"If we got out," asked Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press" recently, "and there was a civil war, chaos, and you saw al Qaeda moving in -- in record numbers -- would you go back in?"
Russert's guest, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., replied, "Well, first of all, I heard the same kinds of suggestions at the time of the end of the Vietnam War. The 'Great Bloodbath,' we're going to have over 100,000 people that were going to be murdered and killed at that time. And for those of us who were strongly opposed to the war, [we] heard those same kinds of arguments."
The normally persistent Russert never challenged Kennedy's incredible assertion. Yet the bloodbath some predicted would occur -- if we withdrew from Vietnam -- did happen.
America lost the Vietnam War, not on the battlefield, but on the home front of public support. Anti-war activists and the liberal media helped turn public opinion sharply against the war. Although our soldiers won every major battle in the field, public opinion turned against a war increasingly perceived as "unwinnable." Our withdrawal, however, gave the Vietnamese armies under Ho Chi Minh free rein to overrun South Vietnam -- raping, pillaging, plundering, impoverishing, imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people.
The withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam also strengthened the hand of the communist Khmer Rouge in neighboring Cambodia. Their leader, Pol Pot, embarked on a bloody ethnic cleansing campaign. While the exact number of Cambodians slaughtered can never be fully known, most estimate those killed from a low of 1 million to a high of 3 million.
A million or so "boat people" fled Vietnam in flimsy watercraft on the South China Sea. Thousands of Vietnamese died in "re-education camps."