I haven’t been back to Israel in many years but I do watch with interest the events there, having a brother who served in the Israeli Army as a medic, still living there today with his family.
Israel and pre-1975 Vietnam have crossed paths in my lifetime in some unusual ways. I remember the manager of a hotel/restaurant in Nha Trang who was an Israeli and the extraordinary humanitarianism of a Zim Line ship captain who was responsible for the small diasporic Vietnamese community, Viet Kieu, in Israel and who periodically show up in human interest news stories around the world.
Then there is the GI quip from my time in Vietnam that the United States Defense Department should have contracted the war out to Moshe Dayan, for cost plus 10%. That way the war would have been over in six days and the good guys win. I was, however, surprised and taken aback by the oped by Gershon Baskin (“War and peace,” The Jerusalem Post, March 9) and felt it was incumbent upon me to respond to him.
Response to the oped
Dear sir, if you haven’t seen any war memorials in North Vietnam, it is because you haven’t looked. The remaining portions of the Hanoi Hilton, the War Remnants Museum, the plaques at the site of Bac Mai Hospital and the lake where John McCain crashed are those that I am aware of in the North.
In the South where the ground war was fought, there are plenty of memorials to the victors; there are none to the vanquished. The Northern communists desecrated the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) National cemetery at Thu Duc on the outskirts of Saigon and while at the same time, expecting the US to help them locate the bodies of their dead. Where genuine peace needs reconciliation, a pax communistic demands what General Giap would call consolidation.
I learned with interest that you reached political maturity when you were 12. Having read your article, I believe you. You still hold the naive views of the older anti-war protesters who mentored you and who, today, demand commemoration for persuading Congress to forfeit the war to North Vietnam.
THE PARIS Peace [sic] Accords was an intentionally weak document thanks to Henry Kissinger keeping presidents Richard Nixon and Nguyen Van Thieu in the dark, thus allowing him to attend to other issues with a similarly magisterial degree of long-term failure. In any event, an “anti-war” Congress made the accords unenforceable in law even as Watergate did so, in fact.
Baskin, there was no peace and Vietnam was not reunified as if North and South were star-crossed, separated lovers. In April 1975, the South was conquered by an invasion, colonized and carpetbagged by the North. The so-called Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), beloved by the anti-war movement, was brushed aside when its masters in Hanoi no longer needed it.
North Vietnamese communism imposed its long-intended hegemony over Laos and after warring with its former Khmer Rouge allies, seized control of Cambodia. It even tried to do the same to Thailand but was thwarted.
The party’s astute conversion to a market economy may well have averted a genuine people’s war and kept the masses pacified. As one senior communist officer observed on the eve of renovation, the party had been “playing with fire in a very dry field.”
In light of the above, to compare the Vietnam War (more accurately, the Second Indochina War) with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would require you to recognize that the immature Palestinian leadership that you refer to (and similar to their Vietnamese communist counterparts during the Second Indochina War) will only welcome the kind of peace process that subjugates their enemy.
The South posed no military threat to North Vietnam and Israel has gone a long way in attempting to placate the Palestinians only to be rebuked as Lyndon Johnson was by Hanoi when he offered a Marshall Plan-style peace proposal in 1967 and a bombing halt in 1968 in return for what he hoped would lead to peace.
IN THE 50s, my grandfather, Israel Sherman, wrote a book, World Peace through Common Sense, as his solution to the Arab-Israeli problem. But common sense does not apply to ideologues whose political and personal fortunes are based upon totalitarian control. Why destroy the greenhouses in the Gaza Strip? Why resist the gas pipeline to Europe rather than share in the prosperity?
The oft-cited aphorism that “war between the Arabs and Israelis will only end when the Palestinians love their children more than they hate Israel” is irrelevant when Palestinians inclined to peace are ruthlessly marginalized and have no say whatsoever in what their rulers may decide.
The only option today is for Israelis to maintain their military strength of will and endure the current stalemate or to permit the anti-war faction in Israel along with its leftist co-religionists in the US to talk it into a suicidal peace agreement that sees it disappear like South Vietnam. Historically, the South Vietnamese also understand the meaning of diaspora and the bitter sadness of exile.
Besides the millions who died in South East Asia from 1954-1985, what were the consequences of the fall of South Vietnam for America and the Western world, including Israel? America, despite small flashes of its former self, has become the paper tiger so labeled by the crafty Mao Tse-tung. America’s self-inflicted humiliation encouraged Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban to believe with considerable justification that the US cannot long abide to defend the national interests of itself and its allies.
Our politics are also polarized, not least because that pro-Hanoi, leftist-intellectual partisans of the anti-war movement took control over the educational system and the entertainment and publishing industries. I suspect that Israel itself is not entirely immune to this politically correct phenomenon within its leading universities.
In the US, the Left are commencing the Final Offensive against the American experience, perhaps with help from Stalin’s electoral guidance: it doesn’t matter who votes, what matters is who counts the votes.
Baskin, on the subject of political maturity, may I suggest in closing that a 12-year-old American peace activist may well attain a ripe old age no less than a 15-year-old Swedish savior of the planet and still learn nothing. As for your views, specifically on peace in Vietnam and the lessons it may hold for Israel, I believe there is a lot for you to learn from reading honest history.
Please abandon your naivete with the same alacrity that Congress and the anti-war movement abandoned Indochina 50 years ago and called it peace.
The writer served in Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group from 1967-1968 and as a civilian there from 1969-1971. He is a founding director of Vietnam Veterans for Factual History (www.VVFH.org). He lives in the Little Saigon area of Houston, TX, with his Vietnamese wife and several generations of bilingual children.