Vietnam Reevaluated – The Isolation of the Old Radical Left

David Horowitz and Ben Johnson document the remarkable inability of the radical left to reevaluate their histories (May 4, 2005).

In contrast to Sheer and Jensen, Horowitz/Johnson know their history – you really have to read the whole thing to appreciate the contrast between sloppy and careful:

Robert Jensen vibrantly illustrated the mindset of America’s fifth column Left when he wrote, “The United States has lost the war in Iraq, and that’s a good thing.” Jensen and his fellow ideologues do not wish for “peace” but the triumph of America’s enemies. Yesterday, L.A. Times columnist Robert Scheer extended this animus 30 years into the past, exulting over America’s lone military defeat in South Vietnam. “Sometimes it is better to lose,” Scheer wrote in his latest broadside against reality and human decency, entitled, “Our Loss was Our Gain in Vietnam.”

…How can a man so innocent of the history of his own era and so complicit in its crimes be a powerful columnist at one of America’s most important newspapers, not to mention a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications? (And what does that tell you about the times we live in?)

Scheer began his career with a 1961 book defending Fidel Castro and was the Cuban dictator’s chosen publisher of Ché Guevara’s diaries. Scheer’s history of support for Communist revolutionaries (not nationalists or pragmatists) stretches back 40 years and began with his Cuban romance.

… So Scheer is well aware that Communism was a messianic creed and an imperialist enterprise and one that the North Vietnamese Communists shared. But acknowledging this would prevent him from writing yet another column (he has written them before) on how it would be good thing for America to lose its wars with totalitarian enemies. But this is the very column that Scheer has been writing for the last three years about America’s war against the Islamic totalitarians in Iraq – another nation in which French self-interest left the United States to take care of a murderous autocrat they kept in power. Plus ça change….

I recently finished reading David Horowitz’s “Unholy Alliance : Radical Islam and the American Left”. I hope to write a review soon – this is an excellent analysis of how the radical left have evolved from supporting Soviet socialism to supporting Saddam Hussein and Islamic extremists.

4 thoughts on “Vietnam Reevaluated – The Isolation of the Old Radical Left

  1. Anybody can make fun of the radical left, but it’s different with regard to the moderate left and the center. South Vietnam’s repulse of the 1972 “Easter Offensive” was overwhelmingly the work of US airpower rather than its own army. Historian Ronald Spector concluded (in his book, “After Tet”) that this defeat convinced Hanoi that it had to get the US out of the war at any cost. After the Paris Accords were signed, only the threat of US reengagement with airpower — Nixon’s “secret promise” to South Vietnam’s president Thieu — would deter North Vietnam from resuming the war. Conveniently, Nixon self-destructed with Watergate and an unchecked Congress moved to finalize America’s disengagement from Vietnam by slashing military support to Saigon and passing the War Powers Act. It seems that most Americans (i.e., the moderate left and center), disgusted by Watergate, acquiesced in this disengagement.

    Entering the realm of the counterfactual, suppose the Republicans’ hired burglers had been slightly more competent and troubled themselves to tape the door latch in the Watergate garage vertically instead of horizontally. The minimum-wage security guard would probably never have noticed anything amiss, and history would have been changed. A president untarnished by scandal, riding the crest of a landslide victory over an explicitly anti-war challenger, might have successfully contested Congress over the cuts in military aid to Saigon and the War Powers Act.

    All this is a long way of saying that it wasn’t the radical left that lost the Vietnam War; it was the loss of confidence in President Nixon’s strategy on the part of the “moderate majority” — a loss inextricably linked to the Watergate Scandal, the reverberations of which are still being felt with regard to public confidence in elected officials.

  2. Ralph,

    Many thanks for your comments!

    I wrote ‘old left’ meaning radical left not the moderate-centrist spectrum. I’m trying to understand how the radical left has evolved after the collapse of the Soviet Union. That’s why I read the Horowitz book I referenced – which is mistitled by refering to the “American Left”. He is very clear in the content that he is discussing the radical left ” the Noam Chomsky spectrum, not the Dan Rather spectrum. If you’ve read it, please let me know what you think.

    I’ve not yet read “After Tet”, but I’ve just put it on my Amazon wish list ” thanks for the lead.

    If you have time/interest take a look at this article: The Tet Offensive by Steven Hayward. The article was excerpted from Steven F. Hayward’s book, The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Liberal Order, 1964-1980. I’ve not read Hayward’s book ” just this article. I did find it a useful look at several factors that together contributed to a turning point in political support for the Vietnam war, including the misunderstanding of Tet as a military defeat, and:

    1. Loss of confidence in Johnson’s ‘limited war’ policy.

    2. Major media turning more and more negative post-Tet.

    3. That US forces were stretched thin and the realization of the economic impact of what would probably be required (e.g., the NYT leaked report “Westmoreland Requests 206,000 More Men, Stirring Debate in Administration”).

    Hayward also argues that neither the “triumphant antiwar movement”, nor the negative media coverage were as important. Perhaps there are polls of the period that better calibrate each contribution to the pullout decision.

    I cannot comment on your summary of the unfolding of Watergate – your history is superior to mine. I thought that political support continued to erode post-Tet, post-Johnson, even before Watergate. Is your take that, absent Watergate, Nixon would have found sufficient voter support to continue the financial and material support of the South Vietnamese?

    I’m also keen to know what your take is on the Stephen Morris summary Vietnam: The War We Could Have Won.

    … the reverberations of which are still being felt with regard to public confidence in elected officials.

    Yes. There seems to be an analog to the “generals fighting the last war”. The legacy media together with a corresponding segment of the left are making the same mistake as the generals. Vietnam is not the appropriate framework for viewing every geopolitical issue.

  3. I unfortunately didn’t get to Stephen Morris’s op-ed piece in time (it’s not free anymore — strange, I thought “information wants to be free” :-)), but read your long excerpt and believe he’s basically correct. I’ve thought for a long time that had Watergate not happened, Nixon might have been able to preserve the credibility of his threat to reengage with airpower — a threat that Hanoi clearly respected. I made this point in a letter that got published in the Washington Post Book Review some years ago, along with a quote I stole from the late, great TV show “Homicide: Life on the Street” — old Sicilian proverb: “Never get in the way of your enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.” Recall that Hanoi made no overt moves against the South until several months after Nixon had resigned in disgrace.

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