Thursday, May 17, 2007

National Dishonor

In his book, America: The Last Best Hope, Vol. 2, Bill Bennett writes about Congress cutting off funding for support of our allies in Southeast Asia in the mid 1970s. He notes that the anti-war crowd had argued for years that the conflict in Vietnam was merely a civil war. They willingly ignored the clear lines of support and direction to the “indigenous” Vietcong from North Vietnam and the Soviet Union.

After cutting off all financial and military support, many of the anti-war members of Congress expressed shock when the Communist “North Vietnamese army leaders shredded their agreements” with the U.S. and “brazenly rolled over their Southern neighbors.”

When the “U.S. ambassador and his staff had to be airlifted by helicopter from the embassy roof” in Saigon, President Ford said, “This is not a day for recriminations.” Bennett says, “Ronald Reagan reportedly answered, “What better day?””

The potential outcomes of the discontinuance of aid had been openly discussed. When Representative Don Fraser (D-MN) was asked if he and his colleagues wanted Cambodia to fall, he replied “Yes, under controlled circumstances to minimize the loss of life.” Rep. Fraser and his colleagues willed a legally established pro-American government to fall because they said that Americans were tired of the war.

In the vacuum left by our abandonment of our allies, the Communists gleeful and horrifically ousted the legitimate government. The Killing Fields of Cambodia soon consumed over two million human lives. It’s difficult to imagine how much worse it would have been had not the loss of life been “minimized,” per the anti-war crowd’s desire.

Bennett’s description (pp. 448-449) of what happened when we quit supporting the Republic of Cambodia is almost difficult to read.

Henry Kissinger records the response of a pro-American leader of Cambodia. Distraught at the collapse of American will and American allies in Southeast Asia, Kissinger offered to rescue Sirik Matak from certain death. Matak’s response, in elegant French, is memorable:

“I thank you very sincerely for your letter and your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave [Cambodia] in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would … [abandon] a people which have chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it. You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under the sky. [If I die here] I have committed only this mistake of believing you.”

“When the Communist Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh, they shot Matak in the stomach. Unattended, it took him three days to die.”

Bennett suggests that Matak “should have sent his letter to Senator Kennedy and Congressman Fraser.”

This dishonorable episode is just one of the reasons Bennett titled his chapter covering 1974-1981, The Years the Locusts Ate (see Joel 2:25).


Charles D said...

Alas, Bill Bennett as usual, has his facts wrong as well as his conclusions.

First of all, the government of Cambodia was a constitutional monarchy until it was overthrown by a military coup in 1970 by Lon Nol and Sirik Matak (at the urging of Nixon, as your Wikipedia article states). It is that dictatorship Rep Fraser was referring to.

Second, we did not have "allies" in Southeast Asia (Indochina specifically) until the CIA helped setup a puppet government in the South of Vietnam to subvert the UN plan to hold free elections throughout the country following the departure of the French.

Certainly the end of US involvement in Vietnam was an ignoble conclusion to a bloody and unnecessary intervention in the affairs of another state. It is highly likely that our involvement in Iraq, even more unnecessary and ill-advised than our venture in Vietnam, will meet the same ignoble end.

If we wish to avoid future defeats of this nature, we should strive to avoid unilateral intervention in the affairs of other states. We reap what we sow.

Scott Hinrichs said...

You belie your prejudices when you inaccurately claim that Bennett usually “has his facts wrong.” One may disagree with Bennett’s slant and conclusions, but his facts are indeed correct.

By the time Congress cut funding for those the U.S. had agreed to support, our involvement in Southeast Asia had spanned a quarter of a century and six presidential administrations. Our alliances with less than worthy leaders and other mistakes in the region are certainly regrettable. It was appropriate to question the value of aid following our major military withdrawal.

However, we knew that cutting off aid cold turkey would consign millions of people to slavery and death, but we went ahead with it to score political points. We shirked our humanitarian duty. We certainly could have found more humane methods of reducing our involvement in the region. We became accomplices to genocide.

That is a dishonor to our nation.

Charles D said...

At what point should a person or nation, realizing that it has been and still is committing a great sin, choose to stop? Or should one continue in sin because some of your fellow sinners may suffer if you repent? (The fact that others before have committed the same sin does not absolve you of responsibility, by the way.) It is a clear choice as it was in the 1970's.

There most certainly were more humane ways to have ended our involvement. Admitting we were wrong from the beginning, paying reparations to the people of Vietnam, and negotiating safety or exit for those who assisted us in our illegal invasion and occupation - that might have worked, but it was too damaging politically for Nixon and Kissinger to consider.

Since it was clear before the end of the Johnson Presidency that the American people hated this war and knew the scam that had been perpetrated on them, an honest and moral President would have ended this misadventure in the first year of his term. As the record shows, that's not what Nixon did.

The "national dishonor" comes from illegal and unwarranted intervention, covertly or overtly, in the affairs of other nations. Until we stop committing that sin, we cannot have honor.