Thursday, May 05, 2005

Winning America's "Lost" War

By Carlton Sherwood May 5, 2005

Thirty years ago, Americans were transfixed by the chaotic images flickering across their TV screens. Hordes of frantic South Vietnamese men, women and children desperately clinging to the U.S. Embassy fence in Saigon, pleading for escape. Chinook helicopters teetering precariously on the embassy roof, evacuating the last Americans even as North Vietnamese Communist Army tanks rolled into the outskirts of the city. Huey gunships, the very symbol of American combat power in Vietnam, commandeered by fleeing South Vietnamese Army pilots, either ditched into the sea or pushed overboard from the decks of crowded American aircraft carriers.

If the film footage wasn't compelling enough to make the point, all three television networks, the only sources of broadcast news in the last days of April 1975, made certain their audience got the message. This undignified, ignominious retreat, they reported, marked the end of the Vietnam War, a shameful chapter in U.S. Military history, "the first war America lost."

Even today, that same theme is echoed by one of those network news anchors, CBS' Walter Cronkite. "We knew we had lost in Vietnam before we saw that final day," he said in a recent interview marking the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon. "It taught the military a very important lesson that I think it has begun to forget in some ways, that it could not fight an unpopular war. We were clearly not omnipotent. We shouldn't be arrogant about our power and the use of our power."

You could almost hear Cronkite's familiar sign-off, "And, that's the way it is."

But, was it, really? Did the U.S. military lose the Vietnam War? If not, who was responsible? And, what about the Cronkite's remark: "It taught the military a very important lesson that I think it has begun to forget in some ways, that it could not fight an unpopular war." Unpopular with whom, the dominant Leftist media?

Perhaps, a more important question: Is it the fog of war or the dense smoke of over three decades of political, anti-military propaganda that continues to confuse and divide Americans about the true history of Vietnam? Certainly, Vietnam is used routinely today to accuse the U.S. military in Iraq and to question America's Global War on Terrorism. But, is that rhetoric based in fact, or, so much 1960's anti-war revisionist bunkum, more the stuff of Hollywood fantasies than the real, documented history of those who served in Vietnam?

Now, thanks to a distinguished group of Vietnam combat veterans, the American public is beginning to hear different, far more factual answers to those questions and many others. This time, they will get it straight from those who know Vietnam best, former POWs, American pilots held in North Vietnam prison camps for years, in places like the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" where they were brutally tortured, beaten, starved and sometimes murdered by their Communists captors.

Earlier this year, the former POWs created the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation (VVLF), a non-profit educational organization, designed, in part, to "separate truth from fiction, to expose the myths about Vietnam and those who perpetrate them and, to do so, factually and accurately."

The chairman of the VVLF is Col. George E. "Bud" Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and Air Force pilot who was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese Communists for six years. Other VVLF Board Directors include POWs Col. Kenneth Cordier, CMDR. Paul Galanti and Marine pilot James Warner. Mary Jane McManus, the wife of former POW Kevin McManus, is also on the board, along with Army combat veterans Robert A. McMahon and Wallace Nunn, who also serves as Chairman of the Medal of Honor Foundation.

Last week, the VVLF launched its new website which contains full bios of each Board member and several links to other informational web pages and references for scholarly works on Vietnam history.

If the names of Col. Day and others on VVLF Board seem familiar, they should be. Last year, they were among the handful of Vietnam combat veterans who publicly denounced Sen. John Kerry for his post-Vietnam activities, for his "slander and betrayal of all those who served in Vietnam." First, in Swift Boat TV ads and later in the documentary, "Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal," the VVLF Board members excoriated Kerry for his 1971 testimony before the U.S. Senate where he accused the POWs and other Vietnam combat veterans of genocide, deliberately "murdering" and "torturing" hundreds of thousands of innocent Vietnamese civilians.

At the time of Kerry's Senate testimony, all of the VVLF POWs were still being held in North Vietnam prison camps under constant threat of execution as "war criminals." In "Stolen Honor" they vividly recall the reaction of their Communist captors to Kerry's accusations and the demoralizing effects of propaganda by such anti-war activists as Jane Fonda.

