He went on to state various accounts of US villainy in its war against North Viet Nam with a very selective accounting of some events of that war. A sentence from his last paragraph says, “Perhaps the bomb shelter will serve to remind people of the great wrong we imposed on a country halfway around the world.”
I must respond. Since I am certain that Mr. Hayden would not intentionally distort the truth, I will assume that he has forgotten some facts, and they were, therefore, accidentally omitted. Some of those facts will follow.
It occurs to me that most of your readers know very little about the Viet Nam War and know less about Tom Hayden. To adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, Viet Nam is ancient history. For them, and for those of us who are older and may have forgotten, following is a bullet-point history.
US military involvement in Viet Nam spanned several decades and the administrations of five presidents. A lot of wise people thought our country’s activity there was important.
When President Eisenhower left office in 1961 there were less than 900 US troops in Viet Nam.
President Kennedy expanded our presence significantly, and when he was assassinated in 1963, there were about 16,000 US troops in Viet Nam.
During the Johnson administration our military activity in Viet Nam exploded into a large-scale war with over 500,000 men in combat when Johnson left office in 1969.
Nixon assumed office with the war raging and with a commitment to get us out of the conflict while still maintaining our honor. When he resigned in 1974, all troops had been withdrawn, the POWs had been released, the South Vietnamese military was defending its country with skill and courage, and a truce existed between the US and North Viet Nam giving South Viet Nam the same freedoms that are enshrined in our Bill of Rights.
The US government assured the South Vietnamese government that we would replace the war material that they expended defending themselves “bullet for bullet.” In other words, we agreed that we would see that they had the armaments to defend themselves from the invading army.
During the Johnson and Nixon administrations an anti-war movement built up that became an industry and in which many influential people were personally and professionally invested. Many members of congress were involved in the movement. These congressmen were of both parties, but the majority of them were members of the Democrat Party.
North Viet Nam, South Viet Nam, the Viet Cong, and the United States signed the Paris Peace Accord of January 1973, and fighting temporarily stopped. The US Senate refused to ratify it.
The returning POWs thanked the administration for the bombing raids on North Viet Nam, which led to the agreement that brought them home. Most of them had been tortured hideously during their long imprisonment. Many did not survive the mistreatment.
While the Nixon administration was trying to wind down our involvement in Viet Nam, President Nixon became entangled in the Watergate scandal and resigned.
Gerald Ford, as Vice President when Nixon resigned, assumed the presidency in August 1974. Mid-term elections were held, and the Democrats won an overwhelming victory, leaving Ford powerless.
This 94th Congress refused to continue to live up to the agreement to re-arm South Viet Nam. North Viet Nam launched a massive invasion of the South. Ford went before a joint session of Congress and literally begged them to appropriate the money for arms to be sent to South Viet Nam. Congressional members of the anti-war movement walked out, and Congress refused to appropriate the money to replenish South Viet Nam’s armaments.
South Viet Nam ran out of ammunition and was defeated. South Viet Nam ceased to exist.
The esteemed Senator William Fulbright summed up his sentiment and that of the other members of Congress who abrogated our agreement to South Viet Nam; “I feel as much remorse as I would feel if Arkansas lost a football game to Texas.” Over 58,000 Americans died in the war and millions of people from North and South Viet Nam.
Then the slaughter began as the North Vietnamese hunted down and murdered those who assisted the Americans. Hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens were sent to ‘re-education camps’, hundreds of thousands more took to the sea in leaky boats, rafts, and anything that would float to try to reach land anyplace that would take them. Most drowned, were killed by pirates, or starved, but many reached land in places like Singapore and Hong Kong (then a British colony). Many Americans of Vietnamese ancestry are descendents of the ‘Boat People’, who were resettled in the United States.
It is popular to speak of America losing a war against North Viet Nam. No such thing happened. US troops were withdrawn in accordance with an agreement. Our country was not involved in the fighting when South Viet Nam fell. No one knows what would have happened had we lived up to our commitment to provide arms to South Viet Nam, but it is unlikely that their country would have been overrun.
During the war years, our country became divided over the war and a large anti-war industry developed. Tom Hayden was one of many whose career and fame were acquired by openly assisting totalitarian North Viet Nam as it tried to subdue a flawed, but democratically governed, South Viet Nam. Entertainers earned millions selling anti-war music. As stated earlier, many in Congress were a part of this industry.
When it appeared that we would, in fact, exit the war honorably, South Viet Nam would survive as a country, and North Viet Nam would be thwarted in its effort to subdue the South, the anti-war industry could not let it happen; they had too much of their lives invested in a different outcome. The 94th Congress saw to it that South Viet Nam could not defend itself. Simply put, we betrayed them.