Mr. Briley has presented his views of the Vietnam War era and some of its events, as he believes those views apply to the war in Iraq today. As is too often seen in such essays, he presents opinions and perceptions, both his and those of others, as historical fact. In one instance, he refers to “the mythology that the Vietnam War was lost on the home front by an antiwar movement”. Since the memoirs of numerous North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front notables (e.g., Vo Nguyen Giap and Truong Nhu Tang) have made it crystal clear how heavily they counted on the effect of the antiwar movement in America and that the propaganda war (dich van) was as important to the North Vietnamese leaders as the military campaign, dismissing the significance of the antiwar movement in that history as “mythology” is quite invalid.
There is also the blanket statement that “many Vietnam veterans were active in questioning the war and American foreign policy”. The largest and best-known veterans’ antiwar group of the time was the Vietnam Veterans Against The War, which, at its height, could not demonstrate more than 1000 actual veterans were members. One may say that a thousand qualifies as “many”, but as a percentage of the well over 3 million US veterans of the conflict, it is not especially impressive. And a number of its members, including Al Hubbard (one of the founders) were later proven to not be war veterans at all.
Mr. Briley refers to the famous/infamous Winter Soldier Investigation, which he says, “documented how the Vietnam War led to atrocities”. The many flaws of that particular event and some of its organizers and participants have been documented, and can be readily found on the web at WinterSoldier.com. There can be no doubt that individual atrocities were committed by US troops during that war, as they were in every American war starting with our Revolution, since having large numbers of men engaged in the horrid business of war over any length of time will inevitably lead to some such incidents. (Just as any large urban police department will inevitably have some officers commit crimes.) But there has never been evidence to demonstrate the deliberate pattern of command encouragement or support of brutal behavior on the part of American troops. (A distinct contrast to the policies of assassination by the Viet Cong and the organized massacre of 4000+ people in Hue by the invading NVA/VC in 1968.)
He further states that these “facts” about terrible American actions in Viet Nam were subject to suppression by the “political right”, in the “infamous Swift Boat campaign”. Since the 250+ Swift Boat Veterans were made up of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, none of them professional politicians or activists, and all their statements about Mr. Kerry’s experience and claims related to serving in Viet Nam were factual personal testimony, no word of which has been disproved, how infamous can they be? Since they were financed primarily by small individual contributions which amounted to less than a single donation by George Soros to MoveOn.com, one has to ask if MoveOn.com and like groups should be classified as the “political left”, and a very well financed political left at that.
And of course, we have the popular claim that since Dr. Lembke could not document any publicized instances of soldiers being spat on, the entire concept is “essentially an urban myth”. Since I know personally at least four veterans who were spat on or at, and was myself the object of harassment when I wore my uniform onto the U of Maryland campus in December 1968, there can be no question that such events did occur. Whether it was one vet in 100 or one in 10,000 who was spat at or on is immaterial, what was and is important was that almost every returning vet knew about such incidents, and felt the burden of that rejection of his service, that disrespect for his experience. To pretend that since there were no front page photos in the NY Times of a veteran being spat on, nothing like it ever happened and Viet Nam veterans had no reason to feel any less accepted and honored than their fathers and uncles who had served in WW2, is utterly fatuous.
And lastly, we are told “Fonda got much closer to the front lines and military during the Vietnam War”. That presupposes that sitting in the seat of an antiaircraft gun in Hanoi when there are no planes in the sky qualifies as being near the front line. Most vets would take exception to that.
However, there is no doubt that Ms. Fonda did get close to the military, and in fact was one of the few who ever got to spend time near members of the opposing militaries in a single trip. Of course, sharing wonderful Vietnamese meals with NVA generals and making recordings to be broadcast to US troops urging them to disobey their officers was a major contrast with orchestrated visits to the Hanoi Hilton to chat, smiling, with prisoners who’d been very carefully coached on how to act with her. (Under the threat of more time spent in diversions like hanging from one’s bound elbows until shoulder dislocation occurs and one passes out from the pain. And there were those who refused to meet with her, one of whom spent 97 continuous hours standing in a small circle on a concrete floor before collapsing as a result.)
Mr. Briley is, as are all of us in this country, free to have his own thoughts and opinions about the war in Iraq, and to publish them widely. While presenting broad statements as historical fact which are actually extremely debatable is often done by columnists and commentators, here it is important to either clearly label input as opinion, or observe rigor in reporting historical events.