Saturday, January 28, 2017

Which way the Trolley: Vietnam 2

The Indo-China Wars:

The First Indo-China war (1946-1954) began right after the end of WWII as the French tried to regain their Empire in Indo-China (Laos, Cambodian and Vietnam) after having ceded it to the Japanese. French forces quickly reaffirmed control over most of the area. Indo-Chinese nationalists, led by Ho Chi Ming, did not like the idea much and began a guerrilla resistance. This moved from guerrilla warfare into a combined guerilla and set-piece battles after the Chinese Communists triumphed over their Nationalist enemies and arrived at the Chinese-Vietnam border (1949). Chinese and Soviet supplies and weapons, including artillery and anti-aircraft guns flowed south to the Viet Minh Communist army.[1]

The French Army fought with determination, while slowing losing home support. The French had several major victories, but the Viet Minh were persistent and won a major battle a cross roads called Dien-Bien Phu (1954). After that, a newly elected socialist government negotiated a peace. In that settlement the France left Indo-China, with South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia under local, non-Communist rule, and the North ruled by the Communist Viet Minh.

Viet Ming troops plant flag over ruins of French HQ

The treaty allowed the civilian population of Vietnam to go to the area they deemed best, and this resulted in a mass migration of several million Vietnamese Catholics fleeing from the North and into South Vietnam. They did so fearing Communist persecution which had already been fierce against Catholics in Communist China.

After the division of North and South Vietnam the Emperor of South Vietnam was overthrown by a coup engineered by his own premier, Ngo Dinh Diem. He was Catholic and ruled the majority Buddhist country autocratically and with the Catholics as his base of support.  Unfortunately, his regime was allied with the land-holding class, and would not further land reform (as happened in China). These factors ultimately created major difficulties when warfare resumed.

What the American public calls the Vietnam War should really be called the Second Indo-China War, because it was fought not only in Vietnam, but in also Cambodia and Laos. American Green Berets and CIA backed groups struggled in Cambodia and Laos against the increasingly well-armed Communist armies in those nations.[2] Under President Nixon the American Army made an incursion into Cambodia to destroy supply bases that were feeding Viet Cong forces.

The Communist cadres which had remained in place in every town and village in South Vietnam since the partition rose up in insurgency in 1960. President Kennedy, who had suffered a defeat in his handling of the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion, did not want to lose another country to Communism under his watch, and sent in advisors to help stiffen and support the South Vietnamese Army.

Kennedy was continuing the Truman-Eisenhower policy of the containment of Communism. He was much junior to both Truman and Eisenhower, but shared with both the belief that opposition to Communism was a duty. His inaugural address (January 20, 1960) was a graceful, poetic expression of American Anti-Communism and its sense of crusade that had earlier been proclaimed by President Truman.

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose and foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.[3]
After Kennedy’s assignation President Johnson continued this policy. He increased the number of advisors and quantity of materials supplied to the South Vietnamese. But the Communist Viet Cong insurgents and the North Vietnamese continued to gain the upper hand. Like Truman before him, Johnson was forced to a decision to either see another country fall into Communist hands or intervene directly with American ground units. He chose to intervene. Also like Truman, he chose not to declare war, but relied on the American’ public’s strong anti-Communist sentiments to support the war.

At the beginning that assumption was correct. I recall day of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed in congress (August, 1964) which authorized the use of American troops for the war effort. The sense among many of us was that we, the American people, were doing something heroic and good. We were standing by a small nation in need, and unlike Neville Chamberlain, not backing down. One of my professors at the college where I was student held back tears as he told his class, “I have lived to see my students go off to World War II, then the Korean War, and now…”

But the war was bungled and nothing seemed to go right. President Diem had built an officer corps loyal to him but incompetent and corrupt, and averse to hard fighting.[4] He was overthrown and killed (1963) in a CIA backed coup, but this proved not to be a remedy. One general after another succeeded in the presidency and produced instability, and little reform. A brilliant strategy of strategic hamlets (fortified villages) was sabotaged because the director of that effort was a double agent for the North Vietnamese and he made sure it failed.

What really happened was that, contrary to the slogans of the anti-American Left, the American presence was not really an imperial presence. There was no Roman like “Pro-Counsel” to dictate who would run the government, which corrupt officers would be cashiered, or what type of land reform would go into effect. All the American advisory establishment and diplomats could do was try to influence, advise, and hope for some competent government to arise and do all of that. It never quite happened.

General Westmorland evaluated the situation and believed it could be salvaged through by sidelining the South Vietnamese Army defeating the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army with a massive American and Allied build up. He estimated a less than two-year campaign to achieve total victory. President Johnson trusted that assessment.

Limiting civilian casualties:

To its credit, the American high command attempted to limit civilian causalities to the minimum. The generals understood that in a guerrilla war one had to win over the “hearts and minds” of the population.  Reducing civilian casualties was mostly done through “rules of engagement.” That is, in order for American troops to fire their weapons, they had to see the target and see that it was a hostile foe. This would prevent the type of incidents that took place at the beginning of the Korean War (as described above). This was a major step forward in attempting to have a moral face in war.[5]

In the first years of American direct combat these rules were largely effective. Morale was high, and our soldiers had a sense of the anti-Communist purpose of the war. There was also a sense of having to live up to the military valor and achievements of the WWII generation who were their fathers and uncles. Many times American soldiers did not fire when responding to attack would harm civilian, and at times suffered casualties for their restraint. Viet Cong troops understood this and purposely used civilian as shields, as the North Koreans had done decades before.[6]

However, the lack of smart bombs in Vietnam proved costly in inflicting unintended civilian casualties. Lack of smart bombs resulted in the famous picture of a burned, young Vietnamese girl running away from an air strike. The picture shocked many in American and throughout the world. Lack of smart bombs also increased the number of pilots shot down attempting difficult bombing runs against bridges and port facilities.

