The Pentagon is out to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in Vietnam, which invites new recriminations and the false story of what happened in Vietnam. There’s already a bitter struggle over what to “celebrate” and how to do it.
One of the myths the left holds closest to its heart is the myth that America “lost” the war. The leadership in America, beginning with the accidental President Gerald Ford, who with Congress could not stand up to the pressure of the left, abandoned the war and the allies.
Allied on one side are the usual suspects, who think their country is always wrong. On the other side are a minority of academics and a new veterans’ organization, Vietnam Veterans for Factual History, who are eager to see the war portrayed as it really was.
The veterans want Americans to remember the right lessons. “We are unlikely to understand those lessons unless we establish what actually happened,” spokesmen argue. The left, and some weary critics on the right, said the war was “unwinnable.” Anyone who was actually there could see that the Communists were actually on the ropes, revived only when Congress forbade the expenditure of American military aid anywhere in Indochina. New information has emerged since the end of the war to justify revisiting the old debates.
Claude “Mick” Kicklighter, an Army lieutenant general who retired last week after three decades in uniform, directed the Pentagon’s commemoration plans for nearly four years. He was an advocate of using the newly revealed information to fill out the story of what happened in Vietnam.
The corrected narrative would demonstrate the naivete and sometimes pro-Communist sympathies of the fiercest critics of the American war effort. These critics scoffed at the predictions of a bloodbath to follow a Communist victory. They were not silenced when thousands of Vietnamese, imprisoned with hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese in “re-education camps,” disappeared without ceremony, never to be seen again. Neither the Communist government in Hanoi nor its apologists in the United States have ever acknowledged this.
The spectacle of “the boat people” — thousands, many of them children, who died in leaky ships when they fled to escape the tender mercies of the Communist regime — is only a faint memory for most Americans. A flood of refugees, perhaps as many as 1.5 million of them, fled to the United States, and 300,000 went to France and 100,000 to Australia.
Vietnam’s reputation today for universal corruption and incompetent one-party rule stunts its search for foreign investment, and the unrepentant apologists in the United States cripple attempts to tell the real story. Congress authorized $65 million to commemorate the end of the war, including a website to portray the war as one with honor, and to portray the men and women who fought and died there as making a sacrifice with valor.
Gen. Kicklighter had promised that the official commemoration would include “educational materials, a Pentagon exhibit, traveling exhibits, symposiums, oral history projects, and much more.” Such a commemoration would have presented the new information.
The apologists are determined to protect the myth that it was America that deserved to “lose” the evil war. Tom Hayden, the ex-husband of Jane Fonda, is at work with a new front group, the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee, to sell the old story from the ‘60s, a mournful tale of America the Monstrous. Someone in Congress should take up the task of preserving the real story.
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