"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."
I received the following e-mail from a listener who watched the Kennedy/Russert interview: "Has the Senator ever heard of the movie, 'The Killing Fields'??? During the late 70s and early 80s my ex-husband used to teach political science at a local community college. Every year we would host a Christmas party for his students, many of whom were refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. I spent a lot of time visiting with these kids and their stories were heartbreaking. I remember one young man in particular. His father had been sent to a 'reeducation camp' after the US withdrew. The last time he saw his father, he told the young man to get out of the country anyway possible. He became one of the boat people and somehow made it to the United States. He was obviously happy to be here, but the sadness in his eyes when he spoke of his father was truly haunting. He had no idea if his father was dead or alive. Maybe someone needs to give the Senator a refresher course on the history of Southeast Asia!"
In July 1986, The Wall Street Journal wrote, "South Vietnam was eventually conquered by the North, and Cambodia was taken over by the communist Khmer Rouge, who in trying to recreate a primitive communist agricultural society slaughtered from 1 million to 3 million Cambodians. If we take 2 million as the best estimate, then in four years the government of this small nation of 7 million alone killed 64 percent more people than died in the 10-year Vietnam War. Overall, the best estimate of those killed by the victorious communists in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia is 2,270,000. . . . "
Kennedy's blase re-write of Indochina's bloody history following our military pullout there is not unlike Sen. John Kerry's, D-Mass., 1971 slam against the soldiers in Vietnam. When testifying before a Senate committee, Kerry said, " . . . [W]e had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. . . . They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the country side of South Vietnam . . . "
Kennedy's revisionist history and Kerry's attack on the honor of those who served in Vietnam demonstrate why many Americans refuse to trust Democrats with national security. They called Reagan a war-monger, criticized the military buildup that hastened the demise of the Soviet Union, insisted that SDI wouldn't and couldn't work, and now call Bush a war criminal.
Our effort in Iraq requires commitment and steadfastness. As with Vietnam, the American-led coalition cannot lose in the battlefield. Despite the insurgency, the Iraqi people went to the polls and voted, and now attempt to assemble a government. Bush's detractors compare the Iraq War "quagmire" to Vietnam. If they truly believe that, why aren't they worried about . . . "what next"?