millions of freedom-loving Vietnamese left behind, the end of the “American War” would simply be prelude into a longer, near-endless period of darkness and suffering. Those of us old enough to recall the date April 30, 1975, will forever remember those final newscasts from Saigon being overwhelmed by invading North Vietnamese infantry and armor, images of multitudes futilely attempting to join the American exodus, shots of U.S. Navy ships steaming offshore crowded with refugees and flight decks awash in helicopters being pitched into the abyss of the South China Sea – the sinking aircraft a metaphor to many for the tremendous waste of American blood and treasure. And since that dark sunset on that day the wounds that were the Vietnam War would never quite heal or be remembered in proper perspective.

Assessing the situation years later it was a long-retired and partially publicly restored Richard Nixon who would give us, arguably, the greatest two-line observation on our experience in Vietnam when he said:

“No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War.

“It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.”

We are rapidly losing that generation of men who fought the Vietnam War. With their passing – and in this group are also included the millions of Vietnamese immigrants who came to this country fleeing communist rule – goes the first-person historical accounting and ability to tell the truth, to discuss the egregious historical omissions or rebut the myriad myths, half truths and outright lies regarding the prosecution of the war so pervasively spread and largely unchallenged, lies that are currently left to stand as fact. That history has been authored mostly by folks opposed to America’s involvement in the war, many of whom sat it out in graduate school, avoiding service – people now in control of history departments at universities across the nation and who exercise great influence with the mainstream media.

Few will argue that the generation of people who engineered America’s victory in World War II – the well-described Greatest Generation – did a superb job. What is difficult to fathom however is that the “Vietnam Generation” has been defined not by those men who quietly and honorably answered their nation’s call to serve, but much more by those men and women who took an active part in not serving and who, in quite a number of cases, were, without consequence, actually mouthpieces for our enemies.

Victory in Vietnam? Yes, there was! Don’t miss Richard Botkin’s book “Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph.”

And what does history say or recall of our Vietnamese allies? As Americans we are able to travel to Washington, D.C., to read and touch the names of every one of the 58,187 men and eight women who died serving in Vietnam. While the numbers are a bit imprecise, our South Vietnamese allies lost at least five times as many soldiers as we did, and this from a nation with then one-tenth our population. Tens of thousands more – former military officers mostly – would succumb in what the communists euphemistically referred to as “re-education camps.” These numbers do not include the many hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who died nor the millions displaced, most of them at the hands of communist aggression. (The worst examples were the directed, observed artillery shellings of civilians in Quang Tri Province during the Easter Offensive of 1972 and then again on a far greater scale during the final invasion in the Spring of 1975 at numerous places around the country.) Add in also the estimated 250,000 who perished at sea escaping the post-’75 communist paradise. And these figures are for the former Republic of Vietnam (RVN) only. They do not include the millions brutally murdered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia or the hundreds of thousands of Laotian and Thai hill people. These uncounted masses and their tremendous sacrifices have been mostly written out of history in any favorable way.

It is certainly futile to rehash the historical “What ifs?” – and yet it is crucial that people understand how close our Vietnamese allies were to victory, or at least keeping the northern invaders at bay, after the withdrawal of American troops was complete. Many Americans remember the Tet Offensive of 1968 during which time allied forces inflicted significant casualties against Ho Chi Minh’s forces. While Tet of ’68 was a tactical victory for the allies, the communist effort succeeded in breaking the American political will to continue the war in any sort of open-ended way. This gave way to “Vietnamization” and ultimately American withdrawal.


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