I chatted with a friend recently about our experiences in Vietnam. He had spent a lot more time in-country than I, and also had been involved in several of the more intense ground conflicts. But our takes on the war itself were pretty similar…and not too different from what we saw happening now in the Middle East.
These are political wars fought from remote locations by leaders more intent on making themselves look good than accomplishing any real objectives. (Has there been any time when that approach has actually worked?)
In Vietnam, we sent troops in harm’s way with no real plan. Fight a bloody battle to take or hold a hill, then leave because it was untenable. Drop bombs in the jungle because cities, airports, dams, and harbors were too politically harmful, then complain because all these bombs had no effect. Change military objectives weekly depending on the whims of Washington.
In Vietnam we got involved in a long war (by my count thirteen years). There never seemed to be a sense of immediacy in whatever we were doing (except getting out). Our men and women were sent over there and left to flail around in the culture. The troops on the front lines went through hell without direction or purpose. Support personnel and military leadership settled into a daily life that mostly involved staying out of the headlines. It was a “bizarro” world where no one knew what was expected of them.
We have been sinking into the same swamp in the Middle East. Our politicians have no idea what they are trying to accomplish. They make decisions based on what their political base tells them. They have lost the support of the country and seem to have no real concept of what war is. It’s like watching a guy get into a bar fight where he is just trying not to lose. Ultimately he will get his ass kicked.
I wrote DaNang 1968 (Riding in Boxcars, 2006) when I was over there. It is symbolic of our whole effort over there and, on a broader scale of our current politicians’ concepts of how to fight a war. We would do well to heed the simple words that most of us learned on the playing fields of America, “win or go home”.
Glenn K. Currie
He was water skiing,
Weaving back and forth,
And against the tropical scene,
He was a typical tourist.
A little further out,
Resting gently on the aqua sea,
The Repose cradled its wounded,
Dressed in a large red cross.
The skier, in graceful silhouette,
Passed before smoking hills,
Where mortar rounds, like distant drums,
Boomed beats to his ballet.
The forces of life and death,
Seemed joined here in tortured embrace,
A not so peaceful union,
That could last forever.