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Monday, November 20, 2006

Flee Iraq, relive shame of Vietnam

Hasty exit would stir chaos, not freedom

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The folks who believe the Iraq war looks increasingly like the Vietnam War are right.

At least the part where the United States pulls out and leaves millions of people hanging out to dry. That part where the war comes to a dishonorable, murderous end. Like on the day, April 30, 1975, that America broke its promises to millions of South Vietnamese and jumped ship. The day on which hysterical Vietnamese civilians and officials were crowding a ladder to the top of the U.S. Embassy, pleading for a seat on the last American helicopter out. The day that crowds of Vietnamese swarmed the embassy gate, crying for escape or protection, as North Vietnamese tanks approached. The day that uncounted thousands turned into freedom-seeking boat people.

We abandoned millions of people to be stripped of their freedoms, imprisoned for their beliefs or slaughtered by a monstrous, tyrannical regime. It was one of the most shameful days in American history. It was our own day of infamy.

Blame public opinion for bringing shame on ourselves. Public opinion demanded a Congress that simply decided to choke the life out of the South Vietnamese. Yes, the Iraq war is beginning to look a whole lot like the Vietnam War.

Only this time, we're supposed to quit after sacrificing a lot less. House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and others recently had the gall to equate the Iraq war with World War II because it had surpassed the length of European combat. Tragic, indeed, but comparable, no.

This is not to minimize the sacrifice of those who have fought or died in Iraq, but in World War II, almost 300,000 American military personnel died in combat, as compared to nearly 3,000 in the Iraq war. (More than 47,000 died in Vietnam and nearly 34,000 in the Korean War.) Civilian deaths in World War II amounted to at least 38 million, compared with the 30,000 to 60,000 by UN and other reliable estimates in Iraq. (The recent, ridiculous 600,000 estimate by researchers from John Hopkins is not included among the reliable.)

This is not to diminish the importance of any life; its value is not set by the number of people who die with you.

But it is to make the point that the cost of defending the freedom of millions in the Middle East has been somewhat less than Pelosi and crew would have it.

Of course, no one would admit to abandoning the Iraqis. So, the critics take a different, more fashionable tact: argue for the partition of Iraq along religious and ethnic lines. One of its leading exponents is Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who will be committee chairman next year. So, we'll hear a lot more about how Iraq should be divided into "autonomous" Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions.

But it is just another, perhaps worse, form of abandonment.

First, the Iraqis don't want it. A recent survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes found wide support among Iraqis for a strong central government. "Majorities of all groups do not favor a movement toward a looser confederation and believe that five years from now Iraq will still be a single state. A large majority sees the current government as the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people," the survey concluded.

Second, as Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN envoy to Iraq, told the Financial Times, the alternative to a united Iraq is "not three independent entities, but chaos that will expand to all the region." For one, it will increase Shiite Iran's influence in Iraq, further destabilizing the region. "No one is talking about Iraq anymore, but about how the British and the U.S. will get out," he warned.

Polls consistently show that the American public is unhappy with the way things are going in Iraq and wants us to depart. And Democrats, lead by the likes of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) who wants an "immediate redeployment," claim they represent American public opinion demanding a speedy withdrawal.

But here's a word of encouragement as we slide toward a Vietnam-style ending: A Newsweek poll finds 51 percent of respondents are very worried and 27 percent somewhat worried that a Democratic Congress would push for a too-hasty withdrawal.

With 78 percent worried about what a Democratic Congress might do, perhaps the American public learned something from Vietnam after all. Will the Democratic Congress?

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune


john k said...

I wonder if your views would be different if you had kids or grandchildren in combat in Iraq.
Let me tell you this,the whole country of Iraq and all its crazy fanatics is not worth one more American life.

Cornelius Van Milligen said...

Dennis, how do you get away with printing such far sighted and reasonable commentary in the Chicago Tribune? Wait till they find out that a voice of reason has crept into their pages.

The insurgents in Vietnam discovered after the Tet offensive that they did not have to defeat the US military. They only had to convince the ivory tower editors of the American press. They did that and we left with our heads hung low. Lets not let that lesson go.

Cornelius A. Van Milligen

Anonymous said...

