Bitterness about the Vietnam War is understandable. The thousands of brave Americans killed there seem to have died in vain, and Vietnam was a major loss of face for a country that had never before lost a war. In 1986, the bitterness is centered on the question of how we lost a war we should have won instead of why we were there, the question that prevailed during and immediately after the war.
William Huggins in his letter (Oct. 9), "Fed Up With Weak Whimpering," blames politicians and critics of the Vietnam War for our defeat. Parallels were also made by Huggins between critics of the Vietnam War and current critics of U.S. policy in Central America. Huggins wrote, "Give me air support and the 101st Airborne and I'll take Nicaragua within three months."
I agree with Huggins that greater commitment in Vietnam would have led to a victory, and with proper commitment we could win a war with Nicaragua. Huggins and I, however, have different ideas of what proper U.S. commitment would entail.
If we ever went to war with Nicaragua, we should expect just that, a war. Unrealistic expectations about the duration and costs, involving both money and human life, will not make a victory. In order to win a war with Nicaragua, it will likely take years, millions of dollars and thousands of lives on both sides.
This is in no way a criticism of the U.S. military. They are the best, no question about it. It is simply that stiff resistance could be expected from the Nicaraguans. The enemy suffered extensive losses in the Tet offensive, but they kept fighting and the Vietnam War continued. The Soviet Union's forces in Afghanistan are not an incompetent group, but they are nearing the seventh anniversary of their invasion and still battling the moujahedeen. A similar situation could be expected after a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua.
Television brought the reality of the Vietnam War into the living room of America. If anything was learned from that, it was how terrible war really can be. The bitterness about the defeat there should not make us forget this. We will not achieve redemption for the Vietnam War or resurrect the servicemen killed there by fighting another war in Central America.
These are not "weak whimpers" from a bleeding-heart liberal, only a warning about the realities of war to anyone who thinks Nicaragua or any other Central American country will be a doormat for a U.S. invasion. If it comes to war in Central America, we should be free of delusions and prepared for the long haul.