Time Bomb Lesson of Vietnam

Sat Nam Dear Family,

The Vietnam war has been an enigma in the consciousness of America ever since it began. Watching the Ken Burns series on PBS has brought up many issues again. What was it all about? What did it mean? Was there any redeeming value to it? What have we learned? These are just some of the questions which haunt many Americans to this day. They are good questions, they are fair questions, and they are questions which must be asked to give any resolution, redemption, and closure to this war.

I was one of those wanting to understand what it was all about. I’ve studied it. I’ve learned that it’s complicated. Let me see if I can decipher what I’ve come to understand in simple language.

Right after WWII, America supported free societies all over the world, and that included Vietnam, or Indo-China (which also included Laos and Cambodia) as it was called then. France was our ally. They were included in a very powerful political and military bond call the Western Alliance (NATO today). This Alliance was viewed as a protector and a promoter of freedom and a free way of governance, and stood in opposition to more autocratic ways such as the Soviet Union and China.

I hope I’m not getting more technical than necessary, but just bear with me for a while longer and you’ll see where I’m going.

One of the perceived benefits of an autocratic system is usually more security. The price paid for this is less freedom. The western model is a system of freedom with the inherent risk attached. Here’s the problem, when liberty and security are at battle, security usually wins. This is an age old battle, which continues to this day, and will continue into the foreseeable future.

After the humiliating French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 which led to the establishment of North and South Vietnam, more and more pressure was being put on the United States from it’s allies to protect French colonial interests. France, was the most vocal and threatened to break the Alliance if America didn’t support their interests in Viet Nam. France went so far as to threaten to join with the Soviet Union if we didn’t support these interests. We had to make a choice between compromising our standards or allowing an Alliance to break up. America believed this Alliance to be of great value and would continue to promote and defend our Western values of freedom in a very productive way into the furture.

In addition, considering the view of communism as an anti-freedom system universally, made the decision easier. This view that communism was against the interest of the West made communist North Vietnam an easy target. The corrupt, but installed first present of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem was a perceived advocate of freedom, albeit a very, very perverted style. But, given the choice between Diem or communism, the choice of backing France was made more easily. A lot of political pressure was tilted in this direction.

However, here’s where it gets complicated. Do we stick with the American value of defending liberty, the rule of law, religions freedom, etc. everywhere our influence extends, or do we allow politics to enter into the equation? Now, that’s a question you need God to answer. I can make compelling arguments for either way of thinking. Here’s where the true lesson of the Vietnam experience can be learned. Here’s where the rubber hits the road. Here’s where the truth is available.

Doesn’t the “greater good” thinking need to be a heavy considers deciding factor in our decisions? What good is it to compromise our standards if we don’t survive? We can’t do any good if we’re not here.

I get it. We chose to fight against North Vietnam for political reasons and that didn’t work out so well. It was an understandable decision taken at the time, but what if we would have stuck to our standard and supported the North - Ho Chi Min’s march for independence? There was another choice too: staying out of the conflict altogether and not taking any sides. Would the French have really pulled out of the Western Alliance as threatened? What implications would that possibility have had on world stability? Or, would the Alliance and others learned to respected and to trust us because we stick to our standards which are available to everyone as stated in our Constitution? However, I don’t know if we ever asked God or got His right answer, but we followed the wrong choice.

Several of our presidents have continually promoted whatever sacrifice was needed in order to hold NATO together. But, what if we’d have said “no” to politics - “we support freedom everywhere”. We’re sorry if this in any way offends or hurts anyone, we’re sorry if it supports the right of a nation to choose Communism, but, please understand, this is our core value. And, if we’re true to what we believe, then we must believe the same for everyone, including the Vietnamese.

What I’ve learned from the Vietnam War is that our values are what define us. The more we compromise, deviate, ameliorate, or in any manner change our core standard, our liberty, for any purpose, the worst that compromised decision becomes. I’ve learned that, yes, politics is very important, but it must not compromise the core of Western politics. When politics and standards battle, in spite of public opinion, leadership must uphold the standards.

We didn’t do this at the time. We’ve suffered because of it. No one can deny that. Vietnam has taught me that if we don’t want to suffer again, then we must hold to our core value of liberty in spite of any additional risk in security. That’s the cost of liberty, and I’m glad to say, that’s another great lesson of the Vietnam War.

We had the courage when the British invaded, we had the courage at the time the War Between the States (the Civil War) broke out but we have not shown that courage when things became more complicated. Do we now? Have we learned the right lesson from Vietnam, or will the blessings which have befallen on the America because of sticking to our standards continue, or will we fade into the ordinary like all the great civilizations which preceded us?

“When the adversity will hit, the communication will break. Never break the communication. Neither with an enemy nor with a friend… Keep communicating. That’s what God does. Just understand, communication is vibration. Keep vibrating, but positively. Never listen to negativity.” Yogi Bhajan 7/10/85

Stay tuned,

In the Humility of Service and Gratitude,
MSS Hari Jiwan Singh Khalsa
Chief of Protocol
Sangat Representative


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