In light of President Obama’s current trip to Vietnam, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Sen. John McCain, and former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerry had a joint op-ed in the New York Times yesterday entitled “Moving On in Vietnam, but Remembering Its Lessons.” Unfortunately, however, the three Vietnam veterans have failed to draw the real lessons to be learned from that misbegotten war.
Here are the lessons they learned from the war: (1) that Americans should always thank and praise the troops no matter how wrongful the war that there are waging; (2) that American leaders need to be honest with the American people as to the aims of any U.S. war; (3) that U.S. officials need to exercise humility with respect to foreign cultures when waging wars in foreign lands; (4) “that with sufficient effort and will, seemingly unbridgeable differences can be reconciled,” as manifested, the three of them point out, by the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam.
Unfortunately, the three men, along with the entire Washington national-security establishment, have failed draw the truly important lessons of the Vietnam War, which are as follows:
First lesson: The U.S. government has no business intervening in foreign wars, especially civil wars of other countries. The Vietnam conflict was always a civil war, one that the U.S. government had no legitimate authority to intervene in. In other words, the conflict was none of the U.S. government’s business, not only because there was never a congressional declaration of war, as the U.S. Constitution requires, but also because the Constitution doesn’t authorize the U.S. government to invade countries who are engaged in civil wars.
Like the modern-day interventions in the Middle East, the Vietnam War turned out to be one great big debacle. Some 58,000 American soldiers died for nothing. Absolutely nothing. No, the dominoes didn’t fall, as U.S. officials were saying they would if the U.S. did not intervene, and no, the commies didn’t end up conquering America and the world. The United States got defeated and Vietnam was reunited under communist rule. And today, the president and his national-security establishment are playing nice with the same brutal communist regime that killed those 58,000 American men.
Second lesson: Making nice with the Vietnamese communist regime shows what a crock the entire Cold War was and what a crock the renewed Cold War is. As I point out in my ebook The CIA, Terrorism, and the Cold War: The Evil of the National Security State, the Cold War was never necessary. All those years, the United States could have lived in peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, Cuba, Guatemala, Chile, Iran, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and all other regimes that were socialist or communist in nature. If U.S. officials can play nice with the brutal communist regime that killed 58,000 American soldiers, it could have played nice with all the others communist regimes. It can do so today with Cuba, North Korea, Russia, China, and Venezuela.
Instead, throughout the Cold War the U.S. national-security state continued provoking crises and confrontations with the communist world rather than simply leaving them alone. Was it a bad thing that the Soviet Union was occupying Eastern Europe and East Germany? Of course. Who wants to be ruled by communists? But let’s not forget it was the U.S. government that delivered Eastern Europe and East Germany into the hands of the communists in the first place.
That was because they had played nice with the Soviet communists during World War II, making them America’s partner and ally during the war and, even worse, giving them control over Eastern Europe and East Germany — only to use that control later to launch the Cold War and convert America’s federal government to a national-security state. As we are learning with Obama’s trip to Vietnam, which still controls South Vietnam with a communist iron fist, it would have been possible to peacefully coexist with the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and the rest of the communist world.
Indeed, consider Cuba, which the U.S. national-security state convinced Americans was a grave threat to “national security.” Yet, the fact is that Cuba never attacked the United States, never assassinated a U.S. official or tried to do so, never initiated terrorist attacks or acts of sabotage against the United States, never imposed an embargo against the United States, and never invaded the United States.
In other words, despite all the Cold War indoctrination and hype about Cuba, the fact is that that communist outpost 90 miles away from American shores never engaged in any aggression against the United States. Instead, it was the U.S. national security state that did all those things to Cuba. They invaded the island, they initiated acts of terrorism and sabotage inside Cuba, they imposed a brutal embargo that is in place to this day, and in partnership with the Mafia, if you can believe that, they tried to assassinate Cuba’s president, Fidel Castro.
What about the nuclear missiles that the Soviet Union placed in Cuba during the Kennedy administration? Entirely defensive, intended to deter another U.S. invasion of the island. As soon as Kennedy promised that the United States would not invade Cuba again, the missiles were withdrawn. Of course, that deal led the U.S. national security establishment to believe that Kennedy was an appeaser and a traitor who had given America the greatest defeat in its history, at the hands of the communists.
The U.S. war against Cuba never had to be. There could have been peaceful coexistence with that country, just as there is today with Vietnam. The U.S. could have simply left Cuba and Vietnam alone.
But the U.S. national-security state would not permit that to happen. It would not permit anything to interfere with the continuation of the Cold War, which was always the key to ever-increasing budgets for the Pentagon, the CIA, and the rest of the national-security establishment.More than 50 years ago, President Kennedy realized what President Obama is just now starting to glimpse — that it’s not necessary to go to war against countries that have communist or anti-U.S. regimes. He came to the realization that the entire Cold War, which his national-security state was determined to continue waging, was a crock.
Rejecting the pleas and demands of his national-security establishment, Kennedy reached out not just to restore regular relations with Cuba, as President Obama is doing today with Vietnam, he declared his intention to end the entire Cold War against the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, and the rest of the communist world. See, for example, his famous Peace Speech at American University on June 10, 1963 (the anniversary on which we are launching our newest ebook CIA & JFK: The Secret Assassination Files by Jefferson Morley, which can now be preordered).
That was something that the U.S. national-security establishment was determined not to let happen. In the minds of the Pentagon and the CIA, Kennedy was leading America to a Cold War defeat, one in which the Soviet Union would inevitably become the most powerful country in the world, one in which the United States would end up having to take orders from the worldwide communist establishment.
Kennedy’s decision to make nice with the communist world met with anger, disdain, antipathy, fear, and rejection from the Pentagon, the CIA, and the rest of the national-security establishment. (See FFF’s ebook JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne. Also see Regime Change: The JFK Assassination by Jacob Hornberger.)
That’s why Kennedy failed to let the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA know in advanced what he planned to say in his Peace Speech at American University. It’s also why he didn’t let them know about the secret personal negotiations that he had initiated with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Cuban leader Fidel Castro in an attempt to end the Cold War. That’s also why he began ordering a withdrawal of troops from Vietnam.
All that ended, of course, on the day Kennedy was assassinated. The Cold War continued. The Vietnam War took off. The budgets of the Pentagon and CIA have never stopped growing. The interventions in the Middle East continue. The U.S. national-security establishment now operates a formal program of assassination.
It’s clear that those big lessons from the Vietnam War have still not been learned. For 25 years, the U.S. national security state has been intervening in the Middle East and Afghanistan, under the notion that if they don’t, the dominoes will start falling and Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda, Iran, ISIS, or the radical Muslims will take over the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Latin America, Canada, and the United States, and not necessarily in that order. Whenever any public official even remotely suggests that the United States should stay out of those conflicts, the national-security establishment and its promoters scream to the high heavens about the grave threat to “national security” a non-interventionist foreign policy would pose.
At the same time, the national-security establishment, operating through the U.S.-controlled NATO, continues to ensure that Cold War crises continue to persist by moving ever closer to Russia’s borders with troops and missiles. And, needless to say, the budgets for the national security establishment, which still exceed the military budgets of the next 8 countries combined, continue to grow.
In sum, the big overall lessons from Vietnam are: Our ancestors were right. The U.S. government should leave the world alone, including not just the communist regime in Vietnam but also the rest of the communist world, Russia, China, Venezuela, and the entire Muslim world. Just leave them alone. And also unleash the private sector of Americans to interact with the people of the world. Drop all the sanctions, embargoes, travel controls, and trade restrictions. The biggest lesson from all this is that the adoption of a national-security apparatus, a type of governmental structure that characterizes totalitarian regimes, is the biggest mistake the American people have ever made.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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