ago Saigon fell to the Communists. Although American troops had withdrawn
years before, this is credited as the first real American defeat. It traumatized
the nation for generations.
Email Chris Barr
South Vietnam actually had managed to hold on by itself for quite a while
after being abandoned -- relying on the U.S. primarily for fuel and ammunition.
So American Leftists in Congress, exploiting administration weakness after
Watergate, set up the coup de grace. They cut off even that limited
aid. No more fuel; no more bullets. The North Vietnamese Army launched a
general offensive. There was no doubt about the eventual outcome.
As the end neared, I holed up in my apartment, staring at the television
screen in horror. Weeping. Raging. Swearing vengeance. Calling the South
Vietnamese Consulate to volunteer. And listening to Elgar’s First Symphony
-- over and over until the record would no longer play. The great prologue
in the first movement became, in my mind, an American Recessional. It was
years before I could hear the piece again.
South Vietnamese tanks soon ran out of fuel and stopped. Soldiers dug in
and fought where they stood. Then ammunition ran short. They retreated. Then,
without hope, broke and ran. It became a rout as desperate soldiers, no longer
able to fight, ran home to save their families.
And in America, land of the free and home of the brave, the journalists and
politicians who had done this to our former comrades-in-arms -- who had first
abandoned them and then effectively disarmed them -- scoffed. Pointed at
the horrible spectacle and chortled. “Look at those worthless people run
away! They can’t even defend themselves! They deserve to lose! They were
never worthy of our help!”
I was ashamed.
I recalled something I had seen six years earlier while fighting in that
war. My ship was stationed off North Vietnam. We did shore bombardment and
dueled with enemy shore batteries. One night we saw tracers quite close to
the coastline -- evidence of a pitched battle there. We went in to suppress
the enemy fire. In the morning a boat approached us. Our Captain ordered
all hands below decks and all portholes closed. This was top secret.
I peeked. The occupants of the boat were South Vietnamese commandos. They
had tried to land up North, but were spotted and taken under fire by the
shore batteries. The boat was now sinking. The rising water was pink with
the blood of the dead and wounded. We offered to take them all aboard. No,
they answered. Could we just lend them a pump and some medical supplies?
The last I saw them they were heading back in. I never learned what happened
Now, as I watched all unravel, it no longer mattered. I hated with a savage,
abiding fury the cackling fools and Leftist quislings who had deprived me
of the America I loved. The love was tarnished now; she had been unfaithful.
And they had made her so.
I spent over a year after the fall of Saigon resettling Vietnamese refugees.
I resettled soldiers who fled to save their families, having no bullets left
to shoot. Some had found their families. Some came out alone. We spent hours,
days calling refugee camps and other resettlement agencies trying to locate
the missing. The bad news trickled in over the grapevine. A daughter left
behind, here. A wife and children, there. A State Department bus had never
arrived to collect somebody’s brother.
I met huge, extended families of fishermen and farmers at the bus station
in Jersey City, New Jersey. They came directly from the nearest refugee camp,
still dressed as when they fled their villages in South Vietnam. These were
the men, women and children who abandoned their livelihoods and risked their
lives in small boats to escape the Communists -- only to be labeled “the
wrong Vietnamese” by that great American patriot, Senator Edward Kennedy.
I met a Vietnamese merchant sea captain who -- trapped by the advancing NVA
in Danang with his family (except for a daughter accidentally left behind)
-- boarded another captain’s old freighter with hundreds of other sudden
refugees and made a break for the sea. NVA artillery fired on them from both
sides of the river. Many were killed; blood flowed in the gunwales. The ship
-- riddled below the water line -- began to sink. The freighter captain wanted
to abandon ship, but the passengers insisted they proceed. My new friend
took command and after three precarious weeks -- the ship’s deck flush with
the South China Sea, survivors bailing desperately night and day -- they
made the Philippines.
They eventually came to America, these “wrong Vietnamese.” Senator Kennedy
told us that they had just panicked. They would all, he assured us, soon
go home. Few did, even after that cold welcome. Instead, hundreds of thousands
more joined them in risking thirst, hunger, pirates and drowning on the South
The South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington closed forever shortly after the
fall of Saigon. I was the only American there that final night. The
staff (including General Thieu’s influential nephew) sat around the conference
room talking quietly and, occasionally, crying. In deference to me they spoke
English. But, overcome by emotion, they occasionally slipped into Vietnamese;
my Vietnamese colleague in the resettlement effort translated for me.
Sometimes these stranded diplomats managed a laugh. “Use our phone,” they
said. “Call anywhere in the world. After tomorrow our enemy will be paying
Whenever the conversation veered towards their betrayal by America, they
would stop guiltily and apologize to me. America, they acknowledged, had
suffered greatly in their defense. More than they had any right to expect.
It was just too bad…. More tears.
Seventeen years later, when American troops liberated Kuwait City, I wept
at the waving flags and cheering crowds. This was the victory my generation
and I had been deprived of. But the depression, the anger, the hatred had
not been about my deprivation. The betrayal of my country’s honor by the
Left -- that was the unhealing wound.
The seeds of our defeat in Vietnam had been sown seven years earlier in the
1968 Tet Offensive. This is remembered today as an American defeat. It was
not. It was -- or should have been -- a decisive military defeat for the
Communists. American military power, however ineptly deployed, had forced
them to move prematurely to “conventional tactics” -- which, as Mao taught,
is how guerilla wars are lost.
The Communists expected the civilian population to rise up in support; it
did not. In fact, horrified by Communist brutality, citizens of the South
rallied to their government. The Communists hoped that the South Vietnamese
Army would collapse; it did not. Taken by surprise, many ARVN units fought
with great skill and bravery. And, post-Tet, South Vietnamese enlistments
actually increased. The loss of tens of thousands of Viet Cong fighters in
the cities broke the back of the indigenous guerilla movement. The North
Vietnamese Army was forced into a conventional war America could have won
-- if only she had still wanted to.
But Tet inflicted a fatal wound on American morale. The battle shifted from
the streets of Saigon and Hue to the streets of New York, Chicago and San
Francisco. The newsrooms of the New York Times, Washington Post,
CBS, NBC and ABC spun Tet as an American defeat -- as a sign of Viet Cong
strength rather than Viet Cong desperation. It was no longer a war for the
hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese. Their minds were made up; they
persevered. It was now a war for the heart and mind of Walter Cronkite. And
there, an American defeat was forged out of an American victory.
Perception became reality. American forces withdrew. For years, despite deep
incursions of NVA forces into her territory, South Vietnam held on. But enemy
advances were made on our home front. And, seven years after Tet, the American
Left hand-delivered Ho Chi Minh his victory on a silver platter.
The Left exists in a post-modern world reflecting their own desires -- a
world that blooms, moment by moment, from a history of their own constructing.
Cast free from constraining reality and from all consequences, they maneuver
entirely from ideology and partisan self-interest.
The rest of us play in a real, often ornery, world of obstacles and sand
traps -- and rules. We believe in objective reality -- and respect it. This
is a great disadvantage. It puts us on the right side of History but, tactically,
on the inconvenient side of postmodern political struggle to construct topical
The Left was on the wrong side of every question about the Cold War -- objectively,
factually wrong. However, in control of public discourse, they often defined
the reigning political reality and won the policy debate. They coddled Communists
at home and abroad, resisted containment, instilled defeatism and undermined
Despite this, the “Evil Empire” collapsed. When the real world finally put
its foot down, the fall of “The Wall” and the publication of the Venona intercepts
exposed every utterance of the left over six decades as a lie or an error.
Hiss was a spy. The Rosenbergs were guilty. Star Wars did undermine the USSR.
Europe’s invincible “Workers’ Paradises” toppled, hollowed-out Hells-on-Earth.
Russians did want freedom. Eastern Europe did not want the Russians.
This should have been a crushing defeat for the Left, Their ersatz-reality,
a tissue of lies spun in headlines, vanished overnight -- flushed away by
the tides of history. But, in post-modern times, it matters not so much who
makes history as who writes it. The history of yesterday is as up for grabs
as today’s headlines.
Much as the French today celebrate the slapstick of the Bastille and the
brutal horrors of their Revolution, the Left simply redefined the great ideological
battle of the second half of the Twentieth Century and their role in it.
They took credit for an outcome they had actively opposed. They declared
as their victory the defeat -- long delayed by their obstruction -- of their
own ideological kinfolk.
History, in the hands of post-modern Leftists, is an Etch-a-Sketch. Inconvenient
truth quickly fades. New, false constructs arise as “fact.” Relieved of all
responsibility for past error, the left goes on to commit new errors unencumbered.
The Vietnam War lasted fifteen years; the Iraq War has now lasted seven months.
In Vietnam we lost 50,000 men. In Iraq, under three hundred. Tet came only
after a long, difficult, bungled fight that bloodied a generation of draftees.
The Battle of Baghdad culminated a brief, relatively bloodless campaign of
unmatched brilliance, fought by professionals.
The left spun the Viet Cong defeat in Tet as a Viet Cong victory -- and lost
us a war on the periphery. Now it is all happening again -- Tet II. They
portray our emerging victory in Iraq as a defeat -- and risk the West’s very
survival in the war on Islamic terror.
