Thursday, March 15, 2012

How to honor Vietnam veterans

I certainly cannot and do not speak for all Vietnam veterans.  But I know how some of us feel about that experience.  Today, the flags flew at half mast on the University of Oklahoma campus and I received a copy, via the OU Police department, of the following executive order from the governor of Oklahoma:

I, Mary Fallin, Governor of the State of Oklahoma, in recognition of Vietnam Veterans Day, direct that appropriate steps be taken to fly all American flags and Oklahoma flags on State property at half-staff from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 15, 2012, to honor the many sacrifices made by the men and women of Oklahoma and the United States during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam Veterans Day is a day to honor all the veterans who served in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos during the Vietnam War for their service to their country.  The flying of these flags at half-staff is a symbol from Oklahomans that we remember all those who fought in the Vietnam War, especially those who were killed, and demonstrates our sympathy for their families.

Well, madame governor, while I suppose I appreciate this token of respect, as late as it is in coming (42 years after I left Vietnam), but ... I have a very different suggestion about how to honor the sacrifices made by American men and women in that awful, unjust, and pointless warBring home our warfighters!!  Get them out of Afghanistan and Iraq and all of the many countries where they now do their duty in foreign lands, at risk and causing hardship to them and their families and costing the nation a vast fortune in sorely-needed resources.

There are several important lessons from the Vietnam war but evidently, the current crop of chicken hawk politicians have not learned any of them.  We should not ever be involved in any conflict where our direct national interests are not threatened.  That means that proxy wars on foreign soil for ideological reasons are unacceptable!  We should never engage in a war where there is no clearly defined goal, and no obvious outcome to define the accomplishment of that goal.  The first Gulf War was ended by Bush Sr. when the objective of freeing Kuwait was convincingly achieved.  I had hoped that American politicians had finally understood the Vietnam experience and we would no longer engage in these pointless, endless struggles against "insurgents".  The second Gulf War initiated by Bush Jr. is a classic example of the kind of morass that Vietnam became.  If one Gulf War worked, why not another?  Because unilateral actions to remove regimes we don't like are not consistent with a sane foreign policy.

In its long and bloody history, Afghanistan has fought foreign invaders with bloody ferocity because - they don't want invaders!!  Imagine that!  We smirked when the Soviets got mired in a Vietnam war of their own in Afghanistan, ultimately running away in a fashion quite similar to the American "escape" from Vietnam, with their asses smarting from the ass-kicking they absorbed.  And then we go and do the very same thing by invading Afghanistan!?!?!?  Say what!?!?!?  What are we doing in Afghanistan?  What are these politicians thinking?  American men and women are dying there on a daily basis, to say nothing of the Afghans themselves (including truly innocent civilians).   Our Oklahoma flags fly at half-staff several days per year to "honor" the warfighters from Oklahoma dying in Afghanistan.  To say nothing of the terrible injuries they suffer and the awful impact on their friends and families.  The psychological trauma of multiple combat deployments in these asymmetric wars is also causing a huge toll.  When you put young soldiers in harm's way, you can't expect them to escape without at least some psychological impact, even if they manage to avoid personal injury!  I certainly learned that in Vietnam!

If you want to honor the Vietnam veterans that I represent, you would do well to forgo the token exercise of lowering the flag to half-staff on Vietnam Veterans Day, madame governoer.  Instead, I beseech you use your political influence to keep American men and women out of foreign wars that clearly are not in our direct national interest.  We've invested vast and yet precious resources to be the world's policeman, but no one is so suicidal they would take us on in a "set piece" conflict.  No, we will be bled of our valiant warfighters in wars where we are the invaders - our troops die because they're not wanted in those nations, and there's no real compelling reason to sacrifice their lives and their bodies for mere ideology.  We aren't winning the war on terror by sacrificing our troops in Afghanistan.  The terrorists are succeeding because we seem to have only one strategy to oppose them:  to bomb and shoot people.  This does me no honor at all as a Vietnam veteran.

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