"Stolen Honor" was scheduled for airing in early October 2004 on 62 Sinclair Broadcast network stations. However, the Kerry Campaign, the Democratic National Committee, 18 U.S. Democrat Senators and several "Old Media" national news organizations launched an all out, concerted effort to have the documentary censored from the airwaves and banned from being shown even in privately owned theaters.

Eventually, however, "Stolen Honor" was seen by millions of Americans in the closing days of the election when it was made available for free on the website

Frustrated by the political Left's determination to silence them, and concerned about the public's lack of understanding about Vietnam history and those who fought in that war (most Americans alive today were not born before 1972), the POWs hope to provide a counter-balance to the propaganda that still permeates the media and public education today.

For example, contrary to the assertions of Cronkite and others in the mainstream press, the American military had nothing to do with the fall of Saigon, much less losing the war. The last American combat unit left Vietnam in August 1972, nearly three years before the 1975 Communist invasion. The U.S. military remained undefeated in battle throughout the Vietnam War.

Instead, it was Congress or, more specifically, the nearly two to one Democrat majority in the Senate (61 to 37) and the House (291 to 144) in 1975 that voted to cut off all military funding to the Saigon government that was directly responsible for the defeat of South Vietnam. Congressional Democrats literally abandoned our South Vietnamese allies and it was they, not the U.S. military, who were responsible for the carnage that followed, the slaughter, imprisonment and forced "reeducation" of millions of innocent civilians throughout Southeast Asia by an avenging North Vietnamese Army.

There's another little known fact.

Several months after the last U.S. ground combat forces left Vietnam in 1972, the North Vietnamese Communists and the Vietcong signed the Paris Peace Accords, promising, among other things, to cease all hostilities and to NOT invade South Vietnam, much less conquer it, as they did in 1975.

Then, or now, 30 years later, rarely is there ever a mention of this diplomatic treachery. Broken treaties, even ones for which the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, apparently aren't worthy of mention in the evening news, certainly not in history text books, at least not when it comes to Vietnam.

As for the popularity of the war, among Walter Cronkite's friends and colleagues in the "Old Media" and the anti-war community, the war became "unpopular" in 1968, immediately after Democrat President Johnson announced he would not seek a second term and Republican Richard Nixon, who vowed to "bring peace with honor" to Vietnam, was elected. For his efforts to withdraw American troops, eliminating the draft in the process, Nixon was rewarded with a landslide reelection victory in 1972 (521 to 17 electoral votes), burying his liberal Democrat opponent Sen. George McGovern who advocated a "cut and run" policy, a complete and immediate withdrawal from Vietnam.

If the only accurate polls are those taken in the voting booth, Nixon's lopsided reelection victory (46 to 28 million votes) clearly demonstrated an overwhelming majority of Americans still supported the war in Vietnam at least through 1972, probably much longer. Media polls taken prior to the November 1972 election somehow missed tens of millions of Americans who supported the Nixon Administration's war policies -- the so-called "Silent Majority" -- much as last year's media exit polls apparently failed to count a majority of Americans who had just voted to re-elect President Bush.

Those are but a few Vietnam myths spawned by political propagandists and the mainstream media, ones the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation hopes to dispel. While protecting and preserving the "honor and reputations" of those who served in Vietnam is paramount for the VVLF, their "mission" today is to prevent an inaccurate history of Vietnam to erode U.S. national security. They do not want history to repeat itself, provide "terrorists" a political victory in the Halls of Congress or on the streets of America they could not possibly achieve on the battlefield, much like the Communists did in Vietnam three decades ago. Nor, do they believe the media, academics and show business entertainers should be allowed to go unchallenged when they regurgitate enemy propaganda and advocate the wholesale defeat of the U.S., as John Kerry, Jane Fonda and numerous other Leftists did while Americans were still fighting and dying on Vietnam battlefields and in Communists prison camps.

"The false history of Vietnam has been used to endanger and demoralize our troops in combat, undermine the public's confidence in U.S. foreign policy and weaken our national security," Foundation chairman Col. Day said. "Radical leftists such as Sen. Kerry and Jane Fonda lied about the war 35 years ago and are lying about it today. The goal of the VVLF is to continue the work of countering more than three decades of misinformation and propaganda, and set the record straight."

Carlton Sherwood is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, a thrice-wounded, decorated Marine Vietnam combat veteran and producer of the documentary Stolen Honor.

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