If we needed to be re-awakened, the PBS Series “The Vietnam War” reminded us that men and women who served in Vietnam were certainly treated differently by the American people than those currently returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, Niger, and wherever. Disrespect was expressed towards many of those who returned from Vietnam, even though few had anything to do with defining the mission. Most were drafted, and they certainly deserved a pass, particularly from citizens such as me who found ways to avoid the military.
There is little doubt that a man or woman who serves in the military deserves special respect. Short of going to prison, they cede more personal freedom than virtually all others in our work force. In many cases, they put their lives in danger. The psychological tolls of sacrificed individual liberty and high personal risk are demonstrably high.
If we cast our gaze only on those who serve in the military, then it might make sense to place them on a pedestal. But as difficult as their lives may be, most of the rest of us face difficult challenges and often overcome them. Standard practice is not for us or our families to be given stars of any color for our service, even though we contribute as much or more towards enriching our society.
For a moment, think of the United States as being the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers. This is the team with the best regular season record in the Major Leagues. They may well win the World Series to cap this outstanding season. But let us not forget that near the end of the season, they lost eleven games in a row and sixteen out of seventeen.
A reality check shows that when it comes to the post- World War II military record of the United States against under nations, it is not that different from the low-point of the Dodgers’ 2017 season. Korea may have been a very honorable draw, particularly at a time when we did not know whether the concept of “bleeding red communism” was a potential threat or a real one. Even with Vietnam, there was still uncertainty about the threat of communism.
But Vietnam became a loss for the United States, and it appears to be a compounded loss because we seemingly have not learned some clear lessons from the war. Perhaps the most succinct way to view these lessons is to apply the U.S. experience in Vietnam to major tenets of the Just War Theory, a concept that has withstood the test of time over several millennia.
- War should be a last resort policy
Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. It may be clear that the other side is using negotiations as a delaying tactic and will not make meaningful concessions.
- There should be proportionality in war
The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms.
- War must be fought for a just cause
The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life.
- War must achieve comparative justice
While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to overcome the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other.
- War must be fought with the right intention
Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
- In war, there must be a high probability of success
Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
With virtually all of these factors, the U.S. has made serious mistakes in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. It’s as if the Just War Theory had never been written and no one tried to learn lessons from Vietnam.
Part of the collateral damage of misguided American overseas ventures is that we bend over backwards to not associate the men and women in uniform with their missions. We want to give them a break which includes not attaching them to the foolishness of some of what they do. We would do better to help them earn their honor through purposeful missions.
Some Republicans have said that we should not discuss US policy in the wake of the tragic deaths of four soldiers. These are the same voices who are saying that we cannot discuss gun control in the wake of mass shootings.
Policy must always be on the table, regardless of gold stars, guns, or a host of other items that often prohibit us from improving the quality of life for Americans and others around the world. In the meantime, the U.S. should concentrate on being like the Dodgers and putting more stars in the ‘W’ column, a column that hopefully does not involve war.