Ironically, the Germans had developed a competent anti-shipping smart bomb in World War II that was radio controlled – but could be jammed by electronic counter-measures. The US also had a smart bomb that was used several times to attack bridges with success, but one had exploded prematurely and damaged its own bomber. Unfortunately, these weapons were not perfected, and in fact shelved. The thinking of the Air Force high command was that no smart bombs were needed in the future as any competent pilot could deliver his A-bomb within a hundred yards of the aiming point – more than close enough.

As the war dragged on morale was undermined by the anti-war movement in the United States. As cynicism towards the war grew fire discipline began to break down among the ground forces. Surviving a year’s tour in this “crazy Asian war” (one of the phrases of a popular song) was the highest priority of the average soldier, not winning the hearts and minds of the population. At the village of My Lai, a platoon of the Americal Division, which had repeatedly experienced sniper and bobby trap casualties, massacred the entire village population. Ironically, at the same time, China was on a genocidal campaign is which this type of slaughter was policy. – but it was all done in denial and without press coverage. The Left in America and Western Europe ignored this genocide of perhaps 1.2 million Tibetans as they vociferously protested the Vietnam War.
The opposition to the war grows:

Initially, there was little immediate resistance in the United States to expanding the war and sending ground units. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed for this, passed Congress with only two dissenting votes in the Senate. But since war was not declared, that opposition publicized its opinions and reasons and steadily grew in influence and numbers.

Those opposed to the war can be divided into roughly three groups. The most driven and ideological was formed around the Marxist-Leftist faculties and students from various universities, Berkeley being the standard bearer in this type of opposition. This group was both highly ideological and unwittingly anti-historical. The radical Left’s understanding was that the war was caused by “American imperialism” and its quest for world domination coupled with the greed of the military-industrial complex for profits from selling munitions, etc. None of this was true, but it was ideologically informed and had an interior logic to it. This narrative was presented with passion and repeated endlessly.

Significantly Karl Marx considered that ideologies distorted the understanding of reality.[7] As common to his writings, his insight was both true but incomplete. He believed ideologies were the product of the ruling class defending itself. He did not understand that ideologies could also form through other social groups, as in the setting of a university with its Leftist faculty.

The Left narrative was anti-historical as it gave a distorted view of the world and the war. For one, the Marxist Left rarely acknowledged or credited the reports of the Communist genocides or systematic tyranny, or excused them as irrelevant to the current situation.[8] In other words history was not a warning to the future. They certainly did not consider that a similar genocide could happen in Indo-China if Americans were driven out. They considered the “anti-Imperial” forces in Indo-China, Viet Ming or Kama Rouge, as heroes, and their coming socialist economic policies would user in social justice and prosperity.

In this regard, the single most disturbing incident for those of us who served in Vietnam was that committed by Jane Fonda, the actress. She toured North Vietnam at the height of the war, and posed as a gunner aiming her weapon towards the sky in solidarity with the North Vietnamese and against her own countrymen. This was perhaps “moral” treason, but not legal treason, as war had never been declared and thus no charges could be brought against her.

 A manifestation of the Left’s anti-historical and ideological perspective was its caricature of President Johnson and the administration leadership that decided on the Vietnam intervention. For them, Johnson was a tool of the military industrialist complex. No consideration was given to his historical experience in seeing the Munich appeasement of Hitler, or the tragic history of fighting a hard war with civilian casualties against Nazism. Most cruelly, the opposition did not credit the administration’s real attempts to limit civilian casualties as in the rigorous rules of engagement.  Their chant against Johnson was, “Hey hey, how many kids did you kill today.”

The other major opposition grouping started slowly and was not generally radical or Marxist. It was made up of persons who simply viewed the war as a waste of resources and human lives that did not ultimately matter to Americans. They were appalled by the reports of civilian deaths and injuries that occurred during the course of the fighting and wanted it stopped immediately. Further it became increasingly clear that the South Vietnamese governments were corrupt, and not worth American lives. All of these arguments were reasonable, but they voided the heritage of anti-communism from Truman and Eisenhower, and so eloquently defined by Kennedy. 

These arguments were also again missing a historical perspective. For instance, World War II was triggered by the Hitler’s attack on Poland. The Polish government was authoritarian and anti-democratic (actually better labeled as traditional Catholic). It was certainly no poster child for democracy. But the Germans and Soviets overran Poland quickly, and so no English or French reporters poked around much or wrote critical articles on the Polish government. But Poland was indeed worth fighting for in spite of its autocratic government, if only to stop further German aggression and foiling its planned extermination and enslavement by the Germans.[9]  The general historical truth here is that circumstances don’t always provide the best of allies.[10]

The third group was a Religious-Civil Rights coalition, which blended with the other groups to varying degrees. Their main focus was that so much work had to be done on civil rights and poverty abatement in the United States that no monies or effort should be spent on the Vietnam conflict. Further, taking their cue from the other groups, they accepted the view that the Vietnam War was immoral because of its civilian casualties, etc., and should be stopped immediately. Significantly, this group did not argue about the Niebuhr position of evil and violence, they simply avoided the issue and centered on the evidence of mounting civilian deaths as the ultimate arbiter of the issue.

 Their argument also lacked historical reference or understanding.  World War II was fought by a segregated American with a segregated armed forces. We did not stop the war to fix those problems before battling either the Germans or Japanese. Yes, President Roosevelt should have moved on the desegregation of the Armed Forces, as Truman did when he became president (1948). But the inherited sins of slavery and Jim Crow segregation did not negate the fact that the fight against Japanese and German imperialisms was truly epochal and of preeminent importance.

Berrigan Brothers and the theology of Gnostic pacifism:

The theology of the Religious-Civil Rights coalition was formulated and expressed with a masterful eye for publicity by two brothers who were also Catholic priests, Daniel and Michael Berrigan.[11]  Michael had served as an infantry office in World War II and was shocked by the racism and discrimination against African American soldiers he saw in Army boot camp. Later, in Europe he experienced combat and was appalled by the destruction and cost of war.  Daniel, the younger brother, never entered the armed forces, but was influenced by his brother’s tales.

Daniel Berrigan met and befriended Dorothy Day, the editor of the Catholic Worker, a very Left and a pacifist journal. Daniel recalled:
 “Dorothy Day taught me more than all the theologians,” Berrigan told The Nation in 2008. “She awakened me to connections I had not thought of or been instructed in—the equation of human misery and poverty with warmaking. She had a basic hope that God created the world with enough for everyone, but there was not enough for everyone and warmaking.”[12]
This is the type of naïveté that would have made Niebuhr recoil. War certainly destroys property and lives. But as we have learned after decades of ineffective foreign aid, there is a much closer connection to endemic poverty between, lack of the rule of law, corruption of governments, and counter economic populist policies such as price controls, etc., than to war.  This is exemplified by the impoverishment of the people of Myanmar through their long lasting socialist government, and most recently by the debacle of the Marxist/Populist regime in Venezuela).

In any case the Berrigan brothers swallowed the Dorothy Day simplification whole, and became full time protestors to the Vietnam War.  Like Jane Fonda, Daniel Berrigan went to Hanoi to express solidarity with North Vietnamese as he obtained the release of several American POWs. Their most famous protest occurred in May of 1968 when the two brothers and seven other activists entered a Selective Service office and took draft notification, poured home-made napalm on them and set them on fire. They were tried and found guilty of destruction of government property and served jail time, but garnered immense publicity for their cause.  They even made the cover of Time Magazine (January 25, 1971).

antiwar protestor priests Philip and Daniel Berrigan.I term the Berrigan Brothers “Gnostic pacifists.” Gnostics, both biblical and modern, base religion on any visions, feelings, and emotions, and give little weight to tradition, established scriptures or of the history or the past.[13] The Berrigan anti-war theology was similarly fueled by the images (photographc vision) of children killed or maimed in the Vietnam war, and of illusion that socialism and the end of the American involvement in the war would bring peace, prosperity and happiness to South East Asia. In their theology there was nothing of the Christian just war understanding, little historical knowledge, and nothing like the tragic sense of history of Niebuhr’ theology. (I suspect as Catholic priest they never even read any of Niebuhr’s works, not an unusual thing for a Catholic priest in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cruising to defeat:
A major element in the rapid rise of the anti-war movement was that Johnson, unlike Kennedy, was not an eloquent communicator. He did not articulate the necessity to contain further Communist expansion in an inspiring way. He called those who opposed the war effort “nervous nellies” and left it at that. There were no Churchillian like speaches as in, “we will fight them in the beaches, fight them in the landing fields…never surrender.”  Johnson simply assumed that traditional American anti-Communism would persevere.

Instead, the combined anti-war movement succeeded totally. It drained morale of Army and made it a less efficient fighting force. In fact, in the last year of combat of American units many junior officers were being “fragged” by their own troops. That is, assassinated via tossing a fragmentation grenade at them if they were too aggressive in carrying out the fighting, or merely had a grudge against them.[14]

President Nixon reversed Westmoreland’s strategy of having the Americans do most of the fighting, and transferred the warfare back to the Vietnamese units, calling it “Vietnamization.” Some units did in fact become quite competent.  But ultimately it was too late, and corruption continued to mar both the Army and the civil government.

On a personal note, I volunteered for the Army in 1967, and was assigned to the 101st Airmobile Division in Vietnam in July of 1968. By that time the sense of the anti-Communist crusade of the 1950s had faded from most of the soldiers. Ironically, one soldier I met did have that sense was a Canadian who volunteered in the American Army because Canada was not fighting in Vietnam. In general, there was still a strong sense of duty, and having to live up to the standards of their fathers and uncles, i.e. World War II.  Most often I heard a “country club” argument for accepting the draft and going to Vietnam. That is, that serving in the Army was the “dues” one paid for living in a good country club, i.e., the USA. The Left scoffed at any such arguments, but it is essentially similar to Socrates’ reasoning as to why he took the poison hemlock. Athens was good to him all of his life, and now must obey the law even when it turns against him.[15]

The ant-war alliance ruined the chance of American churches uniting and praying for a successful resolution of the Vietnam War as they had done in World War II. (That story, of the prayer campaign for World War II, has not been sufficiently told.)[16] In any case, the spiritual situation in the States was of chaos and conflict, as most churches could not unify in what to pray about.[17]

The unhappy end:

The war ended in April of 1975. This happened when the North Vietnamese Army launched a massive offensive and demolished the 1st ARVN Division, South Vietnams’ best fighting unit. Previously, during Easter of 1973 the North Vietnamese has tried the same thing but were repulsed with very heavy casualties by the competent (even heroic) fighting of the South Vietnamese backed by American air power. But by 1975 Nixon had been forced out and President Ford had no political capital to order a reentry of American air support.

Many thousands of South Vietnamese tried to flee. The Chinese merchant class was especially fearful because of traditionally bad blood between North Vietnamese and Chinese. In fact, China and the united Vietnam, although both Communist countries, fought a nasty border war a few years later. Many Vietnamese government officials, army personnel and other tries to leave in any way they could and became the tragic “boat people” of the 1970s. Thankfully many were relocated in the United States. The tribal peoples scattered through the jungles of Indo-China faired very badly. The North Vietnamese Army and Cambodian Khmer Rouge hated them and most did not survive the communist take-over.

 As Saigon fell, and the news footage showed desperate Vietnamese clinging to the last American helicopters, I thought, “Now will come a great massacre and genocide in Vietnam.” But on the whole the Communist takeover of South Vietnam was merciful and avoided massacre. Captured army officers and government officials were gathered up and sent off to work camps where they did hard labor by day and indoctrinated into Communism by night. Most survived and were released to enter civilian life. Not bad for a Communist state, and certainly not what Stalin would have done.

South and North Vietnam were incorporated into one country, and the South was molded into a socialist economy just like the North with collective farms, central planning etc. That of course was a disaster to the economy and the years immediately after the reunification were years of great economic hardship, hunger and semi-starvation for both North and South Vietnam. That began to change as the Vietnamese, just as the Communist Chinese, realized that Soviet style communist economies did not work well and only a free market economy would bring prosperity. Vietnam has developed a form of “crony capitalism” in which formed North Vietnamese Army generals run the profitable companies, but also has allowed the growth of independent companies.

The Cambodian Genocide:

But a great genocide did indeed take place in Indo-China, in Cambodia. We “Cold War warriors” turned out to be mostly right. Actually the genocide began well before the fall of South Vietnam. It was directed by the founder and leader of the Kama Rough, Pol Pot (1925-1998).

Pol Pot was a student in French colonial Cambodia, educated in Buddhist and Catholic school in Cambodia and scholarshiped to France for further education. In Paris he met and became part of a student Communist group and studied Marxism and the writings of Stalin and Mao, which he particularly liked.

He returned to Cambodia in 1953 and quickly made contact with a Communist Viet Ming group operating on the edge of the Cambodian Vietnamese border. He organized a small guerilla group and began train and organize his force. In the first years of the fight against the Royal government of Cambodia the Viet Ming did most of the fighting, but in time, his forces, the Khmer Rouge, eventually became more formidable and took over parts of Cambodia.

From the very beginnings Pol Pot’s regime was especially brutal (naturally, look where his inspiration lay). Captives were set to work as slave labor in remote rubber plantations and its product sold to finance his movement. Tribal minorities were treated very badly. Their dress and customs suppressed and forced to conform to normative Cambodian ways (Cambodian communist dress was 1930’s “Stalin chic” – workers cap required). Actually, even traditional Cambodian dress and cultural expressions such as religious dance were suppressed. Any opposition led to extermination.[18]

During the early years of the insurgency Pol Pot received a (demonic) illumination that the real Marxist “proletariat” were the peasant farmers, not the city workers as Marx had believed. His ideal became to create a new society of peasants who would then repopulate the cities with the virtues of true communism.

As the Khmer Rouge took control of towns and cities these were emptied and the population was sent out to the country side. The poor and uneducated sent to collective farms to learn to be good communists. But anyone with an education or profession was dispatched to extermination camps where they were tortured and worked to death. The Western press got a glimpse of this when the capital of Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. I recall news footage of soldiers driving the people away for the city, including one patient still in a hospital bed – he would not have survived long.

The details of the horror and torture regime were never photographed or publicized while they happened – that is par for communist regimes. A few news items did appear early on, as in the wholesale massacre of all Royal Cambodian Army officers on the day that Phenom Penh fell. I recall one of the prominent anti-war activist being interviewed on TV at this time. She claimed that the massacre happened because the Khmer Rouge had “learned violence from the American troops.” A more historically ignorant, false and ideologically driven statement would be hard to match. For her, it avoided thinking of the possibility of the anti-war movement as having any negative consequences. Only years later did the full story emerge from accounts of survivors. Instead of vivid pictures there were only some drawings they made of the horrendous times, and a few pictures of skull heaps. No one is sure how many Cambodians were massacred. Unlike the Nazis who kept meticulous records, the Kama Rough just slaughtered without recording numbers. Estimates of the genocide range from one to three million persons, many died by torture.

