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From the National Office

By John Zutz

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It's been thirty years since the NVA tanks rolled through the gates of Saigon's presidential palace to end the fighting in Vietnam. For those of us connected to Vietnam, it's time to reflect on the past and make resolutions about the future.

Listening to many who speak of that war today, it would be easy to believe it was all glory and honor. Many of us experienced the days of boredom, and most of us survived the minutes of horrors. It was a war of mud, blood, and sweat. We saw things our schools hadn't taught us, and we smelled various types of feces—not much different from any other war.

Some, even some veterans, believe we could have won. Reasonable people can differ on that. In any case, after all our sacrifices, we lost. But we swore the country would learn "the lessons of Vietnam."

For most Americans, in the end, it was a war based on lies. We learned that LBJ lied about the incidents in the Tonkin Gulf to get us into the war. We learned, thirty years later, that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara realized in the early sixties that we couldn't win—but he kept saying we could win.

We learned that Richard Nixon, who was elected on a peace platform, wasn't a thief, but he was a liar. When he said he had a "secret plan" to end the war, he meant that he would increase the bombing and spread the war into neighboring countries, making the war more intense.

We learned that General Westmoreland lied when he said we were winning. We learned that the officers under him lied, using body counts and other means to reinforce his lies.

We learned that military operations are ineffective without a well-defined target, a well-defined withdrawal strategy, and a well-defined rebuilding strategy. We learned that military victories don't necessarily mean that our troops are able put their weapons down.

We learned that our country has a long history of turning its back on the returning troops, beginning with the American Revolution. In our case, our leaders denied the existence of Agent Orange, PTSD, and other war-related problems. We learned that our veterans have to fight our own government to have their problems addressed.

And, even now, as the Vietnamese people try to obtain compensation from the US government for the Vietnamese victims of our chemical warfare, we find that our courts reject their appeals, as they rejected ours for so many years. (VVAW continues to support the people of Vietnam in their demands, recognizing the continuing costs of war more than thirty years later.)

Those are the lessons of Vietnam. We swore back in the '70s and '80s that we would learn those lessons before we would send our sons and daughters into war again.

We lied.

Our current leaders supported the war in Vietnam while we were fighting, but most of them didn't have the balls to go themselves. Today we call them "chickenhawks."

Chickenhawks didn't learn the lessons. They stayed home with Mommy and watched the war on TV. From what they saw, they knew that what we were doing was right.

Those chickenhawks are lying to us today. It's bad enough that our leaders lied to get us into the current war. It's bad enough that our government is lying to us, telling us that we're winning, saying there's a light at the end of the tunnel. It's bad enough that they have flimflammed the troops to support them.

VVAW might be able to bypass all the lies.

We can't forgive the many who wrap themselves in the Christian banner—just as they use the Stars and Stripes—to spout the slogan "Support the Troops" while cutting veterans' benefits and veterans' health care. Many of them would like to privatize the VA.

We wish them all a special spot in the center circle of hell.

So, what's your resolution?

John Zutz is a national coordinator of VVAW.

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