On March 29, commander in chief of the armed forces (and President) Obama signed a presidential proclamation designating March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day. I found out by accident and have yet to talk to a Vietnam vet since that date who was aware of the honor bestowed upon him. Even the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemoration website (the commemoration commission has been functioning at least two years) failed to carry the proclamation.
It may be that National Dill Pickle Day or Take Your Hamster to Work Day knocked the news off the front page and left no precious time on national news stations. For the record, the Vietnam War was fought about four decades ago; hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese were casualties; and many considered the war somewhat controversial. (Yes, this is sarcasm.)
A number of states also have proclaimed a Vietnam Veterans Day - some March 29, some March 30, some seemingly picked randomly, perhaps adjusted to fit holiday weekend preferences. Actually, the end of the war is marked and historically noted, but proclaiming it publicly could take the president (or others of the liberal persuasion) into an uncomfortable area. American combat involvement in the Vietnam War began in 1962 and ended in March 1973 with an overwhelming defeat of the communist forces, a peace treaty, the return of U.S. and Allied prisoners, the uneventful evacuation of all U.S. combat troops, and a duly elected government of South Vietnam in place. But the uncomfortable part has to be faced: The Democrat-led U.S. Congress pulled the plug on our allies, cut the promised financial and military aid, abrogated the peace treaty and abandoned 17 million South Vietnamese to a communist orgy of revenge after the North invaded the South and overran the South Vietnamese army. (Although the South had no major support by this time, the Northern invaders were rearmed and supported by the Chinese and the Russians.) Not a happy story for a Democratic president, perhaps particularly the current one, to tell.
It may be that President Obama honestly and sincerely meant to say thanks to the Vietnam veteran. But a nagging point hovers like a hornet - the question as to whether the obviously untrumpeted proclamation has anything to do with friends of the president and, in particular, his early mentor and sometimes adviser Bill Ayers. Let me include the Ayers Wikipedia entry so I won't be accused of trying to make his biography sound even more anti-American than it is:
"William Charles 'Bill' Ayers (born December 26, 1944) is an American elementary education theorist and a former leader in the movement that opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He is known for his 1960s activism as well as his current work in education reform, curriculum, and instruction. In 1969, he co-founded the Weather Underground, a self-described communist revolutionary group that conducted a campaign of bombing public buildings during the 1960s and 1970s, in response to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War."
Mr. Ayers, by the way, most recently was seen angrily protesting the fact that uniformed U.S. soldiers were allowed early boarding on the same airline flight that hewas boarding. As I have never met him, I cannot say whether he is a despicable human being.
My fear is that Mr. Ayers might have filled his young protege's noggin with the most radical and horrific myths that have been perpetrated about the war these past 40 or 50 years. That might prevent the president from truly commemorating the Vietnam War veteran by simply speaking the truth about the war - that it was a noble cause fought and won against a treacherous communist regime but was then thrown away. Vets I know care nothing about a parade or even a thanks. Those who matter thanked most of us long ago. We want the truth known.
Which brings us to the Commission for the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War. I admire those laboring on the commission. I thank them for their efforts. They are good and honorable men and women. They have and seemingly will accomplish little if anything that truly addresses and honors the veterans of the Vietnam War. Isn't it fair to ask why? Why after two years of existence is there no plan, no advisory board, no statement, no decent website, no activities announced - nothing? Given little evidence to the contrary, my belief is that there is a connection between a lukewarm (at best) proclamation and a stuck-in-the-mud commission, one run by the Pentagon. My suspicions are broad-based, but an example might illuminate.
In 2011, the commission was contacted by a vice president of an organization purporting to represent Vietnam news correspondents. Its demand was that the commission remove from the website a quote from Richard Nixon to the effect that the Vietnam War had been misreported and misremembered. Without hesitation, the commission deleted the quote - a quote that was accurate from the president who actually brought the Vietnam War to a close. From the vet's point of view, the commission retreated without protest from the one illuminating statement on the website. The Vietnam War we fought and won was misreported (the evidence is legion) and misremembered (check the college history books).
The nation asked much from its young men during the Vietnam War. The Army responded brilliantly over the life of the war. It seems a small thing to ask the nation to drop "controversial" as a qualifier, to ignore "quagmire" as a description and to clearly define the history of the U.S. armed forces as a victory. All U.S. wars have been "controversial" to a degree. There certainly were plenty of objections to the Civil War. World War I - an unmitigated disaster except that the Germans surrendered. World War II - the "good war," even though the good folks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki might disagree. Korea? Stop at the Yalu? Fire MacArthur? Did we win? (South Korea is free and flourishing.) The ambiguity connected to Vietnam is the result of cowardly politicians and a rebellious youth movement, reported and supported by liberal journalists who put their own opinions above those of the people, the government and certainly the citizens of South Vietnam.
The commemoration the Vietnam veterans deserve is true recognition of their accomplishment - the most significant combat victory in the Cold War.
Phillip Jennings was a Marine Corps captain in Vietnam. He is author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War" (Regnery, 2010).