Twitter and email info

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Has the United States ever been on the wrong side of a war? Just a few to think about:

Links: A. The American Legion breaks down the Vietnam War
           B. Triggers of World War One
           C. Spain did not destroy the U.S.S. Maine   

I've decided that once every week I will have a "random history" day, in which I chose a subject from world history and hopefully present it in a manner which encourages comments.  The majority of my viewers are not from the United States, a fact of which I'm actually very proud.  With that in mind, the subjects I chose will rarely, if ever, be about the United States.  Today, though, we start off with a topic which should be of interest to everyone.  Certainly in my travels around the world, I've heard non-Americans offer opinions on the subject.  Has the United States ever fought on the wrong side of a war?  I have to choose the noun "war" as opposed to "conflict", because including every little scrape and rumble would have made any kind of focus impossible.  And lets not be shy - lets dive right in with the most controversial of wars: Vietnam, or the Second Indochina War (1961-1975).

When the United States started paying closer attention to events in Indochina, France, the former colonial power, and picked up stakes and moved on.  Following the Second World War, France, which had made a tremendous financial investment in French Indochine, decided to fight tooth-and-nail to defeat the communist insurgency that had flared up after the departure of the Japanese.  While the communists were raising hell in Korea with the U.S., they were also raising hell in Vietnam with France.  For many years, though, the French gave back as good as they got.  Both Saigon and Hanoi had been modernized along French lines, with grid-like downtowns, bakeries, streetlights, traffic signals, and a large City Hall.  Unfortunately, not much is left, but Saigon still has a few old colonial buildings standing.  The French Foreign Legion accomplished things in Indochina that are basically impossible to comprehend.  Almost outnumbered and usually outgunned, the Legionnaires just refused to quit.  The famous battle of Dien Ben Phu, standard fodder for all arm chair generals, is replete with examples of bravery and heroism in the face of overwhelming opposition.  The surrender at Dien Ben Phu ended France's efforts to keep its Asian colony, and introduced a perspective that would hit home to the United States in the decade to come; the perspective that its impossible to fight to defend a country when the country isn't your home.

During the Vietnam War, the United States went through three presidents: John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.  Each man was faced with the decision of whether or not to escalate the war.  Even with the draft in place, at no time did the United State have anywhere near its full combat strength in Vietnam.  If necessary, the United States in 1970 could put millions of soldiers into the field.  But more soldiers no doubt result in more casualties.  As most students of military history are aware, almost all the battles of the war were victories for the United States and South Vietnam (pre-1973).  But while we were winning victories in the field, the north was flooding South Vietnam with both irregular troops and civilians, to put pressure on the economy and spread the ideology at the same time.  Strategically speaking, the famous Tet Offensive was a disaster for North Vietnam.  Nothing was gained and many well-trained soldiers died.  But it created a permanent fear in the heart of the South Vietnamese people, that a North victory was only a matter of time, and the Yankees would be leaving as soon as the winds changed direction. 

Even though Nixon campaigned on ending the war, he did consider certain military options that might have destroyed the Viet Cong permanently.  But Nixon was unable to control the monster of public opinion and pressure from our European allies.  If Nixon had doubles the number of troops and called for a full, non-stop bombing campaign of the north, the war would have been over in a few months.  Unless, of course, the Chinese invaded, as they did in Korea.  Or the Russians decided to up the ante.  Nixon also had the option of introducing Atomic weapons.  But the question today is not whether the war could have been won, the questions is whether we were fighting for the right side.  I think history has answered that question.  After defeating the south in 1975, Vietnam became a violent, reactionary, totalitarian state.  Hundreds of thousands, of not millions, died, AFTER the departure of the Americans.  And, as is the nature of communist regimes, the attempt was made to transport its brand of communism to both Laos (successfully), and Cambodia (eventually).  We were fighting in an effort to support the legal right of South Vietnam to exist (guaranteed by the United Nations, and also to hopefully prevent the genocide that unfortunately, followed.

