Mention Southeast Asia, and liberals get very jumpy — as well they should. Here is a note from Worcester, Mass., re my column yesterday:
What America should be ashamed of is their cowardly bombing of South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam for 12 years. Nixon and Johnson were terrorists who murdered millions of people in Indo-China. Three million Vietnamese are still suffering from the Agent Orange and have not received one cent in compensation from the US or Dow Chemical. Conservatives should be ashamed for their revisionist lies about the holocaust in Vietnam.
Yep. Very touchy. Keep talking about Dow Chemical. Keep talking. One of the most amazing things George W. Bush did during his eight years as president was cite one of the most infamous headlines of the 20th century. Do you know it by heart? It appeared in the New York Times on April 13, 1975: “Indochina without Americans: For Most, a Better Life.” This was just as the Khmer Rouge was coming to power.
They murdered between one-quarter and one-third of the Cambodian population.
“For most a better life”? You mean the afterlife?
Let me give you some of Bush’s speech from August 2007 — it was delivered to the VFW:
. . . many argued that if we pulled out [of Vietnam] there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people.
In 1972, one anti-war senator put it this way: “What earthly difference does it make to nomadic tribes or uneducated subsistence farmers in Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos whether they have a military dictator, a royal prince, or a socialist commissar in some distant capital that they’ve never seen and may never have heard of?” A columnist for the New York Times wrote in a similar vein in 1975, just as Cambodia and Vietnam were falling to the Communists. “It’s difficult to imagine,” he said, “how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone.” A headline on that story, datelined Phnom Penh, summed up the argument: “Indochina without Americans: For Most, a Better Life.”
The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be.
And here Bush lays it out:
In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.
Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. There’s no debate in my mind that the veterans from Vietnam deserve the high praise of the United States of America. Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”
And Bush is not just picking at old sores. He mentions all this for a present-day purpose:
There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today’s struggle — those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that “the American people rose against their government’s war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today.”
His number-two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al-Qaeda’s chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to “the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents.”
Zawahiri later returned to this theme, declaring that the Americans “know better than others that there is no hope in victory. The Vietnam specter is closing every outlet.” Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility — but the terrorists see it differently.
Holy-moly, what a speech. Did an American president really talk that way — less than two years ago? Seems impossible.