Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Libertarian Point of View

It is finally time to get something off of my chest that has bothered me for a great many years. I can sum it up in one word that every citizen of the United States has burned into our psyche:


I was born in 1963, five days after Kennedy was shot in Dallas. I was born in a small town in the Texas Panhandle, and most of my childhood memories are centered around the places that we lived and the small town that my Mom and Dad both went to High School in, a great place (that is mostly gone now) by the name of Quitaque, TX. It was in Quitaque that I learned my values for the most part. I spent many days there during the summers with both sets of grandparents, and a host of small-town personalities that grew to know me over the years, and I learned to love and appreciate them in ways that are hard to understand if you come from a big-city background. This was one of the last places in Texas where you could meet “sure enough” pioneers and the direct descendants of pioneers that came to that part of the southern plains right after the Civil War. My people were these people. They were cotton farmers and they were ranchers, and many of them still do these things. They are a hard people, seasoned by hard climate and a hard economy that has not changed since the Comanche were forced into Oklahoma reservations.

They are a patriotic people, make no mistake. My Grandfather’s brother lost his life in the Argonne in WWI while my grandmother’s uncle, named Jefferson Davis Chalk, Jr., also fought in France there and managed to come back. My grandmother lost two brothers in WWII. One died in Patton’s army, and another died in a plane that exploded in the Pacific over Tarawa. My mother had an uncle that flew 45 missions over Germany in a B-17 as a radio operator and gunner for the 8th Air Force. These are not a cowardly people, and my family has spread their blood over every American war since the time of the French and Indian Wars.

My memories of the Vietnam conflict are those that come from a boy watching events that come from those times. I remember watching campus riots with my mother on a small black and white television in the kitchen in Dallas in 1969. I remember watching the news about the December bombing of North Vietnam and the talks that followed. I remember with particular clarity the returning soldiers and POW’s walking off of airplanes to crying families.

I remember other things.

There were examples of people hating the soldiers that came back shocked and destroyed by that place. I remember listening to proud soldiers that came back to be despised and rejected by the very Republic that had sent them there, whether they had wanted to go or not. I remember families that would never be the same because the people that had gone did not return. I remember a nation divided by the blood of their children and fathers, and a national draft that forced college boys to pass courses at school or be sent into a jungle hell that ate boys like them like potato chips. I also remember that my family was and still is greatly angered about how that conflict was handled.

The neo-conservative movement of the late 90’s to the present wants to tell us that hating the Vietnam War is the same thing as siding with “Hanoi Jane” or John Kerry, the Benedict Arnold of the modern era. Hating the Vietnam conflict is, ergo, the same thing as being a liberal. This is simply not true. The egregious over-reach by the federal government that creates these kinds of wars is not a truly conservative viewpoint, and opposing that war was and is not the sole territory of the liberal camp. The anger that the Vietnam War created here in these United States cannot be simply written off as the result of kooks and vicious socialists that had the command of the national press.

So great was that anger that when Bush senior invaded Kuwait in 1991, remember that a great deal of attention was paid to the idea that this time, at least, we were going to get it right. A great deal of attention was paid to how the press was going to get information from the military. There was no way that we were going to live through the Vietnam conflict again.

Now we have to ask ourselves if we are doing it again.

Before you curse me as a liberal, allow me to explain. I am looking back from a conservative community that is mourning the loss of their children and fathers, and we are not happy about what happened there. The great lie of the “Domino Theory” was put to shame, and no matter how fervently the Kennedy and Johnson administrations might have believed it, the rest of Southeast Asia did not, in fact, fall to communism after South Vietnam fell to the North. Did bad things happen after the fall? No doubt that they did. The regime of Pol Pot was a humanitarian disaster. The slaughter of southern Vietnamese was a calamity. The point of anger came when we realized that all of the men and women that were lost in that conflict amounted to exactly ZERO. In fact, our intervention most likely caused a much greater slaughter than if we had just let the French fail to keep their colonial empire and let it go as such. Rather than let the military of this great nation fight that war to win it, we allowed the Cold War mentality to rule the day and the powers that were there decided that politics was the final arbiter of conflicts that claim thousands upon thousands of lives.

We cannot rewrite the past, and it does little good to even think about it unless we learn from our past mistakes. Ah, yes, and therein lies the rub, doesn’t it?

George Bush faced serious skepticism and sometimes outright opposition to invading Iraq not just from liberal elements, but also from the conservative elements. Why is that? I posit that not all of us that remember the Vietnam War dimly are necessarily liberals. I posit that the true and righteous anger over that calamity comes from a deep-seated and correct attitude about what a government of a Republic does and what it does not do. In a true republic, there is a sense of responsibility to the lives of citizens that are lost as a result of government action.

If this current regime pulls out of Iraq before we truly win, and we send others into Afghanistan to die with no clear goal, we are doing no less than re-inventing the Vietnam conflict in our own time. If there is no clear goal for the loss of life other than the political gain of one party over another, the righteous anger of the citizens asked to fight in these wars is not going to be just great, it will be, I predict, overpowering. I ask the Republican Party and the Democratic Party to both consider the loss of life as being other than something that happens because we have a military. If we are going to fight terrorism, we must declare what the goals are in a succinct and clear terminology.

In closing, I ask the readers to reflect on the words of the late President Eisenhower. If we bow to the wishes of an industrial war machine without thinking about the consequences, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

One of the things that always upset me about that war was how we treated those who had served there. Our anger should not have been at the troops, but at the government that sent them.

on another note: Prior to our entering the Great War there was much discussion on whether the US should get involved or take a back seat while the rest of the world hammered it out.

In the subsequent war we could have easily remained in the fight against Japan for an indefinite period had it not been for two strategic bombs.

The Cold war mentality prevented us from doing anything of the sort in Vietnam...whether we ought to have been there in the first place will always be up for debate. Was there ever any justification for our involvement in that arena? That is the question for any war.

War is an ugly thing...and sometimes necessary.

Were we justified in Iraq? That is still up for debate.