Be our guest: The virtue of the Vietnam War
By Steve Katona
The first significant American casualties in what came to be known as the Vietnam War happened in the early 1960s. Some 15 years later – on April 30, 1975 – the last American helicopter left Saigon loaded with refugees. Less than15 years after that, the Berlin Wall collapsed and the Soviet Union along with it. It is the contention of this article that the two events are and must be related.
The Vietnam and Korean wars are best understood as battles in a 45-year Cold War. That war started in 1944 during World War Two with Operation Title Wave, the strategic bombing of the oil fields near Ploiesti, Romania. The Americans asked the Soviets to allow damaged bombers to land in or near Poland rather than risk crashing on a return trip to Italy or Libya. Permission was denied and the Cold War was on. That war ended on November 9, 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The world was not frozen in place during the Vietnam War, but it did absorb the world’s focus to a large degree. The embryonic democracies that arose in America’s shadow post World War II grew to maturity during those 15 years. Think South Korea, Japan, The Philippines, Taiwan, and other Pacific countries. The countries that now form a “Wall” containing expansionist China.
Post World War II, colonialism largely ended and the now independent countries also grew to maturity. Think India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and a large swath of Africa. Not exactly a hot bed of constitutional republicanism amongst them today, yet they were strong and independent enough to resist the conceits of communism.
Encouraged by the American experience in Vietnam, the Soviets aggressively pushed their agenda all over the world – South America, Central America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East. Some successes, mostly failures, but always an expense. And why not? America had lost a war, its tail was between its legs, its military demoralized, its people repulsed by other adventures. It was time to push hard.
And then came the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. America, and the west, supplied and trained the opponents of the Soviets. Ten years after the 1979 invasion, the Soviets withdrew; they were broke and exhausted.
Democratic America survived its loss in Vietnam. The Authoritarian Soviet Union did not survive its loss in Afghanistan.
The American loss in the battle of Vietnam encouraged the Soviet Union to expand beyond its breaking point and led to the demise of one of the world’s dictatorships.
Over 58,000 Americans were killed in the Vietnam War. Their average age was 23.1 years. The suffering of the wounded and their families is legion. This coming Memorial Day, let’s hold our heads a little higher knowing their sacrifice was not in vain and led to a better world for us all.