If you remember Vietnam, then you may ask a simple question: Where did 50 years go? Better than that, you may look around today and see a lot of international conflicts, like we did after our embarrassing departure from Saigon.
It was 50 years ago this week that U.S. troops left Vietnam. It ended a war that began when President Kennedy sent some advisers, then was later escalated under President Johnson to 500,000 troops, and finally was ended by President Nixon. As you know, the parties signed a ceasefire in January 1973. It followed the “famous Christmas bombing” when President Nixon forced the communists to sign the agreement. We called it “Operation Linebacker” and it was effective. The bombing missions were so good that the communists were shortly begging for a paper to sign. Where do I sign Mr. Kissinger?
Twenty-seven months later, or on May 1, 1975, the North walked into Saigon, and we’ve known it as Ho Chi Minh City ever since. Did it have to turn out that way? No, it did not.
Yes, there were many mistakes in Vietnam, from using the Gulf of Tonkin resolution to send 500,000 soldiers to war to not fighting to win. I believe that the biggest mistake was not preserving our gains, or a South Vietnam that would have looked a lot like South Korea today. Again, it could have turned out very differently, especially for the many who served in Vietnam. They won the battles, and the politicians lost the peace.
And last but not least, Vietnam promoted the idea that the U.S. was weak and the bad guys jumped on the opportunity. Weakness inviting aggression is not a cliché. It’s the truth.
By the way, doesn’t that look a bit like walking out of Afghanistan last year? The world looks a bit like it did in the late 1970s when U.S. weakness in Vietnam and the Carter presidency made the world very unsafe for U.S. interests. It took the election of Ronald Reagan to put things back in order. It will take another election in 2024 to put things back to order again.
Let me say it again, remember the Vietnam veterans. They did their jobs and did it well. We salute all of them and honor the 60,000 who did not make it home.