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Letter to Editor
By Mike C. Bodine
I was pleased to talk with you the other day, especially about VVAW.
Short Bio: I was born in 1944 in Joplin, MO, the son of a veteran of the First Special Forces of WWII. My dad, an metallurgical engineer, died in 2008. In WWII he was torpedoed en route to Europe by a U-boat and injured his neck trying to escape from a lower deck. My dad is proud of his WWII service, but over the years he has become more and more critical of America's increasing military role on a global scale. Should we be the world's policemen and if so to what extent, and do the negatives outweigh the positives in committing our young men to combat?
I grew up in the Chicago area and attended the U. of Missouri and the U. of Tennessee.
In 1965 I dropped out of school and joined the Navy, and after boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, I was sent to study Vietnamese at DLI West Coast (Army Language School) in Monterrey, California. I graduated after 36 weeks and was sent to Naval Support Activity in Da Nang. So. Vietnam. I was 21 then.
In Da Nang I did some interpreting, but mostly was attached to what was called Civic Action Division whose goal was to pacify and reimburse Vietnamese civilians for collateral action war damages. We paid out money as well as built homes and supplied food and some medical care to various outlying hamlets and villages.
My thoughts? Well, Ho Chi Minh in both North and South was a national hero. He was the Vietnamese equivalent of George Washington. He liberated Vietnam from the Japanese and then the French. So, not surprisingly, Uncle Ho was so mot (no. 1).
So after Dien Bien Phu and another revered liberator, General Vo Nguyen Giap, what did we bring after the Gulf of Tonkin and LBJ? We increased VD, prostitution, civilian casualties and, lastly, I'm not sure to what extent, the Ky and Thieu regimes were ever able to stand on their own without our military to back them up!
So it was not surprising that once we left it was a matter of months before Saigon Fell.
Did we not learn from the lessons of the French defeat? Vietnam subjected us to a broader national discussion. Was the vaunted Domino Theory really overblown? What I saw in Vietnam the short time I was there was that the suffering of that poor little place was far greater than any possible good our military was accomplishing. The Mel Gibson movie "We Were Soldiers" was an excellent account of what we were up against militarily and the miscalculations and the underestimating of the enemy's will to fight.
When I got home to Chattanooga, to where my parents from Chicago had moved, I went back to college and graduated. But during this time I underwent a transformation in the support I had for the war, and the more I reflected on my experience, the more against the war I was. Could it be that winning WWII gave our military a falsely inflated ego and had an effect on the folly of our future conflicts? I think so. The same folly applied to George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq after 9/11.
The French again advised caution. General Shinseki was fired for suggesting to Donald Rumsfeld that as many as 250,000 troops would be necessary to keep order during an occupation of Iraq. And damn it, Robert MacNamara in his mea culpa book finally came to terms with his admission that Vietnam had been a tragic mistake.
So why are we not calling on Congress for an open debate in deciding about what to do with ISIS and Syria? We also have an Iraqi Army that so far has not demonstrated the will to fight. Now where have we witnessed that before? The South Vietnamese Army?
Now Marty, I am not an overt pacifist. But if we ever send our kids into harms way again, the least we can do is have an open lengthy debate in Congress and an up or down vote on going to war. Our presidents are not Napoleon Bonaparte! They are the elected, civilian commanders in chief of our armed forces, but only, and here's the rub, only if Congress does its constitutional duty and votes on whether to send our troops to war. The Gulf of Tonkin Act and the Presidential War Powers Act are both blatantly unconstitutional! We need to stop WARS OF CHOICE.
Mike C. Bodine