If you ever wondered why I freely give our space over to General William Caldwell, our military spokesman in Iraq, as I have this week’s cover story, it is because had our civilian leadership been a little smarter in Viet Nam, I might have been in his position, sometime in the last ten years.
I never served in the United States’ military.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m a tail-edge baby boomer which made me a 20-year-old, as accomplished in the media as 20-year olds got in 1972.
I knew that I’d be willing to die for my country but, unlike John Kerry, I didn’t see military service as a requirement for a future political career.
I didn’t have a fundamental disagreement with the war in Viet Nam. I had a fundamental disagreement with getting into a war in which what then passed for our civilian leadership set up our military to lose.
You don’t think that’s the case?
Take aside any of our then best and brightest who served there as officers and ask them.
By the time I was eligible for the draft in 1972, even my 20-year old mind could comprehend that our civilian leadership would not let us win in Viet Nam. They didn’t have the stomach for it.
Under those circumstances, as committed as I was then and am now to a strong defense, I decided that if I was drafted I would, of course, go but I would not enlist so I could be part of a losing effort.
As luck would have it, since then, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the all-volunteer force which resulted from that debacle.
They are first rate.
But, once again, I see the signs that what passes for our civilian leadership doesn’t really want to do what is necessary to win a war and the victims happen to be our all volunteer forces.
If I can see this, so can they.
Here’s what that attitude on the part of the civilian leadership cost us in the early 70s.
Officers and enlisted men like me.
We might not have been career military. We might have been. I now find myself older than all but the most senior personnel and wonder what might have happened had I not made the very conscious decision that I didn’t want to be part of an organization that however necessary was consigned to losing a war because our civilian leadership lacked cojones.
I certainly was not alone.
A whole generation of folks my age chose not to serve because we didn’t choose to be forced to lose a war.
As a result, our military was deprived of some very promising eventual leadership.
I’m not denigrating those who served. Military service in the 1970s was like trying to push an egg uphill with your nose. It took a very special individual to become a leader under those circumstances. And we have some very special people in senior command capacities today.
But not enough.
And we are in danger of decimating our future leadership corps by making the same mistake we made in Viet Nam. Fighting a war which we had no intention of winning.
Cutting and running is NOT a winning strategy.
It wouldn’t have worked in World War Two and it won’t work in Iraq.
And if that offends some of our newer members of Congress they should read something about Viet Nam. And remember that he who ignores history is condemned to repeat it.