Our abandonment of Vietnam in 1975 was a national disgrace. Scenes of helicopters on rooftops desperately trying to evacuate people at the last minute continue to haunt responsible Americans, especially those who served in Vietnam. There are many lessons to be learned from the entire fiasco of that war, but it seems the only lessons learned have been the wrong ones.
One of those wrong lessons has been to simply declare a war over when it is no longer popular and pack up and leave. In Vietnam, a pretense of a peace agreement was used to rationalize our abandonment along with a promise of aid if North Vietnam broke that agreement. Our abandonment became official when Congress refused to finance the aid promised.
In Iraq, Obama took that lesson further by declaring beforehand when the war would be over and pulling all our troops out at that designated time. The pretense of a peace agreement was replaced by the pretense of an Iraqi army capable of defending the country but the abandonment remained the same.
The task of evacuating those who helped us during the war was also abandoned in Iraq. Our attempt to evacuate those who helped us in Vietnam was honorable but there was little preparation and little time to accomplish it properly. Our hasty retreat caused chaos and thousands of those we left behind were tortured and killed because of our inability to get them out.
The lesson learned from that was to avoid the entire mess by not even trying. In Iraq, no preparations or efforts were made for evacuation. Collaborators were knowingly left behind to fend for themselves when our troops left, therefore, thousands died when we abandoned our honor along with our commitment – just to fulfill a campaign promise.
Allowing a president and his civilian, political advisers to form and dictate military strategy failed in Vietnam where rules of engagement based on political fallout and civilian casualties put our troops in danger and forced a stalemate. Rules of engagement have become even more politically based since then and politicians continue to subvert military experts’ strategies for political purposes. When will we ever learn?
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana
David J. Hentosh