Great commentary today, I wonder how those folks feel who supported the Viet Nam pullout.
Probably forgot about the fact they doomed thousands to die in that country, not to mention the atrocites in Cambodia that killed millions. How about that dominoe theory, I guess it was true afterall.

krausser said...

So what is your solution to the the problem of Iraq, Dennis? Like Vietnam we are stuck there spinning our wheels. If we hadn't pulled out of Vietnam, we would fought there until the collapse of the Soviet Union, which probably wouldn't have happened until much later than it did.

If we drafted ALL of the children of families making more than $150k per year the war in Iraq would be over in four weeks. And if we had a draft like that before the war, it wouldn't have happened in the first place.

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

First of all, we did not go into Vietnam for the people there. Our involvement was based on the domino theory, which held that if one nation fell to communism, all the surrounding countries would also come under its sway. Yet the dominoes did not fall, and our rationale for being there, like the WMDs in Iraq, was bogus.

No occupying power has ever won a guerrilla war. Given that there is no possibility of a military victory, why keep the troops there any longer? Certainly it is not to train Iraqis. We have been doing it for three years to no avail.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was from South Vietnam, and I supported the US in Afghanistan 4 years ago, but opposed to the war in Iraq.

What I see in the discussions in the US politic and media are mostly what the US want, can do, not what the Iraqis or the Vietnamese or the Afghans wanted. And this would always lead to US failures in these adventures.

We tend to blame the corruption, the incompetent of the South VNese, the Afghans, the Iraqis who are with the US. But does anyone try to find out why they are corrupt, incompetent when they are with the US but not the same people who are opposing the US?

These are proud people, no matter what we think of them. Use and/or dictate to them for our interests at our own peril.

I give you different scenarios: The US took over the war effort in VN, Iraq, and failed. The US supported and let the Afghans fight the Soviet on their own and won.

The US supported the Northern alliance in Afghanistan but let them fight the war, and we won. But now the US/Nato is taking over the war effort in Afghanistan, and the failure is looming.

FYI, the South VNese did not really wanted the US troops their. They needed the US military and economic support to fight the North, but US troops presense would only make them to become puppets and complacent. In 1963, Mr. Diem knew these dangers and opposed US troops presense, and was killed for it. In 1972, the US withdrew, and it was fine. South VNese was able to repel the North with the US aids. But in 1975, the US Congress decided to cut most of the aids, and the South could not stand alone when they had to depend on the US for everything.

FYI2: In 1962, Mr. Diem wanted to build an arm industry to make South VN self sufficient. The US came and put it away. In 1970, Mr. Thieu wanted to build an ammunition factory, but the US said it would be more efficient for the US to supply South Vietnam. These are the corruption stories that was never reported in the US media.

Chuck Bayer said...

Dennis, In Viet Nam the U.S. chose to get involved in a civil war (the north and south were originally one country, as I hope you'd remember). We had no business being there. Likewise Iraq, while there was no civil war prior to our arrival, there certainly is now, and again we have no business being there.

The ultiamte shame in both Viet Nam and Iraq is that thousands of American lives were lost for absolutely no reason. Our policy should be to get out now. Not next month, not next year, now!

Chuck Bayer

Anonymous said...

Good point. Let's stay in Iraq 10 more years, kill 200,000 more Iraqis and 20,000 more US GI's, and THEN leave. It would be so less shameful.

L said...

Your point is well taken but I don't see that you offer a better course of action, nor do you indicate what we could hope to accomplish by staying.

Chicago1234 said...

I notice you didn't mention the poll that says most of the people of Iraq want us out and that it is okay to kill Americans. Of course half the truth is what I have come to expect from the republiCONS

Alan Henry Neff said...

Dear Mr. Byrne:

You cite survey results concerning Iraqis' desire for a strong central government. Keep in mind, too, these results from a survey of Iraqis:

"Most Iraqis Favor Immediate U.S. Pullout, Polls Show
Leaders' Views Out of Step With Public
By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 27, 2006; Page A22
BAGHDAD, Sept. 26 -- A strong majority of Iraqis want U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence, according to new polls by the State Department and independent researchers.
In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.
Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year. By large margins, though, Iraqis believed that the U.S. government would refuse the request, with 77 percent of those polled saying the United States intends keep permanent military bases in the country."
I haven't sent you the entire article. You can read it yourself and draw whatever conclusions you think are appropriate.

