Look both ways before war

Congress and Americans in general should be wary of going to war

The author served in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam from 1967-68. He is a longtime Chico resident, husband of former Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan, and member of the Democratic National Committee.

Forty years ago today (April 30, 1975), a North Vietnamese tank broke through the Saigon Presidential Palace, ending the Vietnam War. Let’s take some time to reflect on that war and some of the others involving the United States.

Prior to World War II, the French occupied Indochina (Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) for 100 years. In 1940, the Japanese invaded the region. Later, when the Nazis were driven out of France, the allies reached Berlin (Germany and Japan surrendered) and World War II ended. To the victor belong the spoils, so the Soviet communists occupied Eastern Europe and the U.S. supported France invading Vietnam (the Nazis were wrong to occupy France but the French were right to occupy Asian countries, evidently).

Despite the U.S. arming the French, France was defeated in 1954 (at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu). Then the U.S. and allies agreed to the Geneva Accords, which called for a national election. But then the CIA told President Eisenhower that Ho Chi Minh would win, so Eisenhower canceled the elections. It was then America’s turn to go to war in Indochina, as we didn’t want the Communist North to take over the South (but certainly did not start a war with the Soviets to free Eastern Europe from communism).

On Jan. 30, 1968, the communists attacked all over South Vietnam (Tet Offensive). In February, over 2,000 Americans were killed and 8,000 wounded. CBS Anchor Walter Cronkite concluded it was time to leave Vietnam, but the war went on and on. I was wounded in March and spent almost a month in hospitals in Vietnam.

The U.S. dropped more tonnage of bombs in Indochina than we dropped in all of World War II; over 58,300 Americans and several million Indochinese lost their lives.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in his book In Retrospect stated this: “Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.” Some American Korean War veterans have said that America should never again send troops to a land war in Asia.

The U.S. has full diplomatic relations with Vietnam, which is controlled by a communist government, just like China. Just as there were in Congress then, there remain officials advocating that American troops be sent everywhere and stay for decades. America needs to look “both ways” before invading a country. Only 1 percent of American families have had a member serve in the recent wars.