Many Americans are so emotionally exhausted by the tragic news of the Vietnam debacle that it is easy to accept the request of President Ford not to “engage in recriminations or attempts to assess blame.” However, those who do not learn the lessons of history are compelled to repeat its mistakes.
The United States has a tradition of winning our wars. When there is a military defeat, Americans demand to know why, and who was responsible. The first investigation conducted by our Congress was into General St. Clair’s defeat by the Indians in 1791.
Following the Pearl Harbor disaster, there were four investigations: one by the Army, one by the Navy, and two by Congress. After the Korean War, Senator Margaret Chase Smith chaired a historic inquiry into our failure to win that war and into the ammunition shortages we suffered.
A Congressional investigation into the Vietnam War is even more necessary in order to assess the blame for our humiliating defeat. We owe this much at least to the American servicemen who fought in Southeast Asia.
Sir Robert Thompson, whose strategy won a similar war in Malaya, has just confirmed the military expert view that the Vietnam War “was winnable, in any terms you like.” He added, “Just because the United States failed, doesn’t mean it was unwinnable.” We must find out why an American army of half a million men, equipped with the latest in planes, helicopters and tanks, could not defeat a little nation that had no air force or navy.
When the Senate rejected the last-minute military aid requested by Ford and Kissinger, Appropriations Committee Chairman John McClellan stated: “The majority might have supported it if there was any hope, or just a possibility, that it would do any good.” Why didn’t Ford and Kissinger request that aid six months ago, or a year ago, when there was plenty of hope that it would achieve its purpose, and when North Vietnam’s treaty violations were obvious.?
Sir Robert Thompson predicted the tremendous loss of life that will result from America’s defeat in South Vietnam. A “bloodbath,” he said, has already begun. “In South Vietnam it will be well over the million mark. … I know hundreds of people there who for sure are going to have their throats cut.”
How does our defeat in Vietnam forecast events in the rest of the world? Sir Robert Thompson laid it on the line, saying: “You are in full retreat before Moscow at the present time. … The retreat of the United States before Moscow, like that of Napoleon, is going to litter the world with corpses. … Do you have a contingency plan for getting babies out of Europe?”
There is often a big difference between what some people say in the press for public consumption, and what they say under oath be fore a legislative committee. The numerous perjury indictments of the past year have made it hazardous to conceal the truth. Congress should summon the high offic1als of the Johnson, Nixon and Ford Administrations and requ1re them to explain their decisions to fight a costly no-win war that left Southeast Asia in far worse condition than it was before our intervention began.