So far as I know, there has been no change in these views. I'd be interested in your views on this survey.

Alan Neff

Anonymous said...

Mr. Byrne,

I noticed that you talked a lot about what the democrats "Might" do about Iraq but you left out any references to our President and band of republican advisers.

You might want to comment about the 4 years that the repulicans have been doing the job and where it has gotten us.

I think the Democrats have a good idea in enabling the draft. Primarily because so many of the "hawks" would have to think hard about losing their children because of Middle Eastern oil.

Mike N said...

As another generation of young American soldiers is called upon to sacrifice lives on behalf of the lies of its leaders, I can't help but notice from your picture, Mr. Byrne, that you would likely have been ideally suited to die on behalf of that earlier bright and shining lie in Vietnam. If the problem, then and now, is that we just didn't, and don't, have what it takes to keep dying for lies--where did you serve when it counted?

Anonymous said...

At first I thought the war in Iraq was about weapons of mass destruction. But it wasn’t that, stupid me, it was about liberating the Iraqis. A noble cause indeed. Why stop there, though? Why don’t we invade China without delay, for instance, whose oppressed people are also in great need of being liberated?

random reader said...

Dennis... Our military is currently stretched very thin. Almost to the breaking point. Former and reserve troops have been recalled due to lack of manpower. And you are asking them to be sitting ducks in the middle of another country's civil war, all so that we don't have to "relive the shame" of the Vietnam War.

Dennis... how many more years do you wish our troops to be sitting ducks in Iraq? Just keep them there so we don't have to face the debacle of our decision to invade.

Dennis Byrne said...

Answer to question from Mike N:

U.S. Navy, 1967-1970, USS Jonas Ingram (DD 938)

Mike N said...

My oldest brother took the Navy way out, too. The draft was going strong, and enlisting in the Navy beat the heck out of being drafted into the infantry with an almost certain ticket to a year on the ground in Vietnam. His tour kept him off the coast of Vietnam. Yours took you to the Caribbean and the Mediterannean, it looks like from what's on the web. Nothing wrong with that--but it did keep you from spilling your blood for freedom and victory, didn't it? Oh, well; it's another generation's chance to die for a lie now.

Anonymous said...

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Book reminds us of price they paid

Orange County Register columnist

This month will mark the 30th anniversary of a shameful chapter in our nation's history. Thirty years ago we abandoned a longtime ally, the Republic of (South) Vietnam.

And with it, along with millions of others, we abandoned Quang X. Pham's dad.

Quang is an old friend of mine, a 40-year-old Mission Viejo businessman who came to the U.S. as a boy refugee from Vietnam and later served as a U.S. Marine helicopter pilot in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. His father, Pham Van Hoa, now deceased, was a U.S.-trained South Vietnamese Air Force pilot who spent 12 years in a communist "re-education" camp because he refused to leave
his country when the North Vietnamese army swept through South Vietnam in April 1975 - this while America, after investing 58,000 of its own sons' lives, stood by and washed its hands of the entire bloody and tragic affair.

And even though he became an American who loved his country and served it courageously in uniform, for many years that abandonment rankled Quang's heart. It rankled mine, too.

Quang has written a new book about his father, and about his own experiences as a refugee who became an American Marine. It's called "A Sense of Duty: My
Father, My American Journey," published by Ballantine Books (you can get more information at, and I highly recommend it for anyone
who wants to understand what the Vietnam War meant to some of the people who suffered the most because of it - that is, the people of South Vietnam. It's
powerful, and moving, and in it Quang tries to dispel a myth about Vietnam that still persists.

The myth is that guys like his dad didn't fight for their country.

"I just want to see South Vietnamese (military men) like my father acknowledged," Quang told me. "Not made into heroes or anything, but just acknowledged for what they did. I wanted to set the record straight."

Certainly the casualty numbers tell a story that's far different from the myth. The South Vietnamese armed forces lost a total of about 250,000 men
killed in the war - a number that, as a percentage of national population, was about 50 times greater than American deaths.

And the numbers of the maimed were even greater. Ten years ago, as a reporter for the Register, I went back to Vietnam to cover the 20th anniversary of the end of the war, and everywhere I went I would meet aging former ARVN (Army of
the Republic of Vietnam) soldiers who were missing arms or legs or eyes, many of them reduced to beggary because the communist government offered no pensions or even menial jobs for former ARVNs. When they found out I'd been
an American soldier in the war they would often break out yellowed, crumbling, long-hidden South Vietnamese military ID cards and tell me, "I was with you, I was with you."

And they were.

Now, I know some of my fellow American Vietnam veterans will disagree with me on this subject. They'll call me up and tell me bitter tales about "Marvin
the ARVN," about South Vietnamese M-16s that were in perfect condition because "they'd never been fired, and were only dropped once," about South Vietnamese corruption and incompetence and cowardice. Certainly there was no
shortage of such things, particularly in the ARVN's politicized upper ranks.

But don't tell me - or Quang X. Pham - that 250,000 guys died with no brave men among them. Don't try to tell guys who got their arms or legs blown off that they didn't fight hard enough. Don't think that a lot of guys like Quang's father didn't have a sense of duty and honor, even as they lost their
war, and their country, and languished in brutal communist prison camps for years and years and years.

In the coming weeks you'll probably see and hear a lot of retrospectives about the Vietnam War, some of them truthful, many of them media myths perpetuated by people who were never even there - the same sort of myths that
even now are being created about the Iraq war and the Americans who've been fighting it. More on that in a future column.

But if you think that the Vietnam War was strictly an American war, if you think that the people of South Vietnam weren't worth fighting for, or with, then I have a suggestion.

Talk to a guy like Quang X. Pham.

And ask him about his dad.

Anonymous said...

You know what's shameful? Invading Iraq so George Bush could feel like a big tough manly man.

You know what's shameful? Eradicating the entire Iraq civil service and infrastructure in the aftermath of the invasion, and outsourcing the work to foreign contractors who don't know the land, the people or the infrastructure. Or how about the fact that it only took a few months for Saddam to get his country back up and running after the Gulf War while its been, what, 3 years since we invaded and still can't get things up and running.
How about our soldiers drinking and bathing in infected water, as brought to them by Halliburton?
How about paying Halliburton $100 a bag to wash our soldiers uniforms, when they get them back just as dirty as they were when they were dropped off?
How about sending out convoys carrying nothing so that Halliburton can get paid?
Or outsourcing our army's duties to Blackwater's mercenaries?
How about not providing our soldiers with adequate body armor that could have saved their lives?

Well, I've got to go now. But if you're looking for shame, there's plenty to go around. The least shameful thing we can do is get theh hell OUT.

And thank you for your service to the country.

Sidney said...

To all who wish to bail out now no matter what the consequences are. We as a country decided to take this course of action for good or ill. It was the Clinton Administration who passed the Iraqi Liberation Act and signed it into law for regime change. It was the US Congress who authorized the use of force in order for the Bush Administration to precede such a course. Where is our responsibility in this endeavor? We went into Iraq to depose a tyrant. Now, we have all kinds of forces that have been unleashed because of the fear of Saddam's rule have evaporated. Don't we have any responsibility for creating the conditions that exist today? You cannot ignore the consequences that will unfold if we packed up and left as we did in Vietnam. Untold suffering was meted out to our allies. Now, we are faced with the same situation and outcome. Will be the fall of Saigon redux or will it be a stable democratic order over the Tigris in the likes Japan or Germany?

James W. Pharo said...

Your observation about the lack of honor in "abondoning" both the people of South Vietnam and the people of Iraq is insightful and apt. However, the reason why there's any sense of abandonment is because US Presidents foolishly created expectations that could only be dashed in the long run.

Every day, we "abandon" millions around the world to warfare, famine and disease. (I think the figure is on the order of 30,000 people a day, though that seems hard to beleive it's so high.) The difference between say, the people of Darfur, on the one hand, and the people of Iraq on the other hand is that we have made foolish promises -- promises we will ultimately fail to honor, without doubt -- to the Iraqi's.

Let's just keep this in perspective. Yes, we are headed for dishonor in Iraq. But it is not because we lack the stomach for endless bloodshed, it is because we should never have made the promise to begin with.