A bitter struggle has developed over the Pentagon’s project to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
The retirement May 5th of Army Lt. Gen. [Rtd.] Claude “Mick” Kicklighter who has headed the project for nearly four years is being viewed as a victory for the opponents of the war. Kicklighter with almost 60 years of service to the United States, including 34 years in uniform, was seen as an advocate of a broad representation including those now fighting for a “revisionist” narrative with new information of what happened in Indochina.
Allied on one side are former – and in some cases continuing – “activists”, mostly from the left — who saw the war as not only a mistaken strategic enterprise but an evil one. On the other are a minority of academics and a new veterans’ organization, Vietnam Veterans for Factual History, who seek to revise not only the conventional line in published histories but a general public concept of the origins of the war, how it was fought and its eventual conclusion.
In its first public event in early July, the veterans group stated their basic contention:
Today, politicians and pundits invoke the need to remember the “lessons of Vietnam,” but we
are unlikely to understand those “lessons” unless we establish what actually happened. Some say the
war was “unwinnable,” while others argue the other side was on the ropes by the early 1970s, until
Congress threw in the towel by outlawing the use of appropriated funds for U.S. combat operations
anywhere in Indochina. New information has emerged since the end of the war, and we believe the time has come to revisit the old debates
They hope to demonstrate the naiveté and often pro-Communist sympathies of war critics who falsely predicted “no blood bath” with a Communist victory. In fact, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese were not only imprisoned in “reeducation camps” but vast numbers disappeared there without ceremony, still unacknowledged by Hanoi’s Communist regime, nor by its apologists in the U.S.
The spectacle of “the boat people” – uncounted thousands died in unseaworthy ships when they chose to flee rather than live under a Communist regime – is only a faint memory for most Americans today. Of course, there were the lucky 1.5 million refugees who reached the U.S. [and the 300,000 in France and 100,000 in Australia], many after months and years in wretched refugee camps.
But today Vietnam, despite its efforts to emulate China [and now its competitor] in securing foreign investment against a handicap of universal corruption and incompetent one-party rule, remains an oppressive Communist state with recent new waves of suppression against brave political opponents and the religious..
The original intent of the Congress with $65 million was to create a website portraying the war as one of “valor” and “honor”. Kicklighter had promised that the official commemoration would include “educational materials, a Pentagon exhibit, traveling exhibits, symposiums, oral history projects, and much more.” It would have reopened a long required debate with vast new information.
But after coming under attack by Tom Hayden, a notorious opponent of the war, and a new group, the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee, Klinglighter abandoned the outreach program. And with his departure, it looks like the whole celebration is taking on a mournful victimization hue if not the color of the war’s opponents rather than a more balanced picture.
It will be a new tragedy if the Pentagon program becomes just another addition to the false narrative which is being fed to Americans, in their media when the subject comes up at all, and by the leftwing academic community which dominates our higher institutions today.
Is there someone in Congress who is going to bring its program back to its initial concepts?