Standing here today, I'm reminded of conversations I've had recently with people who talk almost casually about the prospect of war with one country or another. And I'm tempted to say: 'You don't have the first idea of what you're talking about'.The Vietnam War was a horrible tragedy that happened mostly because powerful people cared more about other things than what was actually happening in Vietnam. The United States supported France's return to Southeast Asia after World War II because de Gaulle made that his price for joining NATO. Hardly anyone in the U.S. thought that was a good idea, but in 1945 NATO seemed more important. The French stayed for a decade because de Gaulle thought maintaining the colonies was essentially to restoring France's sense of its own greatness. Once the French pulled out and the new national boundaries were drawn, the U.S. supported the south because we wanted to oppose communism everywhere in the world. Once that stand was taken, no American leader could abandon Saigon without paying a huge political price. (Pretty much the same thing goes for the Russian and Chinese leaders on the other side.) Obviously the story was more complicated than that, but to me the saga shows the bad things that happen when people think abstractly about big words like freedom, or principles like loyalty to allies, instead of asking what is really happening and what might be done about it.
For sure, there are times when one may have no choice but to go to war, but it is never something to rush to or accept without exploring every other available option. The war that took place here half a century ago divided each of our countries and stemmed from the most profound failure of diplomatic insight and political vision.
Friday, August 7, 2015
John Kerry in Vietnam
The Secretary of State is in Vietnam to celebrate the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries: