The War in Vietnam is not important because it was an interesting war that captured the attention of the country and led to the amazing period of the 60s in which a lot of young people like me grew up. It was all of those things to those of us who lived through it, even on the far distant sidelines of Canada. But there was more to it than that.
The War in Vietnam is important because of what it revealed about not just America, but the so-called free world. That includes us in Canada. This was the world of the west led initially by Europe and then the United States. It was the part of the world that was accustomed to having its way. It was accustomed to telling others what to do. It is important for what happens today.
If the west thought it should be allowed to colonize countries around the world that is just the way it was. Everyone had to accept that as just and reasonable—no matter how unjust and unreasonable it was. Europe was that way and then America took over for Europe when Europe faltered. Nowhere was that shown better (really worse!) than Vietnam.
Of course those attitudes continue to this day. Look at North Korea. The major powers of the west have nuclear weapons. One country has even used them. What gives these countries the right to tell North Korea you can’t have nuclear weapons? I would hate to see more countries get nuclear weapons, but I can see why some countries want them. A nuclear non-proliferation treaty was negotiated years ago. In that agreement many countries agreed to refrain from getting nuclear weapons, but those countries that already had them like the United States, England, Russia etc. agreed to negotiate seriously to eliminate nuclear weapons from their arsenal. After all why should other countries agree to refrain from acquiring them when so many countries have them? The countries that had them have reneged on the agreement. They have not negotiated seriously for their elimination. As a result they have no right to deny them to North Korea, even though I wish North Korea would not get them. I fear that might be all it takes for other countries to get them too.
During the course of the Vietnam War, that wonderful politician Wayne Morse of Oregon knew this and understood this. It did not matter that every single politician, except him and one other, supported the Tonkin Resolution to authorize the President in effect to conduct a war in a far off country in the manner of his choosing. If it was not right he would not support it. He would proudly tell the truth no matter how unpopular it was. He spoke truth to power.
When we were young we watched the Dick Cavett Show on television nearly every evening. It was a ritual. My friends and I sat in our modest rental homes with our black and white rented television set and watched Dick Cavett interview an amazing array of interesting guests. Mainly they were celebrities but Cavett managed to get the best out of them.
The War in Vietnam was a frequent topic on his show. The War in Vietnam permeated so much of society it was difficult to avoid talking about it. One of his more interesting guests was an American Senator. Probably as old as I am now come to think of it. He was wise in other words. He was an old guy. That older politician one of only two American Senators and Congressmen and women to vote against the Tonkin Bay resolution. He was Senator Wayne Morse. I will comment more on that resolution later, but for now just read what he said.
This is what Senator Morse said on the Dick Cavett Show on ABC TV to explain his no vote against the Tonkin Bay resolution (That resolution authorized President Johnson to do almost anything he wanted to do in Vietnam):
If the Johnson administration had told the American people 5% of the facts of the Tonkin Bay incident the resolution never would have passed. The second thing I want to express in my conversation with you is watch out for the development of government by secrecy and executive supremacy. You had it manifested in the Tonkin Bay resolution. You just were not told the facts about America’s aggression in Tonkin Bay…We are a very proud people and its good that we’re proud, but we can’t run away from the facts just because we have a false sense of pride. And the difficulty with our Vietnam policy is that we have been the outlaw in South East Asia. We have been the aggressor. We violated one section after another of the Charter of the United Nations. We practically tore up the Geneva Accords. We have to face up to the fact that we cannot conduct a unilateral military course of action around the world without the world organizing against us. We’ve got to get out of Asia.
Throughout the decades of the War in Vietnam America was led by political and military leaders who felt no shame about lying to Americans or the world. They could do that because they were the good guys. Good guys lie but they do that for the good of all.
That was bad when the Americans had Presidents like Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, but it is many times worse when America is led by a President who has brought lying to an astonishing new level, like their current President. It was dangerous then; it is absolutely terrifying now.
It is like political leaders such as Judge Roy Moore of Alabama who is a good “Conservative Christian.” Because he is such a good conservative Christian it does not matter to many of his supporters that he may be a serial child molester in the Malls of Alabama. Because he is a good Christian whatever he does must be right.
Now we know, because of the War in Vietnam, that our leaders are not always good. Sometimes they are the bad guys. The War in Vietnam is important because it teaches us things about today. We should not forget the lessons that were learned the hard way. The very hard way.
I wonder if there is anyone around in the Republican Party to speak the truth to President Donald Trump. Perhaps John McCain, but he is not well He spoke up against Nixon. I don’ t see too many around of that quality today. That’s a pity