The Afghanistan and Iraq Campaigns were magnificent military triumphs. But
our “Baghdad Bobs,” with only the most tenuous connection to reality, keened
of stalemate and disaster even as Kabul fell, even as U.S. tanks rolled into
Baghdad. “A badly botched plan!” “Not have enough boots on the ground!” “Fighting
on the cheap!” “Stalemate!” “Quagmire!”
Despite them, both battles were over in weeks. Being a Leftist, however,
means you never have to explain your mistakes; you just erase the memory
and start again. Saddam’s forces melted away overnight -- and the Left quickly
turned the page on the post-modern Etch-a-Sketch. “Where is Saddam?” “Where
is Osama?” “Where are the cheering crowds?” Saddam’s statue fell. “What is
that American flag doing there? How awful!”
It was a proof-of-concept victory and the most astonishing example of mobile
warfare since Patton in Europe. “Why did we fail to protect the Museum?”
Evidence of Saddam’s brutality exceeded all expectation. “Where are those
WMD?” “The President lied to us about WMD!” “The President lied to us about
African uranium!” “Where is the electricity? The President lied that Iraqis
would be better off!” Diehard remnants engage in an armed propaganda war.
“Why are soldiers still dying? We are losing the peace in Iraq!” “Vietnam!”
“Quagmire!” “Bring the troops home!”
During the Cold War the Left gave aid and comfort to the Communist enemy
-- ranging from outright espionage to deferential respect -- because an American
victory would have severed their philosophical roots and deposed the patron
of their ideological comrades in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa.
But the war on terror is a war between Radical Islam and Western Liberalism.
The Left has no dog in that fight.
When ideologies die, their movements often stumble on from bureaucratic inertia,
like zombies. They rehearse old, outdated programming and dedicate themselves
to the quest for power. Marxism-Leninism died decades ago in the Soviet Union;
the system ground on until 1991. Similarly, the dead husk of the American
Left struggles on -- animated by habit spasms and lusting for power.
Twenty-five years ago my wife bought one of the earliest Atari™ television
game sets. I was surprised that so simple a device could simulate strategic
thinking so well. The basketball program, especially, was skilled at interactive
play. Eventually, I realized that it really had only four or five rigid,
invariable routines. Together they were enough to create a shallow illusion
The American Left has two algorithms: class war and anti-Americanism. These
explain their entire behavior set. Any natural or manmade disaster, for example,
triggers the former. “Cancel the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.” Any
international crisis triggers the latter. “American arrogance. American imperialism.”
The enemy of their country is their friend, however repugnant the enemy.
Their only conscious goal now is to regain political power. To do this they
must deprive candidate Bush of his victories -- in Afghanistan, in Iraq and
against terror. This means robbing America of its victories in those struggles.
It could, perhaps, mean the death of Western culture. It is a price they
will gladly pay.
Every measure is either too much, in case it works, or too little, in case
it does not. Every hiccup presages quagmire. Every errant bomb is a war crime.
Every foreign target is the wrong target. Today’s talking point: “Saudi Arabia
would have been a better candidate for attack.” (Can you imagine these people
calmly accepting a sudden, unilateral invasion of Saudi Arabia by American
troops?) It is like that bad joke about the mother’s disappointment when
her son wears the other of the two neckties she gave him. “What’s the matter?
Didn’t you like the blue one?”
Now, with a low level terror campaign in Iraq, they have their best opportunity -- a new Tet moment.
In defeat, an enemy usually makes one last, desperate lunge. The Nazis launched
the Ardennes Offensive (the Battle of the Bulge). The Japanese activated
Sho Go. The Viet Cong, Tet. Now, Baathists (and their Islamist allies-of-convenience)
conduct hit-and-run assassinations and suicide bombings.
The Nazis and the Japanese had military objectives. The Germans raced towards
Antwerp to cut our lines and take the seaport. The Japanese threw their entire
surface fleet against MacArthur’s Leyte beachhead to cause an American Dunkirk
in the Pacific. At Bastogne, a surrounded American force responded to a demand
to surrender with a four-letter word -- and held. At Leyte -- when the vast
Japanese fleet of battleships, cruisers and destroyers suddenly appeared
on the northern horizon -- a tiny American escort force (three destroyers
and four destroyer escorts) made suicidal, daylight torpedo attacks. The
The Viet Cong also failed to achieve its goal during Tet 1968. But the North
found another, softer target. A target incapable of such tenacity and heroism.
They found the American opinion elite. In hitting that they scored an unexpected
and unearned victory.
