Americans, in general, were growing tired of a conflict where the casualties were rising and where victory seemed further away than ever. College students, in particular, were disenchanted. As a result, they began to clamor for an end to our military involvement.
One of the ways this was expressed was by organizing “teach-ins.” These were intended to demonstrate that the war was both brutal and unwinnable. The idea was to educate ordinary citizens why they too should join the effort to bring the troops home.
As a contemporary of the demonstrators, I understood that a primary concern of many of the agitators was that they not get drafted. In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that I shared this sentiment. This, indeed, is why I signed up for the National Guard.
In any event, while I too hated the idea of getting killed, I was willing to go if called. Many of my peers were not. As a result, they concocted a theory of how the U.S. could extricate itself from this mess. The concept was simple: declare victory and come home.
Ultimately this is essentially what we did. Under the tutelage of Henry Kissinger, we negotiated a peace we had every reason to believe would be violated. Then we picked up and got out. We, thanks to subsequent congressional decisions, did not even keep our word to supply the South Vietnamese with the weapons needed to defend themselves.
The upshot was that tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of our allies died. And yet we were safe. Moreover, the bloodbath took place far from our shores and hence was out of sight.
This shameful episode continues to be celebrated by the liberals who won their political spurs by preaching duplicity. Now one of their disciples is at it again. Barack Obama has decided that the strategy wherein we betrayed our former friends can be recycled. We too can declare victory and come home from the War on Terror.
Oh, excuse me — this is not a war, but a series of policing actions. There are merely small pockets of criminals scattered around the world that periodically require our attention. Mobilizing to meet this threat is accordingly unnecessary. We can even afford to pull back on killing them with drones.
The trouble with this attitude is that the parallel between Vietnam and today does not hold. When we left Southeast Asia the violence continued, but it took place over there. The Viet Cong had no intention of following us home and murdering us in our beds.
The Islamist terrorists are different. They do wish to slaughter us where we live. Thus unilaterally declaring the war against them as over will in no way protect us from their wrath. It would be a case of “the sound of one hand clapping” actually being that of bombs set off in our midst.
Centuries ago the Chinese learned the best defense against an implacable foe was a good offense. Merely hiding behind the Great Wall and waiting for the Mongols to attack was an invitation for them to do exactly that. Only a forward strategy that kept their enemies off-balance forestalled subsequent invasions.
The military situation is no different today. When thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of religious militants believe they have a sacred duty to kill us, it makes no sense to give them a free pass. Hoping that if we are nice to them, they will be nice to us, is fatuous.
Barack Obama must remember that the first obligation of the president of the United States is to defend us from our enemies, not to placate his political cronies.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.