Guest Commentary: 'Lost' war led to greater victories

The approaching 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War is an excellent occasion for re-examining that conflict and re-evaluating its effect on the USA and the world. More than 80% of our country’s population has been born since the mid 60s so that momentous event has literally become a chapter in history for most Americans. All too often that war is presented as one that was poorly executed, a waste of blood and treasure, and America’s first lost war. Today many believe we should have ignored Communist aggression in Southeast Asia, as that ideology essentially died as a threat to the world with the collapse of the USSR in 1991. I find it difficult to have faith in that clean, simple, look-the-other-way scenario given the complexity of the issues of that period. I believe the Vietnam War occurred at a critical time in history and that it played a pivotal role in dismantling Communism. It was clearly one of America’s most successful and influential wars.

To understand this viewpoint we must put the Vietnam War back into the context of the rest of the 20th Century rather than seeing it as a one-off event that ended with a helicopter leaving the embassy in Saigon. During the first half-century following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 Communist successes resulted in their direct control of over one-quarter of the earth’s surface. Upward of 100 million human beings had been slaughtered in the process, thereby besting the combined records of Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and Attila. Some of the things that the world witnessed during that period were the Soviet-sponsored Holodomor in the early 1930s, in which 10 million Ukrainians were intentionally starved to death, Stalin’s capture of half of Europe in 1945 with the ongoing murder of millions behind the Iron Curtain long after VE Day, and his greatest foreign policy success — Communist control of China in 1949.

Moscow’s acquisition of the bomb that same year gave Uncle Joe the confidence to push aggressively in Korea. His erroneous assumption that the USA did not have the will to respond led to the tragedy of the Korean War. Moscow went on to roll tanks into Budapest in 1956 lest anybody forget its intentions and capabilities. At a party congress in 1958 Mao estimated that a third world war would kill up to one-half of the earth’s inhabitants — an acceptable loss according to The Chairman if his type of socialism were to prevail. The Soviets then penetrated the Western Hemisphere with their 1959 success in Cuba and a nuclear holocaust that threatened all civilization was barely averted there in 1962. Uncle Nik was very serious when he pounded his shoe on a UN desk and promised to bury the West. At that point the greatest killing machine in history was at the height of its vim, vigor and viciousness.

Then came the mid-60s in which America locked horns with its arch-enemy in the rice paddies of Vietnam in a very peculiar proxy war. The whole world stopped to watch this odd nightmare drag on for 10 years. Both the USSR and China invested enormous energy and resources hoping to extend their long track record of successes. But their forward progress in the rest of the world suddenly stopped cold while they focussed on Vietnam. Other than action in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Communist world laid pretty quiet during our Vietnam decade. Then the “fall” of Saigon in 1975 was followed a mere 14 years later by the fall of the Berlin Wall. During those 14 years Communism made a few efforts in third-world countries like Angola and Afghanistan (good luck) but it was clear the gusto that marked their efforts in the decades prior to Vietnam was gone forever. The forward momentum had halted and that evil ideology had time to stew in its juices and prove itself to be a false god.

Predatory sharks starve without forward motion. Internal strife, power struggles, human rights violations and bankrupt economic policies had time to take their toll thereby ending an illustrious five-decade-start toward world domination. Communism was hemorrhaging from a U.S.-inflicted mortal wound and the dominoes never did fall. The beginning of the quarter-century-long death spiral can be marked from the date the Marines waded ashore in DaNang in 1965. There were many other great contributors to the fall of Communism from Ronald Reagan to Lech Walesa to the pope and many, many more. But the Vietnam War demonstrated America’s willingness and ability to go to the mat to preserve freedom, and its timing changed the course of history.

The Vietnam War occurred in a world in which two very powerful, well-entrenched and diametrically opposed forces were on a collision course. Each was determined to get its own way and both were armed with nuclear weapons. Physical conflict in some form was inevitable. We were on the Eve of Destruction until the Vietnam War diverted that destructive energy into the long and painful conflict that led to bleeding Communism into oblivion. The rapidly approaching alternative at that time would have been catastrophic for mankind. The other side’s victory in the Battle of Vietnam was a Pyrrhic one at best as it led to America winning the war for world freedom.

I am happy we are able to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. It is better than being forced to celebrate the upcoming centenary of Lenin’s October Revolution. The Vietnam veterans contributed mightily to the defeat of the Evil Empire and a great debt of gratitude is owed to them by our country as well as the whole world.