Radical Islamists and Baathists learned from Tet. They do not even try to
defeat us on the ground where we are strong. They aim directly at the soft
underbelly of western culture: at a new generation of Cronkites, at the mental
and moral weakness of the Western cultural elite. Shooting or blowing up
a soldier a day at random, out of 150,000 deployed, advances absolutely no
military purpose. A UN Headquarters in Baghdad and a Shiite Mosque in Najaf
are not military targets. Neither, of course, were the Twin Towers.
Random assassination and terrorist bombing are easy to commit and virtually
impossible to prevent. It is the randomness and seeming senselessness of
them that inspires terror. The attacks themselves prove little. At about
the same time that the UN was being bombed in Baghdad, domestic terrorists
burned down an SUV dealership in San Diego. Last year, the Beltway snipers
terrorized our capital city and its environs. What did those prove?
In the Graham Green-Carol Reed film, Our Man in Havana, Captain Segura
(Ernie Kovacs) holds that there are two classes of people: those who are
torturable and those who are not. “One never tortures except by mutual agreement,”
he explains. Similarly, there are those who are terrorizable and those who
are not. The Left is only too happy to oblige -- to be terrorized in the
We have had great success in diverting the really destructive attacks away
from our own hardened assets. Three of the last five targets of truck bombs
in Iraq were against facilities that were not American and which, in at least
two cases, had rejected American offers of security assistance. The other
two were, more-or-less, failures. Random shootings are more difficult to
deter, but are militarily even more meaningless.
However, the Left reacts with exquisite sensitivity to every attack. “Our
soldiers are being hurt! Bring them home!” By reacting, the Left turns these
ineffectual spasms of terror into propaganda victories. If terror does not
change behavior or demoralize, it fails. If it fails, it eventually stops.
(Unless, of course, the terrorists are Palestinian.) By co-opting the escalating
violence for their own political purposes, Leftists buy into the terror campaign
itself -- become willing parties to it.
9-11 did not change the world; it merely woke us up to the changes. The world
had become too small, WMD too mobile and powerful and terrorism too costly
for old-fashioned notions of sovereignty and deterrence to work after the
bipolar stalemate ended. That conflict had imposed an often nasty and dangerous
order on international affairs. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought
chaos. Islamic radicalism emerged as a threat to our Western values. And
rogue states and pockets of anarchy emerged as potential launch pads or as
armories for WMD or terror attacks. Classical foreign policy modalities --
balance of power, national sovereignty and mutual deterrence -- give way
to those of preemptive defense.
Crack houses and vacant lots used as drug marts threaten the peace, safety
and quality-of-life of an entire neighborhood. The answer is not a policeman
on every stoop, an escort for every schoolchild or the arrest of those actually
caught committing violent crime. The solution is to tear down the crack house
and chase away the pushers before they commit violence.
The world is now a small neighborhood. (And a closed system.) Someone has
to take responsibility for keeping order -- for snuffing out potential troublemakers
and building viable states in empty pockets of chaos.
America has, reluctantly, inherited that role. Almost seventy years earlier,
she had delayed her entrance into World War II and allowed the wholesale
liquidation of Western Imperial order by German and Japanese fascism. Communism
exploited the vacuum that followed victory, and America was drawn into the
breach to contain it. When Communism, in its turn, fell, America became the
sole defender of western civilization. It is a role too important to give
a veto over to the French and Germans.
All Leftists (and some Rightist troglodytes) call this “imperialism.” They
are right. It is a new, non-colonial imperialism. Almost twenty years ago,
at a RAND seminar on terrorism, I advocated this new imperialism as the diametrical
opposite of terrorism. Terrorism is, in essence, the injection of raw, anarchic
violence -- of the sort inherent in international affairs -- into the life
of a civil society to disrupt it. The new imperialism is the establishment
of something like civil order over the normally anarchic, violent international
arena. Civil order derives either from shared values or force -- usually,
at least implicitly, from both.
The former is still lacking among nations and between peoples. So the global
order must come from an exercise of benign, preemptive force -- backed, perhaps,
by a missionary appeal for Western values and democracy. 9-11 awoke us to
the dangers and to our inescapable role. We call it the “war on terrorism”
but it is much more. It is the preservation of world order.
The war on terror is not over; it may not be over for generations. But we
are clearly winning. We have not been attacked at home for two years. All
attacks have been on soft targets -- often in Islamic countries where they
erode state sponsorship for the terrorists. Even Saudi Arabia hints of reform.
That we are winning in Iraq is obvious. We occupy Iraq and, despite setbacks,
rebuild it. Most Iraqis embrace the Americans. Democracy starts to bloom
-- at least locally. Freedom of thought and expression burst out -- often
chaotically, seldom violently. No civil war has broken out among Kurds, Shiites
and Sunnis. The store shelves are full again. Baghdad Museum’s treasures
have been returned. Power is slowly being restored, despite sabotage.
In Najaf a Shiite mob caught up with two alleged perpetrators of the bombing
that killed their holiest leader. (Caught them sending email in an Internet
Café!) What did they do? Tear them limb from limb? No. They turned
them over to the American-backed Iraqi police! Is this not proof that the
“rule of law” is taking root?
There is nothing unusual about what is happening in Iraq. Order is always
a problem when authoritarian regimes collapse. Tyranny bakes out the cement
that binds a free society together, a sense of civic virtue, and replaces
it with fear. A certain amount of disorder and crime is inevitable as one
ratchets down the terror level. In Iraq they are not significantly worse
than in Russia, for example, following the collapse of Communism. And even
more-or-less civilized Canada suffered riots recently when the lights went
Even the influx of foreign terrorists is, in an odd way, good news. They
would not chose Iraq, where we dominate on the ground, if they had anything
else going for them elsewhere. Patton saw the German offensive in the Ardennes
(the Battle of the Bulge) as a great opportunity. He wanted to let them advance
farther -- the better to cut off and kill more of them. Today, a few hundred
(perhaps even a few thousand) terrorists flock to Iraq to wage a losing Jihad
against us. They can inflict random pain on us, but not much else. Two years
ago they did much more with only fourteen men deployed here. Better to fight
them on our terms in the Mid-East than on theirs in the Midwest.
The Left’s goal is to defeat Bush, at whatever cost, in 2004. This will mean
the collapse of our war to clean out and police rogue nations and other places
where terrorism hides and draws sustenance.
Since World War II there has been no instance of a successful Democrat foreign
policy against significant adversity. (In the Second World War the Soviet
Union was the enemy of our enemy, which undivided the Left’s loyalties. And
our bungling of its concluding phases brought on the Cold War, which the
Left almost lost for us.) The post-modern fog over the Clinton years has
lifted just far enough for us to glimpse the truth: that his feckless conduct
of foreign policy invited the 9-11 attack. Another Democrat president will
once more bring the war home to our cities. A real war of collapsing buildings
and mangled corpses. This time the refugees will be Americans.
The secret weapon of the Iraq War was the embedded reporter. The words and
images from the front undercut Leftist propaganda as much as they did Bagdad
Bob’s no more ridiculous pronouncements. But low level hit-and-run conflict
empowers editors over reporters. Before our unseeing eyes, they spin an alternate
reality. Tet II is well begun.
Walter Cronkite recently wrote an odd little opinion piece. There seemed
to be an underlying message: We in the media are leftists, but there is nothing
personal in it. Can we not all agree to disagree and still get along?
This reminds me of the period as Saigon fell. Through the haze of fury I
noticed that Cronkite and the other architects of our defeat were strangely
subdued in their jollity. They seemed to fear a backlash -- I suppose from
the likes of me. Even the refugee resettlement effort was designed to divide
and isolate the victims so that no retributive political movement could grow
up around them.
Today I feel the same impotent fury as then. I wonder if Cronkite and his
kind feel the same concern. I know that even a momentary suspension of the
rules of civilized society is bound to let loose evils not easily quelled
-- however gratifying it might be to festoon the nation’s telephone poles
with members of the opinion elite. As a conservative, I cannot act in defiance
of that knowledge. But as I sit here watching in horror as another Tet daily
unfolds, it is sure tempting.
Barr is President of Financial Special Risk Limited, insurance consultants
and intermediaries. He specializes in Kidnap/Extortion/Terrorism, White Collar
and Computer Crime, Professional and Executive Liability and other specialty
insurance coverages. From 1980 to 1984 he was a Vice President at AIG, where
he founded and managed a global Kidnap, Extortion and Crime division. Before
that he served in several underwriting and management positions at Chubb
& Son. He served as a main battery fire controlman aboard the USS Boston
(a heavy cruiser) from 1968 to 1970. Two Vietnam tours doing gun fire support
off the DMZ and North Vietnam. He earned his BA in Political Science from
Columbia University in 1975. His area of concentration was the intersection
of military strategy and political policy. His refugee agency, Vietnamese
Self-Help Foundation (in partnership with some active and retired Vietnamese
diplomats and a refugee from Eastern Europe) rented a four story apartment
building in Jersey City, NJ, as a halfway house for Vietnamese refugees.
this Article to a Friend