Paging Richard Crenna

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It's common knowledge that Americans definitively put the Vietnam War behind themselves back in 1982, when psycho vet John "Sylvester Stallone" Rambo was told by Col. Samuel "Richard Crenna" Trautman that "It's over Johnny. It's over!" in First Blood, the first of the Rambo movies. (Only a few years later, Stallone would similarly heal the United States' open wounds over the Petaluma, California's annual world wrist-wrestling competion via the film Over the Top).

It's a shame that Crenna, who's dead, isn't on hand for Campaign 2004, where Vietnam is more alive than it ever was in the Rambo movies. (And let's skip over the fact that Rambo made common cause with Islamic radicals in Afghanistan.)

The latest skirmish: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a Vietnam War vet himself, has called the GOP's answer to Larry Tate, Dick Cheney, a coward for ducking service during that bright, shining moment in American foreign policy and criticizing John Kerry's behavior in same.

[Harkin] said Cheney has little standing to question the war record of Kerry, who was repeatedly wounded and decorated while serving as a swift boat commander in Vietnam….

"When I hear this [criticism] coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil," said Harkin.

"He'll be tough, but he'll be tough with someone else's kid's blood," said Harkin.

Whole thing here.

Political irony moment: Didn't Gulf War I, prosecuted by President Bush's dad, put "Vietnam Syndrome" to rest? Or was that mission accomplished by Poppa Bush's ass-kicking triumph over Geraldine Ferraro in the 1984 vice presidential debate? Either way, it would sure be nice to hear Trautman/Crenna solemnly intoning from a CNN or Fox News studio that what we really need is "a good supply of body bags."

Update: As Reader Bill points out, Harkin was in fact a Vietnam-era vet, not a Vietnam War vet per se, serving as Navy flier in Japan and Guantanamo Bay from '62 to '67 and then in the active reserves from '68 to 74. I've got nothing good to say about Harkin–or his annual Steak Fry!–but he's still got a pretty good service record.

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  1. But that abandonment was the inevitable outcome of our blundering into the situation in the first place.

    No, the abandonment had more to do with our unwillingness to fight the war to win it – to set as our goal regime change for the North.

    Once we decided that we would not destroy our enemies, we guaranteed that our enemies would eventually prevail. They were willing to fight to the finish, and we were not, so they (very predictably) won.

    The lesson of Vietnam (and Korea, and WWI) is – always fight to the finish. Regime change is the only legitimate measure of victory.

  2. Are you sure Harkin is a Viet Nam war vet. That is, did he serve in Viet Nam, or was he just in the service during the Viet Nam war period.

  3. So, Dean, what was your magic plan for winning Vietnam? Draft a couple hundred thousand more kids? Keep them there for a decade or two?

    Too bad the military doesn’t have a magical manpower machine. They could have ordered up a million troops, taken over Vietnam, and pacified the place for a decade o two.

  4. R C Dean,

    So true, except that you forgot to include Iraq in your list. Had GHW Bush finished to the job the first time, we wouldn’t have needed to invade a second time. Of course, this doesn’t mean that things would have necessarily gone any better than this time, but we did have many more soldiers in the theater, so security would likely have been better.

    Somewhat unrelated question to all: Do politicians lie because it is in their nature, or do they lie because of the nature of democracy; that is, the need to please at least 50+% of their constituents? Is it possible for an honest pol to get elected? If not, are we getting exactly the government that the majority of Americans deserve?

  5. AllenS,

    Harkin was a Vietnam-era vet. He was stationed in Japan. Sorry, Gillespie.

  6. It’s a shame that Crenna, who’s dead, isn’t on hand for Campaign 2004, where Vietnam is more alive than it ever was in the Rambo movies.

    You’re right in that most people had chosen to put Vietnam behind and move on. “Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in.” is how I’ve felt about the current re-unpleasantment.

    Hitchens: “Only this year, Robert McNamara has been groping self-pityingly toward an explanation of what he did and even toward some atonement for it.”

    It seems odd to seem to be defending McNamara, but…

    Did anyone see Fog of War and miss the transcending enormity of the times as lived by McNamara? Hitchens should feel shame for his glib dismissiveness.

    And it should be realized that McNamara became the MSM fall guy because JFK was not to be touched.

  7. “Hitchens should feel shame for his glib dismissiveness.”

    That would kill his entire career right there.

  8. “So, Dean, what was your magic plan for winning Vietnam? Draft a couple hundred thousand more kids? Keep them there for a decade or two?”

    It wasn’t a lack of manpower that caused us to lose the war, it was the lack of willpower. We let political considerations overrule military considerations with self-defeating ideas like bombing safe zones.

  9. Old SNL skit – Dana Carvey as GHW Bush:

    “Learned the lessons of Vietnam: Stay out of Vietnam.”

  10. Which, I wonder, was more dangerous: holding down a desk in Japan, or flying a Starfighter over Texas?

    For that matter, I wonder if REMF duty in Japan required any more courage that whatever Cheney was doing.

    If Harkin had wanted to see the elephant in Vietnam, he could have easily arranged it. So he must not have sought it out. Big man.

  11. But Harkin’s not saying he’s a badder ass than Cheney was, or more daring, etc. He’s just pointing out it’s pretty chickenshit to mock someone’s war service record when you took every chance to get out of going yourself. Because it is.

  12. agree with cdunlea above; but –

    if Kerry keeps making shit up (above and beyond what he actually did) how far should people give him a pass without questioning? I know the Media will give him a pass from here to November (“prompt for joe to genuflect 🙂

    if serving in ‘Nam is held ‘sacred’, how come the same degree of reverence is not shown to the swiftees?

  13. RC Dean,

    Those were my thoughts also, when I first posted. It seems to me, that a long time ago, Harkin was called on the carpet for bragging up his record. I also understand completely “REMF”, as I was an army paratrooper in Viet Nam. I was an 11B2P.

  14. cdunlea, you are falling for the Dem misdirection.

    What is being targeted is not nearly so much Kerry’s actual war service, as Kerry’s apparent (and w/ respect to Christmas in Cambodia, admitted) lying about his war service. No one is questioning his service there, they are questioning his embellishment of that service for his selfish ends.

    And I repeat – if it is chickenshit to avoid going to war yourself, then why didn’t Harkin pursue a combat posting in Vietnam? His little dodge about serving “during” the Vietnam war is interesting – he likes to leave the impression he was fighting, when he actually wasn’t. Trust me, all he had to do was put in for a transfer and he would have been put on the front lines.

    Based on his comments about Cheney, I guess Harkin thought that Clinton was a coward for avoiding service, too. Somehow, I doubt he’s on record with that comment, though.

  15. We Americans may have put “Vietnam Syndrome” behind us but our enemies have not. Americans are dying today in Iraq in military insignificant pin-prick attacks purely because the deadenders believe that they need only inflict a steady trickle of a few casualties to win.

    Our abandonment of Vietnam destroyed our credibility as a military power. Every two bit street gang with a couple of self-propelled grenades came to believe they could oppose the US militarily and win. The embassy hostage taking, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the barracks bombing, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, 9/11 and numerous other incidents all had their roots in our opponents belief that we would not pay the price necessary to oppose them.

    I do not believe Kerry understands how the abandonment of Vietnam that he helped bring about negatively affected US security and continues to dog us to this day. I think our enemies will interpret his election as a loss of will on our part and they will be emboldened to attack us even more strongly in hopes Kerry will recapitulate his strategy in Vietnam.

    Once you’ve lost a reputation it takes a long time to get it back.

  16. “Our abandonment of Vietnam destroyed our credibility as a military power.”

    Yes, it did. But that abandonment was the inevitable outcome of our blundering into the situation in the first place. The desire to maintain one’s military credibility is certainly in my top 10 list of reasons to be judicious in the use of the military options.

  17. We’ll be over Vietnam when the last f*cking hippy keels over – good riddance!

  18. We’ll be over Vietnam when the last f*cking hippy keels over – good riddance

    .. yeah, that “peace, love and brotherhood” crap is so un-American!!

  19. We’ll be over Vietnam when we return there to right the wrongs that occured.

  20. Shannon: “Our abandonment of Vietnam destroyed our credibility as a military power.”

    Remember that we were in Vietnam for some twenty years with the hot war going some ten years. Historically, the American tolerance for hot war seems to run to about four years.

    People with no use for the anti-war crowd were themselves turning against the war as it had no discernible end.

  21. R C Dean asks:
    Which, I wonder, was more dangerous: holding down a desk in Japan, or flying a Starfighter over Texas?

    If this is supposed to be a comparison between Bush and Harkin, then I should point out that Harkin wasn’t holding down a desk in Japan. He flew damaged aircraft in and out of the Naval Air Station in Atsugi. When he was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, he would accost American spy-planes that flew by. While in the ready reserve, he flew photo-reconnaisance missions. All in all he served about five years in active duty and three in the ready reserve. It’s a far cry from Bush, who trained to fly a jet and then lost interest.

    And his point wasn’t to criticize Cheney just for having “other priorities” (as Dick so delightfully puts it) than fighting for his country. He’s just of the opinion that Cheney has no standing to criticize Kerry’s service – which is an entirely reasonable point to make. Hell, Cheney would have no business attacking Kerry’s service even if Kerry hadn’t volunteered for Vietnam during his second tour of duty.

    Shannon Love writes:
    We Americans may have put “Vietnam Syndrome” behind us but our enemies have not. Americans are dying today in Iraq in military insignificant pin-prick attacks purely because the deadenders believe that they need only inflict a steady trickle of a few casualties to win.

    Eh. Tactics similar to those employed by the insurgents in Iraq have been in use by various occupied peoples against foes ranging from Russia to France. There’s no reason whatsoever to assume that what’s going on in Iraq is happening because al-Sadr and company learnt any lessons from the VC – who, by the way, were able to do a lot more than just to “inflict a steady trickle of a few casualties”.

    I do not believe Kerry understands how the abandonment of Vietnam that he helped bring about negatively affected US security and continues to dog us to this day.

    Continuing the Vietnam War would have gotten more Americans and a lot more Vietnamese killed without a hope of accomplishing anything worthwhile enough to justify the expense in lives. It’s a good thing that people like Kerry had enough wisdom to realize this and enough courage to stand up to Nixon.

  22. People forget how much “Vietnam syndrome” was a result of “Korea syndrome.” The US/UN (!) had almost all of the peninsula retaken when those “Chinese volunteers” took an interest. Our piecemeal handling of the NLF/VC/NVA forces was a result of a political decision not to tempt intervention by Chinese or Soviet ground troops. Yes, there were secret operations in Laos and Cambodia, but other than bombing, no attempt to take out the warmaking ability of the North using ground forces was on the table. Ike/LBJ/Nixon all were playing within the parameters of the Brezhnev doctrine, and anything that smacked of “rollback” would have horrified the Joint Chiefs, the Congressional leadership, and probably anybody who had a family member who had served in Korea.

    Regime change is a heck of a lot easier when you don’t have a competing superpower backing the targeted regime.

    Kevin

  23. “He’s just of the opinion that Cheney has no standing to criticize Kerry’s service – which is an entirely reasonable point to make.”

    At the time Harkin referred to Cheney as a “coward,” Cheny wasn’t criticizing Kerry’s military service record, Cheny was criticizing Kerry’s use of the word “sensitive” when discussing how he would fight the war on terror if elected in 2004.

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