Cambodia, Again

An intelligent and principled FB friend posted a link to an article in The American Conservative re the bombing of Cambodia.  I've only had time to glance at the article and read a few comments, but I came away with a rather poor impression, as I usually do when reading conservative movement journals.
Perhaps I should take some time to write an article on the subject, but in brief, permit me to say, 1) I opposed the American invasion from the beginning, 2) I was disgusted by the anti-war protestors who made life very difficult for my poor friends who got drafted, and 3) I wrote to my Congressman, L Mendel Rivers--Chairman of the House Armed Forces Committee to protest.  Rivers knew my father and whose nephew and successor was a college friend.  Mendel Rivers was one of the most powerful men in the military industrial complex, but he actually responded by saying we had no business extending a war effort if we were unwilling to fight to win.
After pondering the statement, I came to agree not only with the conclusion, that it was time to get out of the warm but also with the premise, which seemed to echo Forrest's statement that war means fighting, and fighting means killing.  Americans should not get involved in a war, so I thought then and now, unless they will be defending their vital interests, and, if something is important enough to fight for, the only restraints should be moral and not political considerations.  During the Vietnam debacle, Kennedy and Johnson had shackled the US military and prevented them from fighting to win, repeating Truman's criminal behavior during the Korean War. 
 
Years later, I became friends with Admiral James Stockdale, who had been the senior aviator in the air at the Gulf of Tonkin "incident," which never happened.  He thought the phony incident and the American resolution to enter the war on false terms was a sign of cowardice and ineptitude in the Pentagon and in the White House, but he was, almost above all else, a soldier and did his duty and spent a goodly number of years being tortured by North Koreans.
Jim Stockdale also told me it was his understanding--from the top brass and from Nixon himself--that the bombings in North Vietnam and Cambodia were a last ditch effort to extort decent terms from the brutal communist regime of North Vietnam.   As a POW, he remembered that as soon as the  bombs began falling on North Vietnam, conditions began to improve for the American prisoners.
Stockdale also said that Nixon's exit strategy was geared toward getting back the POWs whom the Vietnamese were keeping. He differed with Nixon on certain political issues, but he respected him as a man who hated having American soldiers killed for nothing.  Nixon was not the kind of leader who, like both Bushes, deliberately starts a war for insufficient reasons, and then, as all Hell breaks loose, tells parents that their sons did not die in vain.  Of course, those who fight in a bad cause die in vain.
War is not about waving flags of nationhood or flashing peace signs. It is not won or lost by ideological polemics.  We were quite wrong to to let leftist Democrats get us involved, but once engaged by JFK and LBJ, it was not so easy for Nixon to get us out.  Demonizing the bombing--as I did at the time because I was a dumb student--does not bring us any closer to understanding reality, and the repentant military officers who, with the benefit of hindsight, think they can write the history of that tragic period are at best misguided.  To such post hoc moralizers,  we might be tempted to apply the term  Jim Stockdale used for the men who inflated the Gulf of Tonkin non-incident into a cause for war:  conscience stricken pissants in the Pentagon.
Fish or cut bait, is my motto, fight or find the least damaging way of getting out.  Blaming Nixon for bombing Cambodia is like blaming Forrest for Fort Pillow.  Americans need to grow up, but I fear that will never happen so long as they read "conservative" publications.

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

2 Responses

  1. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    ADM Stockdale is one of a small number of Naval Academy graduates who I admire and respect. I have read almost all of his books. I had the good fortune to meet him after he had given a Forrestal Lecture. At the time I was trying to start a news letter for Service Academy graduates and he graciously gave me permission to print his lecture. I have a copy of it in my files.

  2. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Regarding the bombing, I think I read somewhere, possibly in one of his books, that ADM Stockdale believed that Nixon could have won the war by continuing and intensifying the bombing. He could see the fear in the eyes of his captors.