The genocidal regime mercifully came to an end relatively quickly.  Ironically, it was by the hand of its Communist neighbor, the united Vietnam. Pol Pak harbored suspicions that the Vietnamese wanted to incorporate Cambodia into a sort of Vietnamese empire, and insanely provoked a war with the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese Army quickly defeated the Khmer Rouge, driving its remnants into the jungle and liberated the country to a saner (less demonic) form of communisms under their temporary administration.

Pol Pot continued the fight a limited guerilla war, and the Vietnamese decided not to fight that battle, and called for arbitration. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the exiled Prince of Cambodia returned, and a democratically elected government was installed. This was a surprising turn of events in the midst of communist neighbors. Cambodia today is limping back to recovery, and the leaders of the Pol Pot regime were captured, tried and imprisoned. Pol Pot himself died in prison, possibly by suicide. In any case he never expressed remorse or thought anything he did was wrong.[19]

Reflections, Which way the trolley?

It is now sixty years since the Korean War, forty years since the fall of Saigon and going on twenty-eight years since the fall of the Berlin wall. It is possible for some review and reflection on the Cold War.

First: We should note that Stalinism and Maoism were at the brink of an explosive expansion at the end of World War II. Europe was exhausted and devastated by war. Communist parties in France, Greece, Italy and elsewhere were resurgent. A much larger expansion of Communism might well have taken place in the late 1940s and early 1950s than its spread into Eastern Europe and China. 
For example, Henry Wallace, was Franklin Roosevelt’s very Left-leaning vice president during 1941-1945. Had he not been removed from the ticket in the 1944 Democratic convention and replaced by Harry Truman major disasters might have resulted. Wallace was a Stalinist apologist and held pro-Soviet views, and the Cold War might not have begun at all. Instead, Stalin’s agents and allies might well have taken all of Europe in the same manner as Czechoslovakia was snatched into the Soviet orbit without a single shot fired. Without Truman’s encouragement and the support of Truman’s anti-communist secretary of State, Dean Aitcheson, the European center and right parties would have had little support or strength to resist Communist takeovers. Certainly France would have had no support, moral or material, for their war in Indochina.

In Asia, Communist victories in the early 1950s would have resulted perhaps tens of millions of persons murdered in Stalin and Kama Rouge like extermination camps all over Indo-China, Taiwan, the Koreas, Malesia, etc. Recall that forty-five million or so died in China under Mao. The countries on the edge of China would have been reduced to the subsistence existence of Soviet style economies. There would have been no time for these countries to develop their free-market economies and paths to freedom as the “Asian Tigers.” Indeed, in the 1950s one would be hard pressed to see much economic or personal freedom differences between Communist North or non-Communist South Korea.

It took several decades, the decades of wars in Indo-China, for the Asian countries along the rim of China to become the prosperous and free societies they are today, and to demonstrate the astounding contrast of their economic prosperity with that of the Communist economies. This sounds like the “domino effect” that was used by the Cold War advocates during the Vietnam War, and disdained because it never happened. It seems more likely that the dominos did not fall precisely because there were the Malaysian, Korean and Vietnam anti-Communist wars which propped up the dominoes until they were robust enough to stand on their own. 

Second: The Asian ant-Communist wars helped bring down the Soviet Union and the rule of Communism in Eastern Europe. This is directly related to our first point. That is, the prosperity of the “Asian Tigers” and well-being and prosperity of Western Europe made comparisons with Soviet and East European Communism embarrassing.

At the beginning of the Cold War, George Kennan, an influential American diplomate who had been on post in Moscow during the 1930s and had observed Stalin’s purges and atrocities, prophetically argued that “containment” of the Communists states was necessary for their internal contradictions, cruelties, inefficiencies and economic stagnation to become obvious. He believed that with time they would be forced to either change, moderate, or collapse. Indeed, that is what happened. In Europe containment took the form of the Marshall plan of economic reconstruction, and the NATO military alliance. In Asia it was the wars fought by the British, the French and the Americans with their local allies.

Another important factor in the fall of Soviet Communism was the fact that free-market, democratic countries were pulling way ahead of Communist countries in electronic and computer technology. This was precisely because in democratic societies’ communications were free and uncensored, and ideas and innovations flowed freely between corporations, small start-up companies, and computer “geeks,” through industry journals, hobby clubs, conferences, etc. These instruments of communication were not possible under the highly censored Communist systems. But again, that developed over several decades and was not foreseeable in the 1950s nor even in the 1960s.

