The January 18th anti-war demonstrations in Washington, San Francisco and other cities were the lead news story around the world. As we prepare for the possibility of war with Iraq, my thoughts return to an earlier war and earlier anti-war movement.
I enlisted in the U.S. Navy when I was 17 in 1970 and served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. I vividly recall the media coverage of protesters burning the American Flag and calling for an immediate withdraw from Vietnam. These images were demoralizing to the U.S. troops and encouraging to the communists.
The USS Kitty Hawk performed combat operations on "Yankee Station" off the coast of Vietnam in 1970 and 1971. The carrier’s 90 aircraft dropped a record tonnage of ordnance on North Vietnamese and Viet Cong positions and supply routes in support of the U.S. ground troops.
Air combat operations are fast-paced and precarious as the carrier launches and recovers aircraft around the clock. With vast amounts of jet fuel and munitions aboard, an accident or fire aboard a carrier can be a truly deadly affair. Although we put in long, hard and dangerous hours, we knew our constant pounding of the communists kept our soldier-brothers "in-country" alive.
I remember when Admiral John S. McCain, the Commander in Chief of U.S. Forces in the Pacific, flew aboard the carrier. The short, gruff, cigar-munching four star admiral appeared on the warship’s close circuit television and in salty language informed us that although there were thousands of people back home protesting the Vietnam War, he believed the great majority of Americans supported us. He added that the protesters were undermining our efforts and belittling our sacrifices.
The admiral knew something about sacrifices, as his son, Navy pilot John McCain, the future senator, was at that moment a prisoner of war in Hanoi.
"The protesters back home say make love not war," he told the warship’s 5,500 men. "I say if you’re man enough, you can do both."
Although we never lost a battle over company strength during our entire time in Vietnam, and there were no American combat troops (only support personnel) in South Vietnam when the country fell to the communists in 1975, a common misconception is that we were defeated militarily.
The North Vietnamese defeated the South Vietnamese on the battlefield, not the U.S. The communists correctly estimated that the U.S. would not return combat troops to save South Vietnam.
The U.S. military objective was never to militarily defeat the North Vietnamese. Instead, our goal was to hold the line fighting under severely limited rules of engagement. Everyone in the military, even a teenage sailor and aspiring writer from south Philadelphia, knew the policy was senseless and doomed to fail.
Fighting in half measures enabled the communists to hang on despite losing every battle and enduring an incredibly heavy loss of life. They also patiently held out due to the highly publicized peace movement, which sent a clear message to the communists that the U.S. was divided on the war and that our leaders lacked the political will to decisively win the war through military means.
According to Cartha D. DeLoach, a former deputy director of the FBI, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) sponsored many of the antiwar protests and instigated much of the campus violence during the Vietnam War. DeLoach wrote in his book, "Hoover’s FBI: The Inside Story by Hoover’s Trusted Lieutenant," that SDS made no bones about their intentions to tear the country apart.
Deloach also writes in his book that Stanley Levison, a known member of the American Communist Party, was a member of Martin Luther King’s inner circle of advisors. He wrote a number of King’s speeches and DeLoach speculates that Levison’s communist influence may well have persuaded King to become an antiwar activist.
The antiwar movement only served to inspire the communists to go on fighting and killing Americans and the South Vietnamese. The visits to North Vietnam by actress and antiwar activist "Hanoi Jane" Fonda, Ramsey Clark and others only served to encourage the communists to continue to imprison, beat and starve our prisoners of war.
The antiwar movement also inspired the poor homecoming response that many Vietnam War veterans received when they returned to "the world," which was what the troops called America during the conflict. Accusations of murdering women and babies were viciously hurled at a good many soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. Many veterans didn’t talk about the war for years, for fear of being socially ostracized.
Retired Army Lt. General Philip B. Davidson, who served as the chief intelligence officer (J-2) for both of the U.S. military commanders in Vietnam, General Westmoreland and General Abrams, noted in his book "Vietnam at War," that the U.S. peace movement was useful to the communists.
Davidson wrote that it was apparent to Ho Chi Minh and General Giap that the United States would not pursue the war to a military victory.
"They discovered that the American people were extremely vulnerable to their dich van program (action among the enemy people) for in 1968 another, and increasingly powerful, front had been opened in the war – antiwar dissent within the United States," wrote Davidson.
He went on to state that in 1969, presidential decisions were made increasingly with one eye on Vietnam and one eye on the antiwar movement.
The anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s would later see one of their own rise to become President. Bill Clinton publicly led marches against the war while a student at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. In another age, this would have been considered treason.
The man who feigned an interest in the Army Reserve to avoid being drafted and would later state that he "loathed" the military (when he no longer needed the reserve slot to avoid serving in Vietnam) would go on to become the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces.
From the safety of the White House, the former anti-war protester played soldier and often committed combat troops during his administration. (I used to laugh when Clinton gave the Marine guard a snappy salute as he boarded the presidential helicopter).
Although the media claim that today’s protesters are a more diverse lot than the Vietnam Era protesters, it seems to me that at the core are the usual subversive suspects: radical students and communists.
As fully documented here in FrontPageMagazine, the key organizers of the antiwar protests are a Marxist group called A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now To Stop War & End Racism). A.N.S.W.E.R. and other peace activists were at work as quickly as September 12th, urging "restraint" and voicing their opposition to any military retaliation for the September 11th terrorist attacks. Had we listened to them, we would not have disrupted the terrorist network in Afghanistan and other countries around the world. Had we not retaliated, I’m certain that the terrorists would have rocked us with another horrific act of terrorism.
Saddam Hussein, like the Vietnamese communists, views the peace activists as allies. The peace activists, past and present, overlook any atrocities committed by the likes of the Viet Cong, terrorists and tin pot dictators. They are equally adept in justifying any enemy action by laying the blame squarely back on America. "My country; always wrong" could be the self-loathing, anti-American answer to "My country; right or wrong."
The lessons of Vietnam enabled our future military engagements in the Gulf War and Afghanistan to be much more successful. If we do go to war with Iraq, hopefully we’ll do so with a full commitment to win militarily, as we did in Afghanistan.
If we commit to war, our showing in Iraq will illustrate once again just how formidable a foe a united America can be. The direct and indirect state sponsors of terrorism will surely get the message.
The buzzing of peace activists will not deter us in this war, I believe, because they represent a fringe minority view. They are out of touch with most Americans who fully support the war on terrorism and will come to support military action against Iraq should we go there.
The demonstrators have, like the Vietnam War protestors, given aid and comfort to Saddam Hussein and the terrorists. While the U.S. and U.K. military build up near Iraq is sending one very clear message – lose the weapons of mass destruction or face this formidable military force – the demonstrators are sending an equally clear (to them) message that we lack the political strength and will to carry through with our military threat.
The great irony of the anti-war movement is they would surely not be tolerated in the very countries they try to protect. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea and China would simply crack them over the head or shoot them the minute they hit the street in protest.
The peace activists have the freedom and right to protest against U.S. military action precisely because the U.S. military they so hate has successfully fought tyrants and evil empires throughout our history.
The fight, I would like to remind the peace activists, was not without cost.