Here’s the lesson I take away from Vietnam. Going into a war without the resolve to do whatever it takes to destroy the enemy – going into a war without the goal of winning – is suicidal. If we had followed the advice of General Curtis LeMay and bombed them into the stone age, how many of the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam would be alive today? If we had nuked Hanoi in the ