By Mort Malkin
When you were a navy pilot during the Vietnam War (in Vietnam they call it the American War), Robert MacNamara was in charge of the Pentagon. John F. Kennedy had taken over from the French who wisely decided it was better to sip cafe au lait at the bistros in Paris than slog through the mud at Dienbienfu. Early in the war, MacNamara was gung ho to teach the Soviets not to tangle with the US, not even by proxy. As to the pleasure-minded French, they were undependable in opposing Communism.
MacNamara recently died, and so the Vietnam War is back in the news. MacNamara was one of the “best and brightest” and believed that intelligence was the same as wisdom. In the sixties, his data-based evaluation of Vietnam told him we were winning. North Vietnam had an air force of a couple of ancient MIG 21s, and their navy was nothing more than a few patrol boats. The Viet Cong in the South didn’t even have uniforms — just black pajamas. The winning of the war would be what the White House of 2002 would call a slam dunk.
Well, we all know how the war turned out. We also know that Communism didn’t take over Southeast Asia. Robert MacNamara will surely be condemned to play dominoes for all eternity in whatever place he has gone.
The Pentagon, in its geopolitical absurdity, had larger trees to fell. The Soviet Union — the Communist devils — were supplying North Vietnam with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). We needed to know the capability of those missiles in order to develop countermeasures and to assess future missions. What better way than to send our pilots to bomb targets in Hanoi where they would have to maneuver their A4 Skyhawk fighter-bombers to avoid the heat-seeking missiles? Indeed, bombing missions over Hanoi became a routine. Wait a minute. You mean we were sending American pilots over North Vietnam to bomb bridges and power plants, and where they were likely to be shot down, just so the Pentagon could collect data on Russian missiles?
John, you should be madder than a Lewis Carroll hatter. It is not too late, even in 2009 — you can become a born-again pacifist. Who better than a former perpetual warrior to lead the Peace Movement? Your watchword can be “Chill, baby, Chill.” You can quote that famous warrior, Dwight Eisenhower, who finally understood “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”