A Speculation, a better outcome in Vietnam:

To speculate, what would have happened if for instance, President Johnson had asked for and received a declaration of war at the very beginning of the Vietnam conflict? The anti-war movement would have developed slowly or not at all, as overt demonstrations could have been prosecuted as legally treasonous. In this scenario the South Vietnamese Army and Cambodian armies would have had more time to develop and reform, and with continued American air power support, could well have repulsed the North Vietnamese 1975 offensive as they had done the earlier Easter offensive.[20]

Further, what if, in 1975 or 1976, the North Vietnamese realized they could not win, and an armistice line declared in Indo-China, just like Korea, with parts of Laos and Cambodia still non-communist? In this scenario the great part of the Cambodian Genocide would have been avoided, and the area as a whole, with is Chinese merchants present, would have developed rapidly as a free market economy and democratic government echoing the trajectory of South Korea and Taiwan. This would have resulted in a net gain of several million persons saved from death and torture. Economic (and spiritual) prosperity similar to that of the Asian Tigers would have come to the area decades sooner and more sustained than the present outcomes in all of Indo-China. To be specific, Laos languishes on as a semi-Communist country, Vietnam has developed a form of “crony capitalism” in which the former North Vietnamese generals run profitable companies, and Vietnamese labor conditions are awful (not the “worker’s paradise” promised).[21]

The Vietnam Trolley went on its way:

Trolley parable becomes a bit unwieldly in analyzing Vietnam, but let me try. Presidents Johnson and Nixon (Jane in the parable) hit the lever to go on the tract to kill just one child, rather than the five on the stalled van. But at the same time others in the trolley disputed that decision, denounced Jane as a murder and pulled the lever back to its main setting, and then let go. The natural consequence was the deaths of the children in the van in a horrible fiery event when the gas tank ruptured. The wrecked van was thrown aside by the momentum of the trolley. Those who reset the lever pretended nothing much happened.

The salient thing about the anti-War activists was their non-historical and ideologically formed moral beliefs. This is especially true of the radical Left. Even after the Cambodian genocide they went on feeling justified because they had ended the “needless killings” in Vietnam. They took no responsibility for the “needless killings” of the Cambodian genocide. They saw themselves as heroes for having nullified and defeated the military-industrial complex. For many of the activist politics became the stage for continued moral posturing, as is normative to Leftism. As in for example: “I am a progressive, but you are a war-mongering bourgeois, and greedy businessman, etc.” Or specifically about the anti-war radicals, “I stopped the killing in Vietnam, and furthered love and peace, but you were responsible for napalming civilians, etc.”

As Niebuhr would have pointed out, such judgments are rash and moralistic, and do not represent a mature appreciation of true moral dilemmas that have to be made by those in power. Indeed, every high level government official will have some sort of trolley dilemma in their career.

Hilary Clinton is a great example of this. She came from a Methodist and conservative household, and as a high-school student campaigned for Senator Barry Goldwater. Later, as a college junior she turned Left and changed political alliances, ultimately campaigned for Senator Eugene McCarthy who was running on a strong anti-War platform, and against Lyndon Johnson. We do not know if she ever joined in chanting, “Hey hey, how many kids did you kill today.” She would not likely admit to it now.

In any case, after being First Lady to Bill Clinton, she was elected senator from New York. There she began to experiences some of the trolley dilemmas that those in power are wont to experience. For instance, she voted in favor of the Iraq War, on the assumption that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. That is, to use force now, to avoid a bigger tragedy later. Of course the intelligence estimates were wrong, and a long war resulted for no gain and much chaos.

As Secretary of State under Obama she entered into the seedy but necessary business of building alliances to fight ISIL and other Islamic terrorists. Some of the allies available in this war are every bit as corrupt and unsavory as the allies Truman and Johnson had in fighting Communism. Clinton also had the reputation of being more “hawkish” than Obama, and urged more force be applied directly to combat ISIS than the President was willing to use. That is, she believed that the trolley lever had to be pulled harder for immediate increase in violence and war to avoid larger and more devastating consequences later. She may have been right, or perhaps not, and Obamas’ restraint may have been wiser. We must wait for history to make this clear. In any case there were no demonstrators against Clinton shouting, “Hilary, Hilary how many drones killed kids today!”[22] All of which means that in a position of power, Hillary was forced to come to the Niebuhr like conclusion that to achieve a broad good and prevent the triumph of evil, some violence and political compromises are necessary – much different form her position as a student when she and her anti-war allies could posture that all violence must be ended now.

It is interesting to note that her boss, President Obama, has been a conscious fan of Niebuhr all of his political life. David Brooks, the New York Times conservative columnist interviewed Obama when he was a senator:
Out of the blue I asked, “Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?”
Obama’s tone changed. “I love him. He’s one of my favorite philosophers.”
So I asked, What do you take away from him?
“I take away,” Obama answered in a rush of words, “the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away ... the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.”[23]

Biblical perspective on human wisdom:

To be clear, I am not arguing that political and ideological argumentation is always wrong or misleading, but rather that any political system or ideology must be counterbalanced by a good grasp of history and the ability to correct itself if historical facts contradicted its assumptions. This quality was what the anti-war movement lacked.

Is it most important to note that the Bible is mostly an anthology of historical books. Proverbs give wise advice, but it is not a work of theological reflection or ideological reasoning. If theology is the religious twin of ideology, then certain passages from Paul and the other Epistle writers can pass as theology. But note the balance in the Bible, a lot of history, some moral guidance and encouragement, some poetry, and a dash of theology.

The Bible is so thoroughly historical that much of its history is repeated. The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles repeat and give a different perspective on the books of 1 and 2 Kings. The four Gospels repeat and comment on each other. Is this God’s way of saying to us that historical understand is a better way to wisdom than ideology?  I believe the answer is obvious.

To buttress this let me point out that in the history of Christianity those nations which prided themselves as Christian because their theology was orthodox often sinned in the most cruel and astonishing ways. I am thinking of Spain in the Middle Ages and its development of the Inquisition, which was a terror tool to enforce orthodox theology. Note that no one died at the hands of the Inquisition because they misunderstood the chronology of Matthew 1, or the sequence of the reigning Kings of Judah. But many were often tortured and burnt to death because they disagreed with the Catholic theological/philosophical consensus.

The parallels between the Inquisition and Stalin’s tribunals and torture cells are too numerous to list. This over-estimation of philosophically driven theology and its catastrophic expectation - that dissenting theologies will lead to heresy, damnation and the ruination of the Church, is by no means restricted to Medieval Catholicism. The masterful works of the Christian historian Philip Jenkins have shown us that early on, Christians took differences in terminology and philosophical understanding of Biblical revelation as something serious enough to kill for.  In short theology became an idol to be obeyed rather than a servant of faith.[24]

But let us return to the main subject at hand. How to have wisdom for those who must make “trolley” decisions large and small, as in a coach who must cut team members, a company executive who must save his company by firing some of his excellent staff, or the governor of a nation who must decide between peace and war. It is an understanding that we are on earth not to produce perfect outcomes and utopias, but to do the best we can to limit human suffering and injustice – even if it means pulling the trolley lever.

Last words:

Certainly American did not fight the Cold War wars sinlessly or without foolish elements and miscalculation. That is inherent to human political life, as Niebuhr would point out. But the ultimate achievement was of titanic importance for the long-term welfare of the world and should be recognized and celebrated by all Americans. We might even consider setting aside a national holiday and day of remembrance, as for instance the day the Berlin Wall fell (November 9).

One last, last word. Our defeat in Vietnam brought not only tremendous divisiveness, but much humiliation. The latter may have been a secret blessing. For the war was fought in spiritual presumption, and without a national prayer campaign. General Westmoreland and the political leadership just assumed that America’s overwhelming military and economic strength would ensure victory. World War II seemed to have been won by our sheer ability to out produce weapons and munitions on a far greater scale than our enemies.
The Bible warns the people of God against this:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
(Psalm 20:7)

Perhaps we should learn that when the Nation is again poised on the verge of pulling the trolley lever of war our leaders should be bathed in prayer for wisdom. And if the war is necessary, our troops covered in constant prayers for protection.

The very last thought: I have been fiercely critical of the anti-Vietnam war movement, but I must recognize that some good came out of it. Specifically, it brought to the fore the issue of civilian casualties in war and made it impossible for political and military leaders to drift into the “all things are fair” mentality that led to the massive civilian casualties in World War II. You can note how much care the American military and its allies have used in limiting civilian deaths in the Iraq wars and in the Afghanistan. The rules of engagement have been rigorously enforced in these wars, and there seems to have been no repetition of the Mai Lie massacre.  In fact the military leadership in Afghanistan discussed creating a new medal, the “courageous restraint” medal, to be given to those troops who withhold fire under sever provocation and danger – recall the B-24 airmen I mentioned at the beginning of the article. [25]  The medal was never approved or implemented, but it indicative of how sensitive the American military is to the issue of civilian casualties.[26] This is a return to a sane and workable “just war” practice and should be lauded.

 The link to part one is accessed HERE


Just appeared, a very informative article on the leadership and war strategy of the North Vietnamese, Nguyen Lien-Hanq, "Who Called the Shots in Hanoi?' New York Times, Posted February 14, 2017. It can be sourced HERE.

An article from the NYT on the abismal state of prisons in Vietnam HERE


The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my latest book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.

The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]


