Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Can he declare victory?

The late U.S. Sen. George Aiken, a great Republican from Vermont, once lamented that the nation could conclude the Vietnam War simply by saying: “Let’s just declare victory and go home.”

The war was going badly, even though American forces were winning on the battlefield. Our victories were overshadowed by protests at home as Americans grieved over the casualties we suffered for a mission that no one at the Pentagon was able to articulate.

Russians are facing possibly the same the dilemma. Their forces invaded Ukraine months ago. The idea was to subdue Ukraine quickly, tossing out the government led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and installing a pro-Moscow puppet to dance to the tune called by Russian despot Vladimir Putin.

It didn’t happen.

The Ukrainians are fighting for their survival against Russians who are fighting to soothe the ego of a dictator.

Can the Russians now just “declare victory” the way Sen. Aiken saw many decades ago? It’s all right with me.

I want the bloodshed to end. I am sickened by the destruction brought to Ukraine. I am heartened, though, by the courage that Ukrainians are demonstrating — under Zelenskyy’s leadership — in fending off the invaders.

As for Putin’s possible victory declaration, I want to stipulate that none of that would preclude an international trial on charges of war crimes being leveled against this monstrous tyrant. By any measure one can make that charge against Putin, given that his forces have struck soft targets — schools, hospitals and apartment complexes — in direct violation of the Geneva Accords meant to govern the rules of war.

Let the bastard declare victory and then then commence a trial to convict him of crimes against humanity.


Is he ‘best’ we can offer?

I happen to believe in public opinion political surveys, even if they produce results that confound me. I am no expert on polling, but I do know that the best surveys are done without bias and they seek to reach the broadest sample of respondents possible.

That all said, I am officially beyond all reason at surveys that continue to show Donald J. Trump to be Republicans’ favorite for the 2024 presidential nomination. Why the confusion, the bafflement, the dizzying emotions?

Allow me to list some aspects of The Donald’s life in and out of politics. To wit:

  • He has admitted to mauling women, to assaulting them sexually because of his “fame.”
  • While campaigning for president, he mocked a physically disabled New York Times reporter.
  • He denigrated a Gold Star family, whose son died in combat during the Iraq War; the family happens to be Muslim.
  • Trump also denigrated the late Sen. John McCain’s heroism during the Vietnam War because, he said, McCain was a “hero only because he was captured. I like people who aren’t captured, OK?”
  • He has admitted to cheating on his first two wives and was accused of taking part in a one-time tumble with a porn star shortly after his third wife gave birth to the couple’s son.
  • He claims to be a man of faith, but denies a basic Christian tenet of seeking forgiveness; he said he never has sought to be forgiven for any sin he has committed.
  • Trump told a former associate that anyone who served during the Vietnam War was “stupid,” because the war was so politically unpopular at home.
  • He cannot tell the truth; Trump lies about … everything.

I am likely missing something, but you get my drift, I am sure.

It is this, for those to whom I should explain: If we are going to insist on restoring American “greatness,” is this the man we should follow down that path? Does this individual appear to the best we have to offer?

No! A thousand times no! He embodies the worst among us and for that reason I am totally and completely baffled as to how this cult leader manages to hold such sway with so many Americans.

I am shaking my head in disbelief.


Russia: third-rate power

Barry McCaffrey knows military matters better than just about anyone on Earth. I mean, the guy served combat tours in Vietnam, then rose through the ranks to get four stars pinned on his uniform. He served was a division commander and then led the Central Command in the Middle East.

So … when retired Army Gen. McCaffrey describes Russia as a “third-rate military power,” I tend to believe him. He does offer an important caveat, which is that Russia possesses a first-rate nuclear arsenal. As for its conventional fighting prowess, McCaffrey isn’t impressed with the way the Russians fight conventional battles.

All of this is my way of suggesting that McCaffrey could be onto something when he suggests that Ukraine might be able to earn enough of a battlefield stalemate against the Russian aggressors to force the Russian despot Vladimir Putin to seek some sort of “exit ramp” off the field of battle.