The justification for going to war is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.  In 1915, if you were to ask any Austrian why a war was being fought in Europe, they would reply that it was because of the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by guerillas trained in Serbia.  In Russia, you would be told that Russia went to war to defend tiny Serbia from the military might of Austria.  France would say that they were obliged to go to war with Austria because of a mutual defense treaty with Russia, the same excuse Germany would use for coming into the conflict on the side of the Hapsburgs.  Whew!  The British waited a bit until recognizing an obligation to fight alongside France, and Italy decided to wait a year or two, and see who was winning before deciding what side to join.  The United States stayed neutral until almost the last year of combat.  A powerful and active anti-war movement kept President Woodrow Wilson from taking that final step until the Germans stupidly sent a telegram to Mexico, offering the Mexicans a return of all lands lost to the United States over the years if they came into the war on the side of Germany.  For some reason, the American people were more angry with the Zimmerman Telegram than they were with the continued sinking of U.S. passenger liners full of innocent civilians.

Back to the original question.  The United States declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire in 1917.  Was the United States justified in going to war over the telegram, and/or the continued sinking of U.S. ships?  I have a different opinion.  First and foremost, if the United States did not want to lose passenger liners (and innocent Americans), then it shouldn't have filled the hold of these liners with military equipment bound for Great Britain.  Secondly, why are Americans willingly sailing into a war zone anyways?  In 1863, if an Austrian ship delivering rifles to the Confederacy were sunk by Union blockading ships, would Austria be justified in declaring war on the United States?  And one must keep in mind that by 1917, the British maritime blockage was causing famine in Central Europe.  Children and the elderly were starving to death in Austria and Germany, while the soldiers were kept fed so they could continue fighting. Germany was searching for any way to combat the British blockage, so they were unsuccessfully attempting one of their own.  The telegram, which some experts continue to claim is a fake, is a red herring as far as I'm concerned.  In other words, it's an effort to distract folks from the truth.  If we go back to 1914, and imagine if the French Vice President were assassinated in Belgium by anarchists trained and armed in Germany, I can assure that France would be preparing for war.  The same can be said for a British Prince, or a Russia Archduke.  Austria's attempt to respond to the assassination of the heir to the Hapsburg throne was to punish Serbia, the guilty party.  At that particular time in history, it would have been a very normal course of action to expect.

Last but not least, my favorite: the destruction of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898.  At the time of the destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana, the U.S. Congress was debating several measures regarding the Spanish possession of Cuba and Spain's treatment of the "indigenous" population.  Spain was portrayed as being borderline slave masters to the population of Cuba, save for a tiny class of Castilian plantation owners, civil servants and diplomats.  The same scenario was widely discussed regarding both Puerto Rico and the Far East colony of The Philippines.  In reality, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines basically constituted what remained of a once mighty Spanish Empire (excluding Spanish Sahara, Rio Muni and Equatorial Guinea in Africa, and a few other small enclaves).  Spain itself was broke, and staggering from internal conflicts relating to failed Republican governments and inept Monarchs.  But the new young King showed great promise, and the people of Spain sensed a new beginning.  Some of the ship-building facilities were modernized and orders placed for the beginnings of a new fleet.  In all honesty, the American interest in these Spanish possessions had almost nothing to do with philanthropy.  It had to do with economics and business, and also a growing sense of wider "Manifest Destiny"; something that stretched further than California.  Cuba was less than one hundred miles from Florida, of course it should be part of the United States, not crumbling, decrepit old Spain.  Its very likely that U.S. officials were being honest in their accusations of sabotage against Spanish authorities in Havana.  The battleship, which should never have been sent to Havana in the first place (an effort at intimidation, no doubt), just "blew up".  The Americans claimed that the Spanish purposely mined the harbor so as to come into contact with the Maine, or some such thing.  As you will learn from examining the third link I have provided, Spain has been completely exonerated.  In all likelihood, the explosion of the Maine was an internal, accidental event.  tragic, yes, but justification to go to war?  We did go to war, and Spain fought valiantly both on land and on sea.  But the Spanish fleet was twenty years too old to stand up to the powerful American squadron, and Teddy Roosevelt and his Roughriders eventually subdued the Spanish garrison on Cuba (with heavy losses).  The United States got to keep Puerto Rico permanently, and the Philippines and Cuba temporarily.  I'm not sure if an apology has been delivered to the Kingdom of Spain, but if not, then one is due.  Pure and simple, it was a war fought on false pretenses, and something beneath the fine, commendable, and respectable reputation of the United States government.

No comments:

Post a Comment