[1] The Viet Ming were initially well supplied with American arms and ammunition given them in WWII because they were an effective fighting force against the Japanese. This is similar to what happened in Afghanistan with American arms and munitions that went to the Mujahidin to fight the Soviets – and then supplied what became Al-Qaida. Wars are full of unintended consequences and surprises of this sort.  
[2] I have a friend who served in an Army intelligence unit based in Thailand during the Vietnam War. The American presence in Thailand was never recognized by either the This or US governments.  His base was not on the map, and his unit’s records are gone. He and his fellow soldiers on the base never received the Vietnam service ribbon. One of his intelligence intercepts was so important that when it was radioed to Washington President Johnson was awakened (4:00 am).  He has not told me what it was.
[3] John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
[4] Very similar thing happened more recently in Iraq. After much American blood and treasure, the American forces left Iraq with its army well on its way to becoming a highly professional and competent fighting force. But the Iraqi president Maliqi cashiered efficient officers who were not his cronies and Iraq’s Army quickly became a corrupt and inefficient force, routed by a small number of ISIS fighters in spite of having much superior equipment. More money and effort were required to rebuild it.
[5] Note the rules of war in Deuteronomy 20.
[6]This has not been documented sufficiently. I received some information on this from Major Russell Ramsey (later major of Gainesville, Florida) when he was a graduate student at the University of Florida where we took several classes together. In 1967 he had returned from deployment with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) as a company commander. He described several heart rending stories of the Viet Cong purposely using civilians as shields. Currently, in Afghanistan, the Taliban also understand all too well the American rules of engagement and use them similarly. Of course Communist armies did not have similar restraint. For instance, the Chinese suppression of the Tibetan revolt was utterly ruthless with many massacres perpetrated, and no news about them permitted to escape.   
[7] Karl Marx, The German Ideology. First written sometime before the Communist Manifesto, but not discovered and released until 1932.
[8] Haynes, and Klehr, In Denial. I recall, circa 1964, meeting up with a pair of American communists in a Soviet Union display and fair in NYC. They claimed that the Hungarian uprising of 1954 was nothing other than a rebellion by vicious “fascists bands.”
[9]Sadly, in the peace established by Yalta agreements, Poland was left to the tender mercies of Stalin’s Red Army. This was because the Western powers, perhaps rightly, sensed they were not in a good position to fight Stalin’s huge and effective tank armies – our Sherman tanks would have been massacred by the Red Army’s T-34s and the newer Stalin tanks.
[10] This reminds me of something that Governor Lester Maddox of Georgia said back in the 1970s when queried about prison reform, “What Georgia prisons need is a better class of prisoners.” In the Cold War, we needed a better class of allies to fight for.
[11] For a positive take on the Berrigans, see James Carroll’s, “Daniel Berrigan, My Dangerous Friend” New Yorker, May 2, 2016
[12] Luke Hansen, S.J., “The peacemaking legacy of Daniel Berrigan, S.J.” America, posted April 30, 2016.
[13] Older scholarship believed Gnosticism arose sometime after the Second Century A.D. But the pioneer work of Walter Schmithals, showed that Gnosticism was alive and well as the prime opposition movement to Paul’s understanding of Christianity. See his Gnosticism in Corinth: An Investigation of the Letters to the Corinthians. Trans. By John E. Steely (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971), first published in German in 1956. Subsequent research has overwhelmingly validated his findings. For a definitive affirmation of the Schmithals’ work, see Kurt Rudolph Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism (New York: Harper & Roe, 1983).
[14] Sadly, this was not unknown even in our “good war,” WWII. In the retaking of the Aleutian island of Kiska, the Japanese had secretly evacuated the island before the Americans invaded, several infantry officers died of gunshots in the back.
[15] Plato, Crito.  My very humble contribution to the Vietnam war is pictured in a blog page at:
[16]I was unaware of how much the churches prayed for the safety of our troops and the Allied success, for it is not mentions in the histories of that war, until I worked with an older person who remembered the War who told me that, in Georgia at least, the town streets were empty on Wednesday night as everyone was in Church praying for the troops. There are hints of that prayer campaign scattered about, for instance in Glenn Clark’s war time book, The Third Front Through the Path of Faith, Hope and Love (St. Paul: Macalester Park, 1944).
[17] Happily, the churches seemed to have learned a lesson, and in the post-Vietnam era American troops have been supported with sustained prayer. I recall that when Desert Storm broke out in 1990 there was opposition to the war itself, but none of the jeering and cynical insulting to the troops who went over, as happened to many Vietnam veterans.
[18] Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power and Genocide in Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge, 1975–79. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).
[19] A much admired and controversial Catholic exorcist, Fr. Malachi Martin, now deceased, wrote in his work, Hostage to the Devil (New York: Reader’s Digest Press 1976) that some persons are “perfectly possessed” by the Devil to do serious harm in their corporations, schools, etc. These people cannot be exorcised, because all vestiges of resistance to the Devil has been surrendered. In an exorcism the victim must cooperate, at least in a limited way, with the exorcist. All of this makes sense of such person as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pack, who did evil and destruction to their last breath, but this side of heaven we cannot know if this theory is true.
[20] This scenario was suggested to me by a college buddy who I talked with at our 50th anniversary reunion. He who served as an Army advisor in the Mekong Delta, andrecounted that the Vietnamese Army units in his area were very good, and fought off the North Vietnamese for a full three weeks after the fall of Saigon.

[21]Labor and Human Rights Coalition Call for Suspension of Trade Discussion with Vietnam,” Teamsters, press release.” Posted July 24, 2013.

[22] The morality of drone strikes has been an issue for the Left during the current anti-Terror War. For them, these pilot-less craft are a particularly immoral. But on thinking about it rationally the opposite is true. If one is to fight an insurgency which by its own tactics blends into the innocent population, then a drone strike with a Hellfire missile does a lot less collateral damage than a 1,000 lbs. bomb. Certainly some collateral damage will always be done, but it is a long way from carpet bombing by British or American bombers. The real issue is that of moralistic pacifism. That is, to certain persons, war with any means is always immoral, and language can be crafted to give a dramatic presentation of its immorality, as in, “The pistol bullet produced a terrible wound which tore apart his liver and spleen…”         
[23] David Brooks, “Obama, Gospel and Verse.” NYT Posted April 26, 2007.
[24] Philip Jenkins, Jesus Wars (New York: Harper Collins,2010). Details the forgotten story of how Oriental Christians (Copts) and Orthodox Christians were killing and torturing each other from the Fourth Century because of a philosophical disagreement on how to understand the divinity of Christ.
[25] Barbara Starr. “Military proposes medal for troops using restraint” CNN posted may 12, 2010.
[26] One of my friends, and my source for what goes one in Right-wing talk radio, came to work some time ago and told me that “Obama is now giving medals to soldiers for not shooting!” He was furious, and mistaken of course. I wrote a play about the very issue in the context of the Vietnam War, entitled Annita Gunn (1973), but only produced twice by an amateur volunteer group. The plot was based on Sophocles’’ Antigone.