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Give war a chance

I came downstairs to read and write this morning with a copy of Professor Derek Leebaert’s Cold War history The Fifty-Year Wound in hand. My friend Steve Hayward considers the book “a classic of Cold War historiography” (see Steve’s CRB review). I’m taking another look at The Fifty-Year Wound while taking a stab at Professor Leebaert’s new history of special operations through the millennia, To Dare & To Conquer, about which more later.

Reading Professor David Gelernter’s “No more Vietnams” from the new issue of the Standard, I find Professor Gelernter quoting page 351 of Leebaert’s book in connection with what Professor Gelernter deems “Lie #2″ (of four) told about the Vietnam war:

The Vietnam war was unwinnable. We had no business sending our men to a war they were bound to lose. The Communist Vietcong launched their first major coordinated offensive in January 1968–the “Tet offensive.” “Tet was a military disaster for Hanoi,” writes the historian Derek Leebaert. “Intended to destroy South Vietnamese officialdom and spark a popular uprising, Tet ironically had more of an effect in turning South Vietnam’s people against the North.” But America had been fighting ineffectively. In May 1968, Creighton Abrams replaced William Westmoreland as supreme American commander in Vietnam and U.S. strategy snapped to, immediately. With Abrams in charge, the war “was being won on the ground,” writes the historian Lewis Sorley, “even as it was being lost at the peace table and in the U.S. Congress.” The British counterinsurgency expert Sir Robert Thompson commented on America’s “Christmas bombing” campaign of 1972, which devastated the North: “You had won the war. It was over.” American anti-warriors insisted on losing it anyway.

On this particular point — the misreporting of the Tet offensive — I argued in a column for the Standard last year that Iraq indeed resembled Vietnam: “The media quagmire.” I think it’s a subsidiary point that, if accurate, complements Professor Gelernter’s argument. As for the status of our current efforts to defeat the enemy in Iraq, Michael Fumento’s article from the new issue is must reading: “Back to Falluja.”

UPDATE: Reader Richard Platt writes:

During the Tet offensive of 1968 I was a young lieutenant serving with the 1st Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam. The initial assaults by the North were quick and brutal but from a military point of view they were not effective. After the attacks and our counteroffensive it was clear to even a junior officer like myself that the North was beaten and our military had prevailed in every corner of the country. Unfortunately, anti-war naysayers and people like John Kerry, Fonda and the rest of the weak willed “quit and go home crowd” caused a left leaning congress to forge a political loss in Vietnam. No, we didn’t lose the war in Vietnam we lost our will in Vietnam. Now we have the same kinds of people in the forms of Kennedy, Pelosi, Reid, Murtha, Zinni and his merry band of ex-generals, the same old leftist press, and of course good old Kerry attempting to again destroy the national will. If a cause is worth dying for then it must be finished and to let thousands of our youth die in vain is cowardly, immoral and criminal.

Pat Birmingham seconds Richard Platt:

I agree with your reader, Richard Platt. We had the day off for the Tet holiday, and when the offensive started near our coastal town of Tuy Hoa, we thought it was fireworks being used for the celebration. Our Director of Operations showed up and told those who were drinking to take a nap and the rest to head to their squadrons to brief and fly our F-100s. That week was something else. Lots of troops in contact sorties, lots of targets in and on the periphery of cities. A lot of us couldn’t believe that the NVA and VC were being so foolish. They didn’t have much support from the civilian community, and they surely got their butts kicked in the confrontation with American and RVN forces. I wrote home that I thought we’d just won the war, only to learn later that we had been undermined at home and in Paris by losers calling themselves Americans.

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