11th United States Cavalry - 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment
11 July 2001
Excerpt from book Vietnam Insights by James M. Griffiths
Many view our efforts in Vietnam as a setback. I come from the point of view that America succeeded militarily in the war then withdrew and the South Vietnamese lost the war. Even for those who think that we had a military setback and lost in Vietnam the following excerpt should be instructive.
An alternative method of looking at the Vietnam War is to view the war as not an end unto itself but as a part of the overall struggle referred to as the cold war. When this perspective is used, American participation in the Vietnam War is viewed in a much more positive light than has been the norm.
The argument advanced is that the American participation in the Vietnam War helped to defeat international communism and pave the way for the ultimate collapse of America's chief adversary in the cold war, the Soviet Union. The American side won the cold war. Even if it is perceived that the United States had a setback in Vietnam, it did not compromise the overall aim of defeating world communism.
Others feel that by fighting the communists in Vietnam, the United States bought time for other Southeast Asian Nations to bolster themselves against possible communist insurgencies. It can be assumed, in retrospect, that given its financial situation the Soviet Union could ill afford to fund the increasing military needs of North Vietnam as the war escalated. If this was true, other potential communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia probably had to do without Soviet assistance thereby gaining time for the non-communist forces in other countries to bolster their positions. Many have said that the United States spent the Soviet Union into oblivion. The war in Vietnam can be viewed as part of this process.
Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk, National Security Advisor Walt Rostow, and Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew commenting on whether the high costs of the Vietnam War were justified give an answer in the affirmative.
“Dean Rusk, Walt Rostow, Lee Kwan Yew, and many other geopoliticians across the globe to this day answer yes. They conclude that without U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Communist hegemony--both Soviet and Chinese--would have spread farther through South and East Asia to include Indonesia, Thailand, and possibly India. Some would go further and say that the USSR would have been led to take greater risks to extend its influence elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Middle East where it might well have sought control of the oil-producing nations."(15)
Richard Armitage a former Assistant Secretary of Defense supports the belief that American Vietnam involvement bought time for other nations to resist communism. "Arguably, the non-Communist nations of Asia have thrived, and this has been so because of the time bought for them by the sacrifice of our nation and our people." (16)
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger echoed the same theme. "America failed in Vietnam, but it gave the other nations of Southeast Asia time to deal with their own insurrections."(17)
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was complimentary to the United States while supporting the same concept of the previous luminaries. In a speech, "Thatcher commended Americans for their involvement in the Vietnam War, saying that the offensive saved many other countries from communist rule."(18)
Some present day media commentators have chosen to place the Vietnam War into the context of the cold war also. Media commentators in general have rarely portrayed the effort in Vietnam in a positive light but ABC News commentator Jack Smith has said this about the war, "Containment, my friends, worked. We won the cold war. And however meaningless Vietnam seemed at the time, it contributed to the fall of communism."(19)
George Will columnist for Newsweek and commentator for ABC News said on This Week With David Brinkley, on April 30, 1995 (the twentieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon), "I think the final judgment on Vietnam has yet to be written. It seems to me that it was part of the cold war and we won the cold war and maybe it contributed." (20)
Harry Summers Jr. eloquently stated the case concerning the linking of the Vietnam War, the cold war, the struggle for democracy, and the concept of lost war: “ When Saigon fell, it was seen as a plus for communism and as a loss for democracy and the United States. But Vietnam was just a battle in a much larger war, and the final victory of that war is now at hand. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, it is Communism that finds itself on the ash heap of history. And it is democracy, and the United States, that has emerged as the ultimate victor in that epic struggle.”(21)
Summers also said in reference to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial:
“ Ten years ago, they called it a 'Black Gash of Shame,' a 'Hole in the Ground,' a 'Sarcophagus." The one thing that it was never called was a 'Victory Monument.' But as history continued to unfold, that's what it has turned out to be ...... It is a world profoundly different from the one when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated. And it is different in large measure because of the sacrifices made by those whose names are inscribed on the Wall. 'Black Gash of Shame' indeed. How about 'V' for victory instead?"(22)
1 James M. Griffiths, Vietnam Insights: Logic of Involvement and Unconventional Perspectives, (New York: Vantage Press, 2000).
15. Robert S. McNamara, In Retrospect, The Tragedy and Lessons ofVietnam (New York: Random House, 1995), p.319.
16. Richard Armitage in Bill McCloud, What Should We Tell Our Children About Vietnam? (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989), p.5.
17. Henry Kissinger in McCloud, What Should We Tell Our Children about Vietnam?, p.69.h
18. Margaret Thatcher in a speech to the Economics Club of Southwestern Michigan, Herald Palladium, St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, Michigan, January 24 1992.
19. Jack Smith in Jan Scruggs, ed., Writings on the Wall, Reflections on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Washington, DC: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, 1994), p.15.
20. George Will on ABC News, This Week with David Brinkley, April 30,1995.
21. Harry Summers Jr., in Scruggs, Writings on the Wall, p.42
22. Ibid., p.42