Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hubert Humphrey and Vietnam Bombing

I’ll tell you the one thing that makes my blood boil and that is politicians who feel they can say anything with impunity. They are not held accountable for some of their comments, unless, of course, they maligned a particular race, gender or sexual identity. If the only people affected are soldiers in the field, no one really cares...

If such is not the case, then explain how presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey could run for office and condemn the bombing that the Democratic Administration was carrying out during the Vietnam War and no one seemed to notice.

Yes, I know the war had turned unpopular by the time of the presidential campaign of 1968 but the point was that in 1968 (while I was actually serving in Vietnam, I might add), there were soldiers in the field. Their lives were on the line as they attempted to do what the government had asked them to do... or since this was 1968 and the draft still existed, forced them to do.

Anyway, Humphrey was running around campaigning and complaining about the bombing in Vietnam. But he called his boss, Lyndon Johnson and told him that he didn’t really mean it. His was just political rhetoric, appealing to a specific voting population, looking to be elected.

He apparently didn’t think about the soldiers in the field and what the reaction of them might be. Remember, in 1968, you had to be 21 to vote in an election and many, many of the soldiers in Vietnam were not 21. They were not a voting block to worry about.

Never mind that the bad guys in this, meaning the communists might be listening to him and believing him. Never mind that his statements might inspire them to hang on when they might otherwise have quit. Never mind that he was, basically, giving comfort to the enemy. He was running for office and he didn’t care what damage his words might have on the soldiers in the field. They wouldn’t vote for him anyway. In fact, many couldn’t.

What struck me was that no one in the media, when this conversation between Johnson and Humphrey came to light thought in terms of what consequences it might have had to those in the field. He wanted to be president and if a few soldiers died in Vietnam, well, that was the price.

In today’s world, it is even worse. Say something in Pennsylvania about not supporting the president’s war in Iraq, and the terrorists hear it immediately. They can watch it on the Internet. It can inspire them to new and bolder attacks on the men and women in uniform in those far off places. Say what you believe your voters want to hear because getting reelected is more important than the lives of some soldiers who probably aren’t even from your home district.

I once asked a peace demonstrator if she ever thought that the enemy might be listening and that her words might make the job of the soldiers more difficult and deadly. She said that such things weren’t her concern. Besides, they were all volunteers anyway. It’s not as if we drafted them.

Here’s the point, and it is one I attempted to make to the battalion commander as we sat in our tactical operations center (TOC) outside of Baghdad... you don’t say and do things that give aid to the enemy. The time to protest is before the soldiers are engaged... or to wait until they disengage. To protest after the war starts has consequences and unless you think about and understand those consequences in relation to the soldiers in the field, you ought to keep your mouth shut.

Yes, I know that this is a free country and we can say practically anything we want. But we can’t shout "Fire" in a crowded theater because there can be fatal consequences... and we shouldn’t say things about the war if we don’t understand how those statements will be interpreted by the enemy and how they affect the soldiers who are fighting it...

Maybe we should all pay a little more attention so we don’t end up with soldiers fighting in a war we might not like... but hey, I can’t think of a war that I would like. Sometimes it must be done...
And remember, we really didn’t start this one.