By Marc Ash
t r u t h o u t | Commentary
Tuesday 22 November 2005
I'm sitting here looking at photographs of the fall of Saigon. It was April 29, 1975, thirteen years after John F. Kennedy made the decision to send "military advisors" to South Vietnam. The scene is epic: US military and administrative personnel desperately trying to board helicopters, Marines holding down the perimeter against advancing North Vietnamese fighters, and a sea of South Vietnamese loyalists clawing their way through barbed wire for a chance at being aboard one of the flights taking off from the roof of the embassy.
In all, we shipped eight million American men and women - most without their consent - off to Southeast Asia. Fifty-eight thousand lost their lives; countless more lives were destroyed by maiming injuries, homelessness and substance abuse. The cost for the people of Vietnam was far higher: millions dead and the full brunt of modern warfare in all of its horror visited upon their land.
By 1969, when Walter Cronkite committed what some called an act of treason by saying that the war was "now unwinnable," it had already been so for seven years. When Cronkite said "unwinnable," he did not mean that the American military was incapable of fighting or that America as a nation had been defeated; he meant that there was nothing left to win.
The Vietnam War was in fact, fundamentally unwinnable before it began. The premise began with an invasion and occupation of a land and a culture far older than our own, without a clearly defined military objective or exit strategy. That is a war that is unwinnable. In the end we had to leave, because the people of Vietnam would not allow us to stay.
Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has taken a crowbar and pried open a window into the selling of the invasion of Iraq to the American people, and to the world. It's not a pretty picture. Fitzgerald's indictment of Vice Presidential aide Scooter Libby is really an indictment of the Bush administration's plan to go to war regardless. Specifically, Libby is charged with lying to a federal grand jury in an attempt to keep the lid on the larger lie that was the administration's so-called evidence against Iraq. Lying to protect a lie, as it were.
They say the first casualty of any war is the truth, but lies alone don't launch armies. There has to be a fervor, a madness if you will, that drives the architects, a certainty of righteousness. What drove Richard Nixon to order the carpet-bombing of Cambodia? When George W. Bush used the word crusade as part of his rationale for war, was it his mistake or Freud's?
Yes, there's the oil and money laundering-contract gaming, but in addition to all of that, just as we dropped napalm on innocent Vietnamese villages three decades ago, we have now dropped cluster-bombs on Babylon. The arrogance is incomprehensible.
John Murtha apparently hit a nerve with his call for a US withdrawal from Iraq. The melee that ensued exposed an anxiety beneath the surface in Congress over the war. It's clear the politicians are feeling the heat now. We have, I think, reached a point where warmongering may now be a political liability.
Leaving Saigon was hard, but we had no choice, the time had come. The war in Iraq is now, and always was, unwinnable. We will leave. The only question is how many men, women and children will die as we come to that conclusion. In 1971, a young Navy Lieutenant returning from duty in Vietnam sat before the US Senate and challenged the entire premise for the war, and in doing so laid the groundwork for peace. He said:
"Someone has to die so that President Nixon won't be, and these are his words, 'the first President to lose a war.' We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"