Maybe it’s because I was too young then to know what I know now.
Or maybe it’s just the times in which I find myself.
But more and more, my mind keeps wandering back to the Vietnam Years, when I try to make sense of the Middle Eastern two-front war we’ve got ourselves into now.
You know, not since WWII has North America fought in a campaign, in-country, that the enemy has had cultural similarities to our own. Despite the losses and the list of “horribles” associated with Hitler and his Final Solution, our fighting men then fought in streets and on land against an enemy whose basic cultural background and social customs were akin to ours.
And ever since WWII, we have not decisively won any war into which we have entered where that cultural similarity has not been present. “…Know Your Enemy…” was a wisdom Sun Tzu sent down to future Generals in the 6th Century in his book “The Art of War”. And if it has ever been offered as mandatory reading to Cadets at West Point since then, those cadets that are now our modern-day Generals must have gone to the Indigo Book Store and read the Cliff Notes instead!… It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle.
It is with this thought in my mind these days, that the question of whether or not we as a warring people have succeeded in accomplishing this task now, in Afghanistan and Iraq, when history has so clearly demonstrated that we did NOT accomplish said in Korea and Vietnam.
And ONE clear example of our failure to do so shines out above all the rest…
During one 1968 Tet Offensive in the south-central Vietnamese district of Son My, the village of My Lai was identified as an area of particular danger and VC infiltration, known to the grunts on the ground and the Generals in the war rooms as part of Pinkville,
an area of Vietnam seeing more American blood-shed than all others.
If you are a war history aficionado at all, I need NOT retell the details of that horrid little offensive, as you well know it stands out as one of the more colossal and embarrassing feats in the entire Vietnam campaign.
And because it was found out, politically, lower echelon heads had to roll to appease the American voters and the Washington High Mucky-Mucks, who wanted NOT to be seen as approving such an action, or allowing such an action to be swept under the Pentagon carpet as the collateral damages of war.
Never mind that the VC in that area had literally, incessantly tortured hundreds of American soldiers with utter barbarous booby traps and endless sniper attacks, but if you go out and obey your orders, and women, babies and the elderly are killed, YOU, not them, will have to be seen as the Devil.
No mention was made of the fact that these civilians, less the babies, of course, had regularly supported the VC in that area since the beginning of the war. Hardly a mention was made of the fact that information was given to the GIs before entering the area that ALL persons seen in that area were to be considered enemy combatants and therefore to be killed on site. Hardly a mention was made of the fact that the leaders of that offensive that day were told that ALL innocent civilians HAD been removed so all that would remain would be the enemy, plain and simple.
The grunts on the ground were given the order to shoot and kill ANYTHING that moved. Period.
Nope. The citizens of the US only saw the now infamous photos taken that day and the babies that were gunned down for no other reason than to be the children of Vietnamese mothers who HAD long ago supported the VC infiltration of their village.
Flash forward some 42 years and we have the same accusations bearing down on our American GIs again, in certain areas of Afghanistan and Iraq, where natives have been shot down, needlessly, it has been estimated, by some.
Maybe not to the same extent as My Lai, as yet. But the Middle East conflict has, in my opinion, only just begun.
If you take a soldier, put him in-country and do NOT teach him to properly know his enemy, massacres will inevitably be the outcome when the tide turns against a possible win and far greater loss of life to the GI occurs. Soldiers DO have their breaking points, and as yet, maybe our contemporary soldiers have yet to meet theirs, save for the Abu Ghraib debacle.
Maybe our armies today are better informed and more knowledgeable in how to avoid such wanton massacres… but I wonder…
Have we reached our breaking point with these 3rd world religious zealots as yet? The longer our troops are over there, the better the chances of seeing another My Lai, as I believe we know NOT our enemy any better in the Middle East than we ever did in Korea or Vietnam.
We have got ourselves in another war with people wholly unlike ourselves, in a two-front campaign that generals before us, and even Hitler found out, was the death-knell of any tactical success. If the Allied casualties mount to that of the Vietnam “police action”, and our GIs are pummelled day after day with similar bestial tactics, how long do we expect they can hold their own psychologically, and will we treat these fighting men as badly as we did the grunts on the ground at My Lai that day?
I shudder to have to find out, but the clock IS ticking and the body count, though we rarely get to see those bodies for ourselves, IS mounting…
Don’t be too surprised if March 16, 1968 becomes March 16, 2011 or 2012.
Paddy rice for thought…