"We were not strong enough to drive out a half-million American troops, but that wasn't our aim. Our intention was to break the will of the American government to continue the war."--North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, in a 1990 interview with historian Stanley Karnow.
The Hedgehog, Brother Lowell, sagely permanently posted this quote in the side bar of our blog, to remind readers of a sad truth: The Vietnam War was not lost on the battlefield, but in the hearts and minds of the American people. More specifically, it was lost on the CBS Evening News, on February 27, 1968, following the Tet Offensive, when The Most Trusted Man in America, Walter Cronkite, said these words:
(You may read Cronkite's entire broadcast editorial here.)
To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.
This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.
Good night, indeed. Cronkite's broadcast meant "Good Night, Vietnam." The Tet Offensive had been a devastating military failure for North Vietnam and the Vietcong. The North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong suffered crippling losses, while failing to hold a single significant objective against the counter attack by the United States and South Vietnamese forces. Decimation is too mild a word to describe the Vietcong losses, because it connotes only a 10% casualty rate. The Vietcong were never again a factor on the battlefield; the rest of the war was conducted almost entirely by North Vietnamese regular troops. The atrocities committed by the Communists in Hue and other cites were on display for the world to see. It should have been a military turning point.
Instead, it became the turning point of the propaganda campaign to demoralize the American war effort. Although the war continued for years, first the Johnson Administration, and then the Nixon Administration, became committed to a political solution, culminating in the January 1973 Paris Peace Accords, and the official withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam. Then, following the Watergate Scandal and the resignation of President Nixon, in December 1974, Congress completed passage of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, which cut off all military funding to the Saigon government and made unenforceable the peace terms negotiated by Nixon. It was as if the Democratic-dominated Congress wanted the government of South Vietnam to fall. This action practically invited an attempt by North Vietnam to conquer the South, which North Vietnam happily and quickly accepted. In January 1975, North Vietnam launched a massive, conventional invasion of the South, in flagrant violation of the Paris Peace Accords. Congress refused to lift a finger to enforce the accords, and fulfill its treaty obligations to South Vietnam, not even providing military aid, much less troops. South Vietnam fell in April 1975, to the eternal shame of the United States, which had abandoned its ally.
In January of this year, Mr. Cronkite was at it again, this time regarding the Iraq war, as documented by Arnaud de Borchgrave in Front Page Magazine. One of the gravest faults of the Bush Administration in conducting the war has been its reticence, especially since its victory in the November 2004 elections, to fight the propaganda battle. Yet, that is precisely where the war in Iraq, and the war against Islamic extremists, will be won or lost.
Today, in the Wall Street Journal, the Administration seems to be re-taking the offensive. Peter Wehner, deputy assistant to the President and Director of the White House's Office of Strategic Initiatives, has written a annihilating critique of the war's critics. Read it and share it with your friends. The battle for the hearts and minds of the American people in this war has not yet been lost.
Lowell adds: The Wehner op-ed is excellent. Here are the myths he attacks:
- The president misled Americans to convince them to go to war.
- The Bush administration pressured intelligence agencies to bias their judgments.
- Because weapons of mass destruction stockpiles weren't found, Saddam posed no threat.
- Promoting democracy in the Middle East is a postwar rationalization.
It's a must-read. I'm glad the White House is jumping into the fray; it's hard to have a debate when only one side is talking.