I have said all along — and I don’t proclaim to have any special knowledge of this — that Ukraine isn’t defenseless against the Russian onslaught. Ukraine does have a significant army and air force. It has been shooting down Russian aircraft and it certainly has inflicted a significant number of casualties among Russian personnel.

Putin well might have deluded himself into thinking the Russian armed forces would waltz into Kyiv, declare victory and then set up a puppet government all in short order. That ain’t happening.

Which takes me back to the start of this post. If the Russians are a third-rate conventional military power, what is their dictator thinking when he sends his personnel into battle against a force determined to protect its homeland against naked aggression?


A remarkable man passes on

I hate getting news like this, but at my age I fear they are becoming more frequent.

A friend of mine in Amarillo called this morning with news that a mutual friend of ours has died. Most of you don’t know Gene Gifford, but I’ll take a brief moment to acquaint you with a truly remarkable man.

He grew up in Amarillo. Gene, to borrow a phrase, was an “acquired taste,” but once you acquired it you learned to love this man. My wife and I loved him dearly.

He played football at Tascosa High School. He went on to attend the University of Texas-Austin, where he continued to play football. He warmed the bench for most of his time at UT while the Longhorns played football for the legendary coach Darrell Royal. Gene talked openly about his time at UT and laughed at himself because he lined up at practice against his teammates, rarely getting to play against opposing teams.

Gene then went into the Air Force, graduated from officers’ candidate school, went to flight school and earned his wings after learning how to fly high-performance jet fighters. Then he got his orders to Vietnam to fight in the war. When he arrived in-country, Gene got a serious surprise. He wouldn’t fly the high-performance jet on which he qualified. The USAF would put him in a slow-speed reconnaissance plane, a propellor-driven O-1 Bird Dog, and he would serve as a forward spotter for artillery units. Gene would become a sitting duck for enemy gunners. He got through it, came home and became a financial adviser.

Gene Gifford was known as “Dirty Giff” to his friends and his grandchildren. He was a man’s man, as hard-bitten a conservative as anyone I ever met. He wore his politics on both sleeves and was unafraid to express his opinion on anything at any time and to anyone who was within earshot.

We met Gene Gifford not long after we moved to Amarillo in 1995. We became friends, but only after I told one time after he needled me about some political issue: “Gene, I am convinced that you don’t believe half the crap that flies out of your mouth.” I recall that he was caught flat-footed by that rebuke.

Our friendship blossomed after that moment.

Gene suffered personal tragedy; his son died in an auto accident years ago. He was an avid horseman but suffered a serious injury when a horse fell on him. He fought through his heartache and his physical injury.

Gene was ill for several years. The call that informed me that Gene had died came from one of his former colleagues who loved him as much as we did. In a strange way, it was a call I half-expected to get. When it came, though, it still hurt deeply.

Then again, we are reaching that stage in life when we should expect them more often.

Still, I will miss my friend.


Incursion = invasion

How about we cease the rhetorical pussyfooting regarding whether a nation stages an “incursion” into another nation’s territory, rather than a full-scale “invasion?”

I see no difference.

At issue is what Russian troops might be ordered to do now that they are massed along the country’s border with Ukraine. We hear about the 100,000 armed forces who reportedly are staging for some sort of military action against Ukraine forces on the other side of the border.

President Biden seemed to suggest that a mere “incursion” would result in a less-severe reaction from the United States than an invasion.

This is nonsense. I wish the president would cease seeking to make a distinction between the actions.

The first time I remember hearing the term “incursion” was in 1970 when U.S. troops moved into Cambodia during the Vietnam War. I had just returned from that conflict, and I was horrified then at the thought of our troops marching into another country to wage battle against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese military forces.

My dog-eared American Heritage Dictionary defines incursion as “a raid or an invasion.” I guess, therefore, that the terms are interchangeable.

