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The Vietnam War continues to be a sore point.

During the protracted period of our involvement, 1962 to 1974, I thought our vaunted leaders knew more than I did, so I kept my mouth shut and tried to figure out what was going on. Never did figure it out. I didn't favor the bearded, dope-smoking hippie types who were raging against the war. I was a straight, prosecuting dope-smokers and violent protesters during the Nixon years.

Decades passed.

I read a lot about the war, trying to figure out what the hell we were doing there. Domino theory. Domino bullsh*t. Indochina is countries, not dominoes. You don't go to war over analogies that ain't true. Given a chance to live over again, I'd be marching against the war before the U.S. dead toll grew to 58,000.

McNamara, the chief architect of the war, now says it was all a big mistake. Well, thank you very much. I found this a lot easier to believe than that it was a good idea for the U.S. to go there.

The people who went deserve all the credit for serving their country. Their country deserves little credit for going there. Countries make mistakes. Our best people have learned to shy away from making that one again, in that way again. Hence the Colin Powell doctrine about not going in without a clearly defined military objective, in overwhelming strength, with a unified country behind the troops, otherwise don't go.

I have a lot more respect for the protesters than for that bandit crew of Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and their ilk. They make Jane look like a nice girl as far as I'm concerned. I never cared for her either, going to Hanoi, and I understand the resentment, and don't come to her aid on it. A very incorrect thing to do. Demonstrate all you want, but going to Hanoi? Way too much. I wonder whether she still publicly justifies this.

But protesting the war?

I think the protesters shortened the war considerably. If I were tramping the boonies, or being tortured in the Hanoi Hilton, anything that shortened the war honorably would have been more than welcome. Protesting is honorable. We guarantee it in the Constitution. It's what, in the memorable phrase of Ollie North, men, U.S. soldiers, die face down in the mud for.

Too often there's a rift between those who served in Vietnam and those who didn't. The vets think they were unappreciated or underappreciated because the folks at home hated the war. Hatred for the war doesn't equate with hatred for the men, and the nurses, who served, or the leadership which sent them.

McNamara, in his book, says it was a generational thing during the Cold War mentality, in which the older, WWII-veteran generation, felt we had to go to preserve American leadership and commitment against the Communists. The problem was that we saw everything in shades of Red and White, when we could have been more aware of the local character of some issues, which could have averted the war, or at least our involvement in it.

Twenty-five years later we're still trying to make peace with Vietnam, and Sen. John McCain, one of the public figures I admire most, is a leader in the effort, to his great credit. A very big man, in my book.

-rs



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