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I am very proud and honored to bring a Commentary about George McGovern and his thoughts about the Vietnam War. I hope you enjoy it!





By: George McGovern

The first observation I make about the Vietnam War is that the officers and men who fought were as good as any we have ever sent into combat. During the war, I visited the fighting men of Vietnam three times: 1965, 1971 and fust before the fall of Saigon iin 1975. I shared their camps, their food, their conversation and even some of their military maneuvers. My son-in-law, Wilbur Mead, was in the thick of it, serving with the Marines under Lt. Gen. Lewis Walt of Kansas. I had dinner with Walt and his staff during my first visit. We were within easy range of booming gund that rattled the dishes while we ate. I spent the night at the general's headquarters in Da Nang.

Although I opposed sending American soldiers to Vietnam, I was greatly impressed with the bravery, traiining and skills of our fighting men. NBC newsman Tom Brokaw has declared the men and women of World War II to be the "greatest generation." I'm proud to be a part of that generation so finely honed by the Great Depression and World War II. But I'm also proud of the youth of the 1960s and 1970s who carried the burden of the American war in Vietnam. Why then was I so strongly opposed to sending young Americans into the jungles of Vietnam? First, I opposed the war because America's best infantry generals had said for years that it would be a military mistake to commit American forces to a land war in Asia. The Korean War turned sour after the Chinese entered. Indeed, that war became so unpopular that Gen. Eisenhower pledged during his first presidential campaign that if he were elected he would personally go to Korea and end American involvement there, which he did, to the overwhelming relief of the American people and our soldiers in Korea. After the war, Gen. Douglas MacArthur - first commander of our forces in Korea - told the Senate Armed Services Committee: "Any commander-in-chief who ever again orders American troops onto themainland of Asia outht to have his head examined." In 1954 it became clear that the Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh and the brilliant Gen. Vo Nguyen Glap were about to defeat the French in their effort to hold their colonies, including Vietnam. Vice President Richard Nixon and a few others urged Eisenhower to go to the aid of France and consider the possibility of using nuclear weapons. Eisenhower promptly said he would not even consider military intervention unless two conditions were met: first, such a move must have the support of Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate. Second, the British must pledge to go into Vietnam with us. As he expected, Eisenhower received a resounding "no" both from Congress and the British. Eisenhower had quietly sent his trusted fellow general, Matthew Ridgeway, who replaced MacArthur in Korea after McArthur's firing by President Truman, returned with a strong recommendation that no American forces should be sent to Vietnam. Two years later Gen. Ridgeway wrote in his memoirs: "When I go to meet my maker, the action for which I shall be most humbly proud is that I kept us out of Vietnam." Would that he had. A second major reason for my opposition to the American war in Vietnam was that we had no national interest there. Had we not sent our troops, most Americans would not have known Vietnam existed. Since the days of George Washington, who warned against "foreign entanglements," all American leaders have been skeptical about committing American troops unless our national interest was threatened. No such threat and no such national interest existed in Vietnam.

Our leaders and the American people knew our national security and well-being were dangerously threatened by hitler's Germany, Tojo's Japan and Mussolini's Italy. After the Japenese attack on our fleet and naval base at Pearl Harbor, I volunteered as a bomber pilot. I quickly enlisted in the Army Air Corps at 19 and flew 35 combat missions over Nazi Germany. I've never had one moment's regret for my part in that war. Why? We were fighting to save America and Western civilization. It was argued that we had to fight in Vietnam to stop communism. But as Harvard's noted economist and one-time ambassador to India Kenneth Galbraith put it: "When you're walking through an Asian jungle, it's hard to tell whether it's a communist jungle or a capitalistic jungle." If we were serious about going after communists, a lot more of them were in Russia and China than in tiny Vietnam. One of the great drawbacks of the Vietnam War is that for many years it diverted our attention, energy and resources from domestic needs to a faraway foreign front. Sen. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the Senate's most noted experts on foreign policy, believed the Cold War against the communist world, of which Vietnam was a part, had become "an excuse, as well as a genuine cause, for the diversion of energies from domestic well-being to external security." I shared similar views and frequently expressed them in the Senate and in my 1972 presidential campaign. I also agreed with Fulbright's view that the Cold War, including our long entanglement in Vietnam, had "encroached upon our sovereignity; it has given to the communists the major voice in determining what proportion of our budget must be allocated to the military and what proportion therefore cannot be made available for domestic social and economic projects." Fulbright, an Arkansas Democrat, was supported by a highly regarded senior Republican, Sen. George Aiken of Vermont, who chimed in, "We are trying to police the world, and we can't do it." During extensive hearings on the Vietnam issue before Fulbright's committee, which included a series of rosy reports on the progress of the war by administration witnesses, Aiken said, "If what you gentlemen are telling is true, why don't we just declare victory and come home?" Third, I opposed going to war in Vietnam because it was wrong both morally and politically. We went in on the wrong side, which was destined to be the losing side no matter how bravely our young soldiers fought. We were backing the wrong horse. That is one reason why nearly every other country in the world was against our position in Vietnam. We were never more isolated from the rest of the world than we were deepest in Vietnam. To be sure, Ho Chi Minh was a communist. But communism did not prevent us from forming an alliance with Russia in World War II. Communist China is now our "most favored nation" trading partner. Marshall Tito, the communist dictator of Yugoslavia, became a virtual ally of the United States. We backed Tito because he was a nationalist who would not become a puppet of Moscow. The Tito option was open to us in Vietnam without a shot being fired and without the death or injury of a single American. Indeed, Ho and his people wanted the friendship and support of the United States. All the evidence indicated he would not be controlled by China. In fact, the Vietnamese had resisted Chinese control for centuries. These are the facts: Ho Chi Minh was not just a communist. He was a staunch nationalist, a Vietnamese patriot, who dedicated his life to the cause of Vietnam's independence. The French had controlled and exploited the Vietnamese for 100 years. Beginning in 1912, Ho traveled widely trying to secure support for a revolutionary army capable of ending French domination of Vietnam. At one point, he found himself a stowaway on board a ship in New York Harbor. Making his way into the city, he got a job as a bushboy at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. A few years later, he showed up at the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I and somehow managed a brief meeting with President Woodrow Wilson, whom he urged to support independence for Vietnam. He believed Wilson's advocacy of self-determination of nations would make him a kindred spirit. Whether it did is not known. What is known is that Wilson had his hands full trying to persuade our wartime allies - Britain, France and Italy - to agree to a reasonabe peace settlement with the defeated Germans, plus accepting his proposal for a League of Nations. During World War II, after Japan occupied the French colonies in Indochina, including Vietnam, Ho organized a guerrilla army of 10,000 men to harass, weaken and tie down the Japanese forces. Some of my fellow pilots shot down by Japanese gunners over the jungle were spirited back to American lines by Ho's guerrillas.

When Japan was defeated, Ho believed the United States would help him prevent the return of French colonialism. This is when America made its first disastrous blunder: we supported France instead of Ho, eventually paying for 80 percent of the French war against the Vietnamese. Despite our lavish aid to France during an eight-year war, Ho and Gen. Glap finally crushed the French Army at the famous battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. After a subsequent peace conference that provided for an internationally supervised election for Vietnam two years hence, the United States made its second blunder: we set up a puppet government in Saigon, which we armed and supported and urged not to go forward with a free election. Indeed, President Eisenhower believed that in a bona-fide election, who would have won 80 percent of the vote in both North and South Vietnam. This set the stage for a war between the Viet Cong and the Saigon government and eventually involving forces from the North - a war into which we were increasingly involved until, eventually, we had 500,000 personnel there, 58,000 of whom never came home. We lost the war not because of poor soldiers or bad ordinance, but because Ho Chi Minh and his men remained to the end popular heroes fighting for national independence - first againt the French, then against the French again, and finally against the Americans. The Vietnamese army with which we were allied was riddled by corruption. The Vietnam War and our defeat there both grew out of history. As a professor of history I had studied that history before we sent our first American soldier. I only wish more of our government leaders had understood the historical realities of Vietnam. All kinds of predictions were made during the war, all designed to gain public support - the domino theory, a communist bloodbath, and others - if Ho and his men won the war. In fact, we have seen no bloodbath and no falling dominoes. The Vietnamese have rebuilt their country, invited us and other countries to invest there and have the welcome mat out for American visitors.

When I asked a group of Vietnamese on a recent visit there if they had resentment toward Americans, they said: "Why should we resent the American people? They forced their government to end the war." I ran for president against Richard Nixon in 1972 primarily to organize and direct public opposition to the war. Coming from a small state with only three electoral votes, I knew it would be tough to defeat an incumbent president with the power of the White House behind him. I also was aware it would be easy for my opponent to depict me as unpatriotic because of my opposition to an American war. But I took those political risks because my conscience insisted I go all but to stop a war that was needlessly killing young Americans and Vietnamese. I lost the election, but nearly 30 million Americans voted for me as the candidate who repeatedly pledged to immediately end the war. That show of widespread opposition to the war prompted Congress to vote overwhelmingly to end it a few months after the November 1972 election. Ironically, Nixon - facing impeachment - was forced to resign on Aug. 9, 1974, because of the Watergate scandals, some of which grew out of his policy in Vietnam. During the presidential campaign, Nixon flatly refused to debate with me on the Vietnam issue, or any other issue. I believe he avoided debates for two reasons. He feared I would cross-examine him on his handling of the Vietnam War, and he feared cross-examination on the Watergate scandals that drove him from the White House after the election. He was right. Nixon went along for years with the false view that we went into South Vietnam to repel aggression from North Vietnam. Actually, during the early years of U.S. fighting in South Vietnam, no North Vietnamese army units were in the south. Our troops were fighting Viet Cong forces that originated in the south. It was only after years of escalating U.S. troop buildup in the south that units from the north began to appear. Furthermore, North and South Vietnam were not separate countries. Both belonged to Vietnam proper. In the 1954 peace settlement, which followed the French surrender, it was provided that a temporary line would be recognized at the 17th parallel. But a 1956 election erased the line and determined the future leadership of a united Vietnam. When North Vietnamese troops moved into South Vietnam, the Vietnamese did not see it as an invasion by foreigners. Indeed, we were the only foreigners in either North or South Vietnam. A few days before the 1972 election, Nixon had Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announce that "peace is at hand" in Vietnam. Kissinger said that by vigorous diplomatic effort he had achieved a peace settlement, except for a few minor semantic details. This announcement killed any hopes I had of pulling an election upset. It was, of course, a falsehood. Shortly after the election, Mr. Nixon ordered the heaviest aerial bombardment of the war, which continued until Christmas - thus the designation "the Christmas bombing." Peace was not at hand. That was to come after Congress forced an end to the war and brought our troops home. Nixon also contended that he was continuing the war as a means of bringing home our men who were held as prisoners by Hanoi. But each year he continued the war, more and more Americans became prisoners, which is what is to be expected in wartime. The president's campaign slogan was "peace with honor," implying that I was for a dishonorable peace. But it is neither honorable nor wise to continue for another four years a war we never should have begun. Ironically, our prisoners came home as soon as we ended the war.

George McGovern, a former U.S. senator from South Dakota, was the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee.

Shirley Ruth Caron * 1221A Community Place * Indianapolis, IN 46227