I was saddened by the responses of so many eminent Americans when asked “What should we tell our children about Vietnam?” Myths about the nature of U.S. involvement predominate and cloud the real lessons that must be learned if we are to avoid another such tragedy. The truth is:
1. From the very beginning, U.S. intentions were immoral and dishonorable. We sided with the French against a colonial independence movement that had vast popular support. Arrogantly dismissing Ho Chi Minh’s overtures to become a U.S. ally and establish an independent, democratic state, we set up a phony government in the south and twisted the conflict into one of freedom versus communism.
2. We did not lose because our military effort was fettered in any significant way. Indeed, we unleashed on a country about the size of New Mexico the most terrible war any people in history have ever known. More than one million Vietnamese were killed and one and one-half million wounded.
3. After devastating this tiny and impoverished nation, we refuse to help repair the damage or even recognize them politically. Instead we harbor delusions of POWs being held hostage.
There are many lessons to be learned from the war in Vietnam, but the most important is this: Even in our democracy, power and money often corrupt the individuals we elect to represent us, and we must remain ever vigilant to direct what they do in our name.