In his presidential campaign, John Kerry is using his distinguished Vietnam War record to bolster his credentials on national security. Furthermore, his subsequent opposition to the Vietnam War now serves as a basis for his criticism of President Bush’s conduct of the war in Iraq. The presumptive Democratic nominee is convinced that the Middle East threatens to become another “Vietnam-like” quagmire.
The myth about the supposed “tragic legacy” of Vietnam has been at the core of the liberal worldview since the 1960s. This is a false and dangerous idea that even today undermines our resolve to stay the course in Iraq. The underlying assumption of Mr. Kerry and his liberal allies in the media is that the conflict in Southeast Asia was a strategic defeat and national humiliation for the United States; it was a colossal error in which nearly 60,000 Americans lost their lives for an unwinnable and immoral war.
“We saw America lose her sense of morality,” Mr. Kerry said in his 1971 testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
However, fighting the war in Vietnam was not a mistake; abandoning the war was our mistake. The withdrawal of American power from the region resulted in the imposition of a Marxist-Leninist police state upon the people of Vietnam.
The communist regime committed numerous atrocities. Over 200,000 South Vietnamese military and government officials were deported to slave labor camps, where many of them were systematically starved to death. Also, several million Vietnamese — urban capitalists, non-communists, human rights dissidents, priests and monks — were sent to uncultivated, usually barren areas in the countryside, called New Economic Zones (NEZ). It is not known how many citizens perished in the NEZ’s, but most of the deportees considered their assignment to be a death sentence.
Furthermore, Hanoi unleashed a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country’s minorities. During the 1970s, nearly 1.5 million ethnic Chinese were expelled and their property and businesses confiscated. Vietnam’s hill tribes were nearly wiped out. The most famous victims were the Hmong, who faced savage retribution for having fought with the United States during the war. Using chemical and biological weapons, Hanoi deliberately targeted innocent civilians. Entire villages were destroyed.
Moreover, Red Vietnam waged wars of aggression against its neighbors. In 1979, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, installing a brutal puppet dictatorship in Phnom Penh. The Marxist regime of the odious Heng Samrin launched a terror famine against small farmers that led to the deaths of 700,000 Cambodians.
It has been over 30 years since the communist takeover of Vietnam. Yet it is remarkable how little the country has changed since U.S. forces pulled out. Vietnam remains mired in poverty, corruption and government repression. The country’s per capita income is little more than one-tenth that of nearby Thailand.
Seeking to join the modern societies of Asia, Hanoi has abandoned economic collectivism in favor of “Market Leninism” — the attempt to fuse capitalist reforms with authoritarian rule. The irony is that this is very similar to the kind of socio-economic model that South Vietnam possessed prior to 1975. It is obscene that countless Vietnamese have been sacrificed in order for the country to return to the level of development it had reached 30 years ago.
Liberals, however, continue to insist that the anti-war movement in the United States was correct in opposing American intervention in Southeast Asia. This demonstrates the moral obtuseness at the heart of modern liberalism. The communist victory in Vietnam resulted not only in the slaughter of millions of innocent Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, ethnic Chinese and Hmong, but in the savage conquest of Cambodia and Laos, the establishment of an extensive system of concentration camps and the subjection of an entire generation to the miseries of Marxist rule. Rather than being an unjust war, America’s fight in Vietnam was one of the most just in history.
Nor did U.S. troops sacrifice their lives for a “mistake.” The struggle in Southeast Asia was integral to the larger battle against Soviet communism. Scholars now claim that Marxist-Leninism was responsible for the mass murder of over 100 million people. The war demonstrated to Moscow and its proxies around the world that the United States was willing to sacrifice immense blood and treasure to curtail the spread of totalitarianism. This was pivotal to America’s victory in the Cold War.
Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, proclaimed that if a statement is repeated often enough, even if it is a lie, it will be eventually accepted as true. This axiom is especially pertinent with regards to the conflict in Indo-China. We were right to have fought in Vietnam. It’s about time someone told Mr. Kerry.