Tuesday, October 6, 2009

#163 BHO and LBJ

Here was the Gen. Stanley McChrystal of the Vietnam era: Gen. William Childs Westmoreland, called affectionately by his friends Johnson and Nixon, "Westy." Not counting McNamara (DM #126), he was the smiling FACE of that war, amiably failing at every turn, most notably TET, but kept under hire by two successive Presidents of two different Parties. As I implied in last posts, the thrill, the "rush," that Presidents seem to get in killing foreigners crosses all political boundaries. Westy's mantra was always and forever the Mad-Hatterish "More troops ... MORE TROOPS"--so he could kill even more little "gooks" for his bosses. He stuck to it till his dying day--he was devilishly long-lived (91) like McNamara, but unlike the latter, he never once admitted his mistakes. If only he had more troops he could have reached that "light at the end of the tunnel"--his overused phrase, which entered history, infamously. (I think this is why, to digress a moment, we can't use the popular little metaphor with its original optimistic intent, as it was mocked and ridiculed so roundly then as the The War dragged on and on. Add to this the literal "tunnels" of the insurgents that were notorious death-traps for our troops. Because of its close association with Vietnam, the phrase is most often used ironically today. )

So ... now we have our Gen. McChrystal channeling the dead general and Vietnam--"More troops ... MORE TROOPS" (40,000 to be exact, on top of Obama's 21,000 already)--evidently moonlighting it to the press, and reportedly doing so outside the proper chain of command. Obama might have to pull a "Truman/McArthur" here, if Gen. Loose-Lips doesn't watch out. Because at this very moment, according to reports, Obama is weighing his options for Afghanistan. When and if McCrystal meets with the President, he daren't use "light at the end of the tunnel." For surely Obama will pay heed, like the old VFW guy in last post, to the lessons of Vietnam.

I take a special interest in Westmoreland because, as a distinguished son of South Carolina where I spent thirty years, he was forever defending himself on the local news, if not national, during his Johnson-Nixon tenure and after--even unto the famous Westmoreland v. CBS lawsuit--and beyond. In that case, Mike Wallace had accused him of deliberately and persistently suppressing actual enemy troop-strength in Vietnam, such that, with our far greater numbers--which he said he needed more of every day--the light at the end of the tunnel would always seem reachable. He sued; he lost. Poor guy, he had to come up with something--the war that he and two successive White Houses were fighting was unwinnable, at least the way they were fighting it.

After the Citadel (SC) and West Point--he became Superintendent later, and chose to be buried there rather than Arlington), the appropriately-nicknamed "Westy" had an outstanding military career as an artillery and then general commander in WWII and Korea. He came out a winner from the former, and should have learned something from the latter. Mao had already schooled the North in guerrilla tactics by that time, and only Eisenhower could bring an end to it with the threat of a nuclear bomb. We were still fighting WWII style in Korea. And that's what Westmoreland brought to Vietnam, where we had no business being in the first place. Along with Sir Michael Rose (DM #60) I'll say it again: we've never won an "insurgency war," and never will. Yet as late as 1998 the old WWII general was still complaining in a George magazine interview that MORE TROOPS would have turned the tide. Never admitting defeat, he rationalized: "By virtue of Vietnam, the U.S. held the line for 10 years, and stopped the dominoes from falling." Great consolation for the loved-ones of 50,000+ American dead. (more)

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