Whatever our response is to what the Russians do shouldn’t depend on the nature or the scope of their military action against another sovereign nation. My hope is that Joe Biden will establish that whatever economic sanction we level against Russia will be severe … no matter the level of the Russians’ military action.


Thank you, Gov. Newsom, for denying parole to Sirhan

Sirhan B. Sirhan, the man who killed Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and likely changed the course of American political history, is going to stay in prison after all, thanks to a decision handed down today by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The state parole board had recommended parole for Sirhan, who was waiting for RFK in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen the night Kennedy won the state’s 1968 Democratic Party presidential primary. Sirhan fired his pistol into RFK’s head and was taken into custody immediately after the shooting.

I want to join Sen. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, and six of her surviving children, in applauding Gov. Newsom’s decision. Two of Mrs. Kennedy’s sons — RFK Jr. and Douglas — want Sirhan paroled.

He should stay locked up. His premeditated murder of a leading American politician was an attack on our political system. Sen. Kennedy might have been poised after his decisive victory in California to claim the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. He could have then defeated the eventual winner of that election, Richard Nixon. Bobby Kennedy then could have ended the Vietnam War as he had pledged to do during his frenetic 85-day campaign for his party’s nomination.

Sirhan Sirhan, RFK assassin, denied parole (msn.com)

Robert Kennedy was the first politician I ever truly admired. I had the rare honor of shaking his hand a week before he was gunned down. His death saddens will sadden me for as long as I live.

Thus, I want to salute Gov. Newsom for rejecting the parole board’s recommendation. He wrote this of Sirhan in an op-ed that appeared in the Los Angeles Times:

“He does not understand, let alone have the skills to manage, the complex risks of his self-created notoriety. He cannot be safely released from prison because he has not mitigated his risk of fomenting further political violence.”

Well done, Gov. Newsom.


Thank a veteran; they appreciate the love

In recent years I have been more vocal in thanking veterans I recognize when I see them.

You can spot a vet when he or she is wearing a “gimme cap” that declares their status as a veteran. I especially do so when I see someone wearing a World War II or Korean War veteran cap. Why? The answer is obvious: they are getting quite old.

I don’t see many WWII vets these days, given their dwindling numbers. The last vet from that era I saw, I thanked him “for saving the world from tyranny.” He responded with something that suggested he had little to do with the fight. I offered my thanks once again and told him, “You deserve all the thanks that should come your way.” He smiled, shook my hand and didn’t say another word.

Sixteen million Americans suited up to fight tyranny and oppression during World War II. Last I heard there are about 500,000 (or fewer) of them alive today. The Korean War broke out five years after the end of World War II, so those vets are quite long in the tooth as well.

Veterans Day is approaching. I intend to go out of my way to thank every single vet I see that day and will dedicate myself to thanking them until they plant me into the ground.

As for Vietnam War veterans, my standard greeting to them is a simple “Welcome home,” which those of us who served in that conflict have come to appreciate. We didn’t get that kind of welcome when we came home from Southeast Asia.

So there you go. If you see a veteran, extend a word of thanks. I know for a fact they appreciate hearing it. Don’t stop doing so when Veterans Day comes to an end.


Eve of destruction? Hardly!

I see these social media posts and I shake my noggin.

“Joe Biden is destroying the country,” they say. Oh really? How in the world can anyone presume that we’re being “destroyed” when we have endured what we went through for the past four years prior to Biden become president?

While we’re at it, how did the country survive the turmoil of the 1960s, with the Vietnam War raging and protesters lighting fires in our cities? Or when we suffered through political assassination, starting with the murder of a president, then with the gunning down of a preacher and civil-rights champion and then the brother of the president who well could have become POTUS on his own?

Or how about during the Second World War, or the Civil War?

Yeah, we’ve been through a lot in this country. We have been on the verge of destruction many times already. We have managed to come out on the other side. Perhaps a bit tattered, battered and bruised.

Joe Biden is “destroying the country” because he wants to invest in some social programs? Please … spare me the hyperbole.


