I recently finished reading Mark Bowden’s exceptional book about the turning point of the Vietnam War entitled, Hue 1968.
This is a meaningful book for me since the bulk of the U.S. response to recapture the city was fought by the Second Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The Tet Offensive and its battle at Hue raged in late January through February 1968. Six months later, I was a member of the Fifth Marines at An Hoa.
It is not my intention to review this excellent book for you. I would like you to obtain a copy since it very well could be the precurser to understanding modern American politics.
Although the Hue Battle was fought nearly 50 years ago, the author says in a larger sense, Tet delivered the first in a series of profound shocks to America’s faith in its leaders.
When Hue fell to the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) General William Westmoreland, the Commander of MACV (or all American forces in Vietnam) could not believe it and continually falsely assured political leaders in Washington and the American public that the city had not fallen into enemy hands.
This refusal to face facts was not just a public relations problem, it had tragic consequences for many Marines and soldiers who fought there.
As it was reported by Mr. Bowden, relatively small units of young Americans were drawn repeatedly against impossible odds – enabling the enemy to drag out its defenses and run up the costs. During early fighting, 300 Marines were paired against 10,000 NVA and VC troops, who were behind walls that were over 20 feet thick.
To make matters worse, since Hue was the beautiful and former capitol of Vietnam for several weeks, the Marines and Air Calvary were not able to use their lethal air or artillery assets lest they damage the city. In the end, when commanders realized what they were up against, the city was bombed and shelled so that 80 percent of Hue was damaged or destroyed.
The author says that the whole painful Hue experience ought to have been but has not taught Americans to cultivate deep regional knowledge in the practice of foreign policy and to avoid being led by ideology instead of understanding.
Very often the problem in distant lands has little or nothing to do with America’s ideological preoccupations. An example is our 16 years of war in Iraq. Like Vietnam, where Americans distrusted the fighting ability of South Vietnams’ ARVN soldiers, in Iraq we wonder why can’t government soldiers save their own country? In Iraq, President George Bush said we were there to stop the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, which was a lie. President Lyndon Johnson used the spurious Gulf of Tonkin Navy clash as his excuse.
Although Americans still have a wide range of feelings about the Vietnam War, there is no question about the bravery and patriotism displayed. In the worst days of the fight, facing near certainty of death or severe bodily harm, those caught up in the battle of Hue repeatedly advanced.
To the author, that these men were used – particularly the way their idealism and loyalty were exploited – by leaders who themselves had lost faith in the effort, is a stunning betrayal. It is a lasting American tragedy and disgrace.
Why sacrifice 60,000 Americans in a war that we never intended to win? Vietnam was a civil war – not some great Communist effort to control the world.
Today, with no military draft, the sons and daughters of the political leaders and elites will not face what 18- and 19-year-olds experienced in Hue.
What happened 50 years ago has made many Americans cynical and suspicious of what they hear from politicians. That is probably the big reason Mr. Trump is president.
Even little things like honesty or getting to keep your insurance company and doctor and respecting the American flag are under attack. In the future, Americans are better off by not trusting what comes from the mouth of someone with senator or congressman in front of their name.