It seems the Vietnam War may as well be the Punic Wars for most Americans, i.e. ancient history. Yet it was a scant 50 years ago that America finally pulled out of that disastrous war, leaving a horrific legacy of towns and villages bombed, burned, and poisoned.
High explosive, napalm, Agent Orange, and other ordnance was dropped in massive quantities by U.S. warplanes, yet North Vietnam remained unbowed. The self-serving lesson the U.S. military took from this was twofold. First, it obviously couldn’t be the military’s fault. Blame was most often pinned on alleged civilian micro-management; more bombing, with fewer limits, would have worked, so airpower enthusiasts argued. The second lesson was to hide or otherwise obscure or deny civilian casualties in future wars, a cynical approach lacking in integrity but one we’ve seen used with considerable success in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places.
These were not the lessons that leaders with integrity would have drawn. But they are the lessons that a system designed to protect itself did draw.
U.S. leaders refuse to consider the costs of war, not only on foreign peoples but also on ourselves. The words of James Hildreth remind us of the costs of war as well as the seductiveness of destruction and of lies.
It’s a lesson to bear in mind, whether with the Russia-Ukraine War or possible future wars, e.g. current talk of a possible war with Iran.
One day, a village of roughly 1200 people in South Vietnam ceased to exist. The U.S. Air Force destroyed it, and the report read “Target 100% destroyed, body-count 1200 KBA (killed by air) confirmed.”
It wasn’t an “enemy” village. It was a village that had failed to pay its taxes to a South Vietnamese provincial commander, a lieutenant colonel and ostensibly a U.S. ally. He wanted the village destroyed to set an example to other recalcitrant villages, and the U.S. Air Force did what it does: It put bombs and napalm on target.
At Seventh Air Force headquarters, the brass knew this village’s “crime.” As a brigadier general said to then-Lieutenant Colonel James Robert “Cotton” Hildreth, “Damn, Cotton, don’t you know what’s going on? That village didn’t pay their taxes. That [South Vietnamese] lieutenant colonel … is teaching them a lesson.”
It’s a “lesson” that made Cotton Hildreth…
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