Vietnam Era Baby Boomers fall in two categories: those who supported the Vietnam War and those who didn't. Those who didn't are running the US foreign policy. That’s a problem because everything they do has the ideological premise that our military deployments have either been a mistake, colonialism, or, in the case of Vietnam, an unmitigated disaster. This ideology results in historical blindness, US weakness, and worldwide grief.
There are literally hundreds of millions of global citizens that owe, either directly or indirectly, whatever measure of freedom they enjoy to the wise and judicious use of the US Military. What follows is a short (and incomplete) list to illustrate the point:
Countries benefiting from direct military involvement include: Japan – 127 million, Germany – 80 million, Taiwan – 23 million, South Korea – 50 million, and Kuwait – 4 million.
Japan was directly occupied for seven years. This was done in part to prevent USSR zones of influence as in Europe. In spite of that direct occupation and transformation of an autocratic, militaristic state into one that is both materialist and capitalist; no one would call Japan a US colony. Instead, it’s the world’s third largest economy, one of the most prosperous countries, and yet still is culturally Japanese. In 1950 China stopped border massing of troops for the Taiwan invasion due to President Truman’s wise decision to deploy the US Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Straits. When I was stationed in West Germany, from 1984 to 1987, we had three hundred thousand US Military there and, counting family members, over half a million Americans on the edge of what was, in a very real way, the frontier of freedom. Anyone who has ever seen the NASA nighttime satellite map that includes the Korean Peninsula can clearly see the 38th parallel as everything south is well lit and prosperous and everything north is dark tyranny. And, of course, Kuwait was directly annexed by a ruler who loved using every available means, including chemical weapons, for control. Desert Storm resolved that issue.
The Cold War Iron Curtain Countries owe a measure of their freedom to the US Military in an indirect but significant way. Those countries include: Poland – 38 million, Czech Republic – 10 million, Slovakia – 5 million, Hungary – 10 million, Romania – 20 million, Slovenia – 2 million, Croatia – 4 million, Bosnia and Herzegovina – 4 million, Serbia – 7 million, Albania – 3 million. They also include parts of old USSR: Belarus – 9 million, Moldova – 4 million, Lithuania – 3 million, Latvia – 2 million, Estonia – 1 million. Two parts of the old USSR, due to inept US foreign policy since 2009, are turning back to an Iron Curtain like puppet state: Georgia 5 million and now Ukraine 44 million.
And then there are the direct strategic failures: Vietnam – 90 million (South Vietnam had 20 million in 1975) and Iraq – 36 million.
The Vietnam Era Baby Boomers in power, and their ideological ilk, dismiss Carl von Clausewitz’s statement that “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” This dismissal results in vast strategic mistakes – they use the wrong lens to view the world. Other countries’ leaders aren't so naive. Harry Summers, in his book On Strategy, pointed out that Clausewitz is still relevant – most particularly in his view of strategic offensive and strategic defensive.
Here's a short description in an excerpt from Chapter 21 of my novel, Loud & Clear:
First Lieutenant Rudzinski stood in front of the assembled officers on Wednesday afternoon. He held up a black book. “I plan to give a talk on the book On Strategy by Colonel of Infantry Harry Summers.”
Eyebrows raised, and throats cleared at the blatant disregard of the major’s advice.
“I’m going to tell you why we lost the Vietnam War.”
There were gasps and a disbelieving “Whoa!” from the class. This was treading in a minefield that all in the US Army of 1988 would move through with a light tread, if at all. After the popcorn presentations on radio gear, the movie Back to the Future, investing, and a person’s hometown history, this was real . . . which was exactly why First Lieutenant Rudzinski picked it.
“In January 1969 newly sworn-in President Richard Nixon asked that the nation’s most advanced computers be loaded with all of the pertinent economic and military information of both Vietnam and the United States. Once this information was loaded the president instructed that the question be asked about the Vietnam conflict: ‘when will we win the war?’”
Hank had the attention of the class. He tapped the book on his palm, set it on the podium, and paced back and forth in front of the class. “Do you know what the computer said?”
“Never,” someone answered in the back.
Rudzinski shook his head. “The most advanced computer of the day answered the most powerful person in the world: the United States won the war in 1965.”
There were murmurs in the class.
“So what went wrong?” Rudzinski went to the front and picked up the book. “This book tells what went wrong. Our politicians and military leaders didn’t understand the principles of war as laid down by Clausewitz. Or perhaps they thought that they didn’t apply in the age of atomic weapons.” He smiled at the rapt attention. “But as the good Colonel of Infantry Harry Summers pointed out, the principles applied in Vietnam, and apropos for us, they still apply today.”
He set the book back on the podium. “When a nation is committed to war of any size there is one primary question that must be answered. This is a question that we never even asked in Vietnam. Are we on the strategic offensive, or are we on the strategic defensive?” He pointed to an officer in the front. “Which one do you think applied to Vietnam?”
“Well, we did search and destroy missions. We bombed Hanoi.” He nodded. “We must have been on the offensive.
“I suspect that’s what a lot of people thought, including Johnson, but in order to be on the strategic offensive, we would have had to destroy the enemy’s ability to make war. The only way to do that would have been to invade North Vietnam.”
Again there were murmurs in the class.
“By deciding not to invade and destroy North Vietnam’s ability to make war we, de facto, were on the strategic defensive. We all know what happened when MacArthur invaded North Korea—the Chinese came in. We didn’t want to invade North Vietnam because China is on its northern border. Whether or not the China threat was real, engaging in ground combat only in the south determined the reality of being on the strategic defensive.”
He went to the podium, picked up the book, turned, and faced the class. He tapped the book. “Summers and, before him, Clausewitz outlined that when you’re on the strategic defensive you must have time on your side. After ten years, even with a solid peace agreement, this misunderstanding resulted in our total withdrawal. The North Vietnamese simply outwaited us. That’s why we lost the Vietnam War.”
First Lieutenant Rudzinski strode back and forth in front of the class. “If you look at where I was stationed, West Germany, or where Rita is going to be stationed next, South Korea, you will see what it takes to win when on the strategic defensive. We’ve been in West Germany for forty-four years and counting, and we’ve been in South Korea thirty-eight years and counting, staring down the Red Menace every day. That’s what it takes.”
End of excerpt.
Doing what it takes on the strategic defensive is why we won the Cold War, why there is a united Germany, why Japan is free, and why South Korea thrives. This is what Dick Cheney meant (and he was much maligned for saying it in 2007) that we may be in Iraq for a hundred years. That’s a correct strategic view of a situation at odds with the Vietnam Era Baby Boomers ideology. We had many casualties in the pre-9/11 deployments – far more than is usually reckoned, but the cause was deemed worthy. And it truly was. Even though the all-volunteer military was working and millions owed their freedom to its deployments; the wrong ideological lens was applied in the case of Iraq. That is why we turned our back on a country of 36 million. Many Iraqis risked their lives to get a purple thumb by voting and yet when Vice President Joe Biden went there with the specific mission to settle a ‘status of forces’ agreement of keeping 30,000 US troops there (one tenth of what was in West Germany and about what’s in South Korea today); he and President Obama decided the best course was a ‘snatch defeat from the jaws of victory’ cut and run. The bloodshed, regional turmoil, and, indirectly, the Syrian civil war are the result of this strategic failure.
Georgia, Crimea, and possibly the entire Ukraine, are becoming Russian sattelites because of our reduction of power in Europe. Some allies feel abandoned by the United States. In 2010 I visited an aluminum casting enterprise in Poland and someone asked me: why is the US turning its back on us? (The Marusiak name is alive and well in Poland and some even starting talking to me in Polish but that’s a story for another time!) Another asked: Why, even with relatives in Chicago, can’t I immigrate? Whatever our values were; we’re not living up to them now. It’s embarrassing and, much worse; the consequences are severe for millions.
The first thing in correcting a problem is to admit it. The Vietnam Era Baby Boomer foreign policy ideology is damaging the lives of free peoples all over the world . . . unnecessarily! To pretend otherwise is to be blind to the true exceptionalism of the United States. Staying on the same path is inviting continued disasters to the hopes and dreams of global citizens. The US should stand strong against despots and not cut and run. I saw on the internet that today, March 8, is International Women’s Day and, writing this, thought the first thing the Taliban will do after our upcoming Afghanistan cut and run is close women’s schools. Look at the consequences of this ideology! Is anyone proud of the effects of our continued retreats the last five years? I was in Singapore last week and saw, in the February 28 Straits Times, how a country of 5 million makes fun of our new found weakness. I wanted to weep.
We should reverse course, stand tall and stand strong. The all-volunteer US Military, the greatest freedom fighters the world has ever seen, will get the job done as they have in the Cold War, Desert Storm, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Enduring Freedom, and South Korea. We should stand tall and stand strong. We have both the power and the volunteers. What we lack is the political leadership.