Vietnam-Era Subplots Now Part Of Campaign

We’re not yet out of February, but already the presidential election seems too much with us. The Democratic cavalcade of candidates never ganged up on front-running John Kerry, so the well-heeled, GOP re-election machine is starting to fill the void. The John and (“Hanoi”) Jane refrain was the predictable, lame response to the cheap-shot Alabama National Guard imputations. It will only get nastier.

These thoughts on a campaign that is already top-heavy in disarming,Vietnam rhetoric and analogies.

*However self-serving and calculating John Forbes Kerry — JFK — was and is, his military service warrants a bye on Vietnam criticism. Even if he were thinking “PT 109” political kick-start, he put it on the line. End of issue.

*Anyone who lived through the Vietnam period — or at least read the minutes from those meetings — knows the reality of that era. Ho Chi Minh was no Osama bin Laden. The United States hadn’t been attacked. The bifurcated, Cold War world was filled with sinister scenarios, “red scares” and tremulous dominoes.

“If Vietnam falls, there goes Burma.” Not exactly rallying-cry material for G.I. draftees, who were doing what most Americans do when given government orders: follow ’em. Like it or not. Mostly not. Most young Americans weren’t saluting Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s priorities, which were typically vilified. History has been no kinder.

In fact, here’s McNamara’s take — “the unwisdom of our intervention” — from his 1995 mea culpa, “In Retrospect”:

“I concede with painful candor and a heavy heart that the adage (hindsight is always better than foresight) applies to me and my generation of American leadership regarding Vietnam.” admitted McNamara. “Hindsight proves us wrong.”

Patriotic young Americans didn’t see any moral abdication in seeking deferments, Canadian sanctuary or National Guard status. They were acknowledged ways, some more extreme than others, of avoiding — or LIKELY avoiding — service in Vietnam. It improved immensely one’s chances of staying alive. Can’t we all just acknowledge that reality and let it go? Especially after having given a pass to George W. Bush’s immediate predecessor?

*So suppose President Bush hadn’t opted to take advantage of family connections and join the Guard. Any doubt that there would be political partisans now saying that only underscores that he isn’t a very bright fellow. How dumb would that have been in 1968?

*In his criticism of the president’s Iraqi policy, Senator Kerry has accused Bush of repeating Vietnam-era, quagmire-plunging mistakes. Of having “not learned some of the lessons” of that “very difficult war.” Hardly an invalid point of discussion.

For what it’s worth in haunting coincidence, these further reminders of Vietnam’s context and irony. By the fall of 1963, the United Nations — with no encouragement from the U.S. — was working toward a political settlement in Vietnam. UN Secretary General U Thant had called for a coalition government in South Vietnam. The U.S. was not pleased.

Moreover, France — in the person of President Charles de Gaulle — was enraging the Kennedy Administration by announcing support for neutralization of the South and the eventual reunification of Vietnam. The White House also suspected the French were trying to broker a deal on their own.

*As the primary process has proceeded, it seems that more and more polls are pointing to the economy — in all its regional manifestations — as the top priority for voters. Americans voting their pocketbooks is, of course, nothing new. But it’s still surprising — and scary — that an exception wouldn’t occur during war — one that has cost us more than 500 soldiers in Iraq and 3,000 civilians at home. Has Sept. 11 faded that fast?

Whether it’s lost jobs, a huge deficit, Bush’s tax cuts or even John Ashcroft-as-Mephistopheles, the point can’t be underscored enough. We’re in a civilizational war with the worst kind of enemy, one that values its cause more than life itself. Including its own. What’s at stake is survival.

Just ask yourself this. How important will “tax cuts for the rich” or “outsourcing” seem if a “dirty bomb” explodes at a major port or if dozens of suicide bombers detonate themselves and murder countless shoppers in selected shopping malls throughout the U.S.?

Without a vanquished enemy and security that must scrutinize and profile, we have an economy that’s more hostage to perverted Islam than subject to Democratic or Republican policy and manipulation. If we get hit again, we can be assured of this: It will be worse, and it will render discussions about entitlement programs, drugs from Canada and Patriot Act Nazis moot.

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