The American military did indeed face an enemy that knew the "lay of the land" far better. But Washington politicians -- starting at the very top with President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara -- sent American forces in increments beginning in 1965. This political tightrope walking, later to be known as "gradualism," played right into the hands of the North Vietnamese.
In fact, it wasn't until 1972 when President Richard Nixon actually allowed American forces to "go downtown" and attack Hanoi and Haiphong, the nerve centers of North Vietnam. But it was too late for an American victory by then.
Thanks to the Johnson administration, North Vietnam had achieved its objectives of moving enough troops and supplies into South Vietnam from the North. The North Vietnamese had time to build up the most formidable surface-to-air missile system ever seen to face down American aircraft. Time was on their side, while Americans grew impatient.
The U.S. military did not lose the Vietnam War. That defeat rests squarely on the shoulders of our country's senior political leadership that sent the first American combat troops to the shores of South Vietnam in March, 1965, without a clear objective to win.
Post Falls, Idaho
I really appreciate how you have chosen to use your weekly. By doing the story "Profiles in Courage" in the April 26 edition of The Inlander, you have tackled a big subject and handled it in an excellent way.
I cheer for how you lifted up members of our community who have served in Vietnam. I was born after the war, and all I get are hushed and quick answers to questions about the war or what happened to America.
I was drawn especially to the life of David E. Knight (the Episcopal priest who followed his calling to the frontlines of Vietnam, ministering to troops). What a powerful picture to go along with the story. I admire the men who served in Vietnam and your support of those men.
Paul Aric Spangler
Although I got shot at and shelled more often than I would have wished, I must admit that, as a garrison troop, I did not do anything heroic or character building as did those of my fellow Vietnam veterans who were in the field.
Given my knowledge of military doctrine, however, and what I learned of the language, history and culture of Vietnam, maybe I can offer some input about what I'd learned from my war experience.
First, I learned very early in my first tour there that we were going about the war in the wrong way. Eventually, I learned that decisive victory over the enemy was never a foremost priority and that we never had a formula for it (as confirmed by former Secretary of Defense and non-believer Robert McNamara, who kept sending troops to die for the "prestige" of the United States).
Finally, I learned that between our government and our troops, the Code of Conduct did not apply equally, both ways.
Ultimately, I think that respect for institutional authority has never recovered to the levels this nation enjoyed prior to the Vietnam War because those in authority at the time lacked any meaningful humility and took little responsibility for the aftermath.
Perhaps one of my more jarring personal experiences would be every time I returned home -- a place where everyone was ignoring the fact that we were in a war in Vietnam.
It was like I was living two different lives at the same time.
I find it surprising and refreshing that someone such as Mr. Daniel Kemmis and his comrades at High Times... er, High Country News, would implicitly support turning federal lands over to local governments ("What local control?" 4/26/01). I know that probably wasn't his intent, but that is what came out in his piece. Well, for what it's worth, welcome, Mr. Kemmis, to the Sagebrush Rebellion! We are glad to have ya!
I sincerely hope that this concern of yours regarding Western land use issues will be consistently in favor of localized control over these lands irregardless of who is in the White House.
However, I suspect that if President Bush tried to implement such a policy, the first squawking voices to be heard in opposition to such a plan would be Mr. Kemmis' and his eco-fascist comrades. After all, to the eco-fascist crowd, hypocrisy and disingenuousness are considered virtues.