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The Vietnam War: Was it Justified?

John Simkin

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Was I in favor of winning the war in Vietnam?  Darn right.  Was I convinced that Johnson had blown the war with his policies?  Darn right there as well.  Did I volunteer to fight in the war?  No.  Very few young people did, regardless of their political persuasion.  I was part of the draft lottery and my number was never called.  Would I have obeyed the law if drafted?  Of course.

Did the people of Vietnam suffer after we abandoned them to the Communist insurgency from the North?  Terribly.  Have conservatives apologized for supporting the war?  None that I recall.  Have some leftists apologized for opposing it?  Yes, indeed.

I still believe that American involvement in Vietnam was a terrible mistake. It cost the lives of 58,000 Americans. A much larger number were permanently damaged by their experiences of this terrible war. It also ended in failure. It showed what the Soviets discovered in Afghanistan, it is now impossible for a superpower to occupy a country that does not want to be occupied. It is the lesson the Americans and British are re-learning in Iraq today.

You say the Vietnamese have suffered terribly since the end of the war. Can you explain what you mean by that. Do you think their suffering was greater than they experienced during the war? An estimated 2 million of them died during the war. Unfortunately, the suffering did not end for them when American troops left.

During the war about 10% of Vietnam was intensively sprayed with 72 million litres of chemicals, of which 66% was Agent Orange. Some of this landed on their own troops and soon after the war ended veterans began complaining about serious health problems. There was also a high incidence of their children being born limbless or with Down's syndrome and spina bifida. The veterans sued the defoliant manufacturers and this was settled out of court in 1984 by the payment of $180 million.

The TCCD dioxin used in Agent Orange seeped into the soil and water supply, and therefore into the food chain. In this way it passed from mother to foetus in the womb. In Vietnam the dioxide remains in the soil and is now damaging the health of the grandchildren of the war's victims.

A report published in 2003 claimed that 650,000 people in Vietnam were still suffering from chronic conditions as a result of the chemicals dropped on the country during the war. Since the war the Vietnamese Red Cross has registered an estimated one million people disabled by Agent Orange. It is estimated that 500,000 people in Vietnam have died from the numerous health problems created by these chemical weapons.

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The Vietnam War was a horrible mistake. It was an extension of policies hat had worked out very well for the United States during the Cold War. But the lens through which we viewed Vietnam was different than seen by the people of Vietnam.

The failing of Cold War foreign policy was that we supported any government that opposed Communism instead of supporting good and just governments. In fact we liked dictators more than democracies because only one person had to be won over there.

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As one of the "few" young people who volunteered for the war, and who had first-hand experience, and who has spent much time since the war evaluating what happened, I would have to agree with Raymond and not Tim.

Certainly the communists were not kind to the supporters of the Saigon regime after the war, but the outcome was our fault. Playing the "what if" game, I have to say that the correct policy would have been to support Ho Chi Minh against the French in 1945. I certainly understand why we didn't, but if we're to learn anything from our involvement in Vietnam, we have to look at what we could have done differently.

I fear that folks like me will be playing this game again in 40 years looking back on Iraq.

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The fellow students we baked cookies for in Home Ec were writing and speaking out against the war by 1970s. The military not hippies at home made me oppose that war. I just figured, when those close to the action say it's done it's done. The skill of the enemy, their knowledge of terrain, their resolve didn't help things.

A covert soldier from cold war told me we should have kept the thing on advisory and covert level as it began. Use the quiet approach: propaganda, payoffs deals never to be known publically. Perhaps there's some sense in this approach. Less large scale carnage and collapse. Agent Orange and Purple or?? has it's own niche in the Viet Nam gallery. This was no little war and it shaped my world view permanently.

An officer recently spoke out on Sixty Mins TV show about lack of equipment available to the kids (just out of high school as in VN) in Iraq. Illustrating the war is being done on the cheap, current problem in this war. The military man for fear of reprimand couldn't say it was the fault of Washington, so he said it was out of his hands. I think the military is beginning the process the men and women of VN began in late 60s.

I'm reminded again of Oliver North in IC hearings: "We lost the war here at home" is only half right. He wanted to blame the American public and the hippies for lack of support I figured, since he was busy lying to congress and hiding behind his uniform. But really, the folks returning and a proactive media taught us the real costs of war and the gap between DC and the front was becoming too large to ignore.

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