Washington -- When retired Gen. William Westmoreland (Ret.) died this week in Charleston, S.C., the press erupted with reminiscences, mostly about him and the Vietnam War, mostly permeated with the myths of the Kultursmog , the politically-polluted culture of our elites, our liberal elites. After Vietnam the general spent the rest of his life refighting the war. He never learned that it was a war we could not win. He was a failure. These are three of the foul thoughts that pollute the liberals' culture and were repeated in many of his obituaries.
I knew Westmoreland later in life, not as a general but as a private citizen. For years he served on the board of The American Spectator. He was interested in journalism. He felt many American journalists did a pretty shabby job in covering the military. When a CBS News documentary, "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception," claimed in 1982 that he, as the commanding officer in Vietnam, had engaged in a "conspiracy" to "suppress" unfavorable intelligence and dupe America into believing we were winning the war, Westmoreland sued. CBS, after four painful months, admitted to grievous error and settled out of court. The general felt vindicated, but I doubt he ever felt fully satisfied. Somehow, he could not accept that American journalists would get the facts so wrong and apply the paranoid scheme of a "conspiracy" to his generalship.
The old general I knew at American Spectator board meetings and other events was as incapable of conspiracy as he was incapable of bad manners. He was a thorough gentleman. Far from being consumed by Vietnam, he never mentioned it unless one of his fellow board members brought it up. Nor did he talk much about military matters or his own illustrious military service. He had breezed through the Citadel and West Point, where in his last year he received the Pershing Sword for achieving the highest command position in the student body. He went on to fight valiantly through WWII in Europe. In Korea he commanded paratroopers and late in his career, insisted on leaping out of airplanes. I once asked him why, as a relatively old man, he attempted such derring-do. If his young troopers could do it, he told me, he wanted to, also. And I remember his smile in answering my question.