Sunday, July 19, 2009

#130 Wisdom of the Week--Walter Cronkite

Old words of wisdom, to be sure ... a bit over forty-one years. But their impact on the times and their relevance to our state of war today and the last eight years cry out for their reprise. In fact, I can't help but wonder IF--close to death and hearing reports (he would have been a newsman to the end) about our escalating presence and increasing loss of American lives in the Middle East--"Uncle" Walter might not have thought and wished, "I hope they replay my Vietnam editorial for the people, after I'm gone. I'm still proud of it. It changed the minds of many about our involvement in that war, and may do the same today for those who allow the past to teach us about the present."

He got his/my wish, as we have seen and heard snippets of that Feb. 1968 broadcast over the last few days after his death at 92. (Small hooray for outliving Bob McNamara, chief architect of the Vietnam War, if only by a couple of weeks.) I've heard no overt connections made so far, however, between that speech and our situation today. I'm sure there will be. Here are salient excerpts with addenda and emphases mine:

  • Tonight, back in the familiar surroundings of New York, we'd like to sum up our findings in Vietnam [after the Tet offensive] ... Who won and who lost? ... The referees of history may make it a draw... On the political front, past performance gives no confidence that the [South] Vietnamese government can cope with its problems [like the US puppets in the Middle East] ...
  • We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders [Bush, Rumsfeld, Obama] ... to have faith any longer in the silver linings ["Mission Accomplished" "Sovereignty Day"] they find in the darkest clouds ... For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate [after six more bloody years under Nixon] ...
  • To say that we are closer to victory [or "withdrawal" from the Middle East] today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past [mainly Republicans, but now too many Democrats]. To say we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic yet satisfactory conclusion [as it will always be in an insurgency war] ...
  • This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.
What a bombshell that was. LBJ knew it caused more damage to his cause than all the ones he was dropping in Southeast Asia. After the broadcast he reportedly said, "If we've lost Cronkite, we've lost Middle America." Later, Johnson would not seek re-election; the Democrats lost; Nixon won, promising "Peace with Honor"(read: more bombing); but it took post-Watergate President Ford to begin unconditional withdrawal from the ghastly wastelands we had created. Delayed though it was, Walter Cronkite's words of wisdom had a lot to do with it.

Let's hope President Obama is listening, because ... "That's the way it is."

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