Taliban ‘declare victory’

It is worth asking: Will the Taliban, who have “declared victory” against the United States, assume a more charitable relationship with their former battlefield adversary … in the manner that Vietnamese have done with former American servicemen and women?

Our military engagement in Afghanistan has ended. The Taliban have pranced around Kabul and other cities proclaiming that they “defeated” the United States. I get how they can make that declaration, even though their battlefield losses were horrific during the 20 years we fought them. Then again, so were the Vietnamese pounded on the battlefield back then, too. Yet they persevered and were able assume control of a government we fought to defend and preserve.

The Taliban have declared victory. Now they must reckon with a country freefalling into chaos (msn.com)

I don’t know about any parallels between then and now. The Taliban are driven by a deep religious fervor steeped in Islamic fundamentalism. The North Vietnamese were driven by a communist ideology that had nothing to do with religion. 

In 1989, I had the honor of returning to Vietnam 20 years after I reported for duty in that long-ago war. The editors with whom I was traveling and I flew from Bangkok to Hanoi for the first leg of our Vietnam tour. We then flew a few days later from Hanoi to what once was known as Saigon but is now called Ho Chi Minh City … named after Uncle Ho.

I remember getting off the plane, boarding a bus and then riding to our hotel. I got off the bus and was greeted — along with my traveling companions — by a gentlemen who asked some of us if we had served there during the Vietnam War. Some of us said “yes,” to which the gentleman said — while smiling broadly — “Welcome back to our country.” 

I found that to be a moving welcome and it portended the kind of relationships we were able to build during our brief time touring Vietnam.

Will any of that be available over time to returning Afghan War vets? Time will tell. I hope for their sake they are able to return to a country that so saw much hell over the span of time we fought there.

That will depend, of course, on whether the Taliban can set aside their religious fervor. Therein lies a fundamental difference between then and now.


Sirhan gets parole … wow!

This bit of news is going to take some time to sink in.

I am still processing the announcement that Sirhan Bishara Sirhan will be paroled from the California prison system 53 years after he shot my first political hero to death in a hotel kitchen.

Sirhan murdered Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968 moments after RFK declared victory in California’s Democratic presidential primary. Sen. Kennedy would linger for a day before succumbing. Robert Kennedy was 42 years of age and well might have been elected president of the United States. Hmm. Do you think his tragic death might have changed history’s trajectory? We were fighting a terribly unpopular war and Sen. Kennedy wanted to end it.

Let me stipulate that this recommendation does not make parole a done deal. It needs further review and final approval by the governor. However, the absence of any objection from prosecutors and the support of RFK”s family members suggest to me that it’s likely to occur. That Sirhan will walk out of prison.

Oh, my. How does one deal with this?

Two of the senator’s surviving sons, RFK Jr. and Douglas, both argued on behalf of Sirhan’s parole Douglas Kennedy said it is time to give way to grace and forgiveness. How in the world does one argue with the logic from the son of one of U.S. history’s more revered political figures?

I had hoped the 77-year-old Sirhan would spend the rest of his life behind bars. That won’t happen. He reportedly will live with his sole surviving brother.

No word, of course, yet has come from Ethel Kennedy, the slain senator’s wife who was there in the hotel kitchen when her husband was struck down; she was pregnant in that moment with the couple’s 11th child.

I am still trying to roll this one around. I cannot yet reach a decision on how I feel about Sirhan’s pending parole.

All I am feeling at this moment is renewed pain over the loss I felt at that moment when we got word at home in Oregon that RFK had been shot. I remember watching the returns from California. The networks declared Bobby Kennedy the winner and I went to bed a happy young man. I had the pleasure one week earlier of shaking the senator’s hand at a chance meeting in a restaurant parking as he finished campaigning in the Oregon Democratic primary.

Then my mother woke me up. She told me to come downstairs. I watched the horror of the event unfold in real time.

I am not going to express joy for Sirhan Sirhan’s release. I am saddened all over again.