When one examines the history of Vietnam, he is struck by the resemblance to a Greek tragedy. In Greek tragedy, and in some of Shakespeare’s plays, it seems as if everyone is murdered or betrayed, the best of intentions fall by the wayside, and the entire plot eventually collapses in gloom and doom. The vicissitudes of Vietnamese history unfortunately bear a resemblance to these woeful tales.
– Bernard B. Fall, from a lecture delivered at the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., on Sept. 28, 1966
American military and/or diplomatic interventions in the internal affairs of foreign states have not added much to the overall luster of U.S. performance on the world stage.
Vietnam remains the prime example. U.S. failure to comprehend political realities in Vietnam prior to investing American blood and treasure there and elsewhere has proven to be very costly indeed.
Before it ended,
the Vietnam War took the lives of 58,000 Americans and killed a million or more
Vietnamese. Many billions of U.S. dollars were squandered in the war, dollars that could and should have been put to much better use here at home.
And for what? Many historians and political “scientists” (I do not acknowledge any relationship between politics and science) concede that had a fair and balanced election been held, prior to the U.S. intervention, to determine who should lead a united Vietnam, the overwhelming winner would have been the communist Ho Chi Minh. He wrote Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence. (He largely borrowed it from Thomas Jefferson’s.)
In the years since 1975, when the last Americans were air-evacuated from Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), the lessons of the Vietnam War have either been forgotten or, worse, never learned by Washington decision-makers who succeeded those who got us into the Vietnam mess (Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson) and the one who got us, more messily, out of it (Richard Nixon).
If there is one lodestar in the intelligent exercise of foreign relations, it is this: Do nothing that is not in America’s national interest. Vietnam was not. So many others that came before and after Vietnam were not. It may seem callous to say it, but a foreign policy based on compassion and good intentions is more often than not a terrible thing in application.
In the absence of a natural disaster that merits the sending of U.S.
material and financial support to
alleviate the suffering of those impacted by it, the resolution of political disasters such as those in Venezuela and Central America today should be left in the hands of those who let such ills occur. They have the most at stake. They are the best equipped to make the changes needed.
Americans have proven, time
and time again, that they are the world’s most generous and caring people.
History, however, teaches that “nation building” efforts to impose political systems, religions or morals on other countries almost always fail, often spectacularly so.
I cringe when I hear or read suggestions that America has a “duty” to oust unsavory foreign regimes wherever they arise, particularly when in our own backyard (by which is meant the Western Hemisphere). Some go on to urge that we then “invest” foreign aid dollars and provide U.S. advisers to ensure the establishment of stable, democratic governments in societies where they never really existed before. It’s a fool’s errand.
Increased foreign aid might make sense (a little) were America not already $21 trillion in debt and adding a trillion dollars more to that debt each year. Where will the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free go should America find itself mired in the slough of socialism that activists, particularly those within the Democratic Party, say is their objective?
R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.