I Agree On This: End of War
I graduated from high school in 1964, just as the Vietnam War took off. Most of my young male classmates were drafted into that war that hawks in both parties said was absolutely necessary to prevent Communism from spreading throughout South-east Asia. Known as the Domino Theory, it was widely believed that if Vietnam fell to Communism so would go all other So. East Asian nations, then eventually So. and Central America and eventually Africa.
So great was the fear of Communism in So. East Asia, that Eisenhower’s Administration came to believe that if Communism was not stopped at the borders of the USSR, China, and No. Korea, it immediately would spread to engulf the entire So. East Asia region including India and possibly Japan. However, conspiracy theorists such as those who created and joined the John Birch Society believed Eisenhower was too soft on Communism. They accused him of being a co-conspirator or “fellow traveler” or soft on communism because he refused to declare war again so soon after the end of WWII.
One of the greatest believers in the domino theory was Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican who served as an adviser to Eisenhower and later to JFK on So. East Asia. Lodge came from a long-standing, prominent and highly politically influential New England family. His knowledge and standing on So. East Asia gave him a well respected gravitas. So, when he declared that Communism must be stopped or the entire So. East Asia region would fall to Communism, presidents and Congress listened.
The end result of the fear that all of So. East Asia would fall to the Communists was the Vietnam War. Nixon was elected on a platform of ending the war. As my own husband said when he returned from Vietnam, “we’re fighting a war to preserve the French rubber plantations.”
So much had the tide of war turned within the nation that during the 1968 election season, Nixon based his platform on ending the war. Overwhelming numbers of students and Vietnam vets turned out to cast their votes for Nixon, causing him to win the election. But Nixon was no appeaser. Instead of ending the war, his first term in office saw him expand the war into Laos and Cambodia. Loud protests erupted all across the nation…but it wasn’t until the sons of Congress members began being drafted that Congress turned from pro-war to pro-peace. It seems it was okay to send the sons of other people’s families to war but when their own sons became cannon fodder, sensibilities changed. Finally, Nixon realized that the only way to win a second term was to bring the war to a close.
But there were still a significant number of hawks within the Democratic Party who believed that the US had not only failed to win the war but had lost it. For them, nothing less than the complete annihilation of Communism was sufficient; they would gladly have used “the bomb” on North Vietnam rather have the US somehow seen as having lost that war. Those hawks joined the Republican party to later become known as neo-conservatives.
The neo-cons we know today, by and large, have never served a day in the armed forces but are willing to send the children of others to fight and die. They see enemies around every bend. They thoroughly believe that the US must have the greatest military force on earth because the destiny of the US is to be the greatest super-power, if not the greatest empire, on the face of the earth.
Even though GW Bush’s foreign policy gave the lie to the neo-cons ideology, they still hold considerable sway in Congress, in the media, and, most importantly, within the Republican Party. Respected conservative publications such as Buckley’s National Review are now completely controlled by neo-cons as is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). And, of course, the John Birch Society is no better, believing the supposed evils of communism – and its evil companion socialism – are just around every policy corner.
As a result, we have the Patriot Act and its equally odious new companion, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), adopted by the Senate in a count of 98 to 1 – more than enough votes to override a veto by President Obama.
As a centrist-left leaning voter, I do not believe in the constant, always needing a enemy, and ready to declare war stance our nation has taken since Reagan’s Administration. I do not believe the US should be the world’s police force or build an American Empire or deplete our nation’s blood and treasure to fight wars that fail to serve our national interests. I believe that our nation would be much better served, just as the overwhelming number of our young GIs who have served in the war zones believe, by rebuilding and renewing our own nation and using diplomacy, rather than war, to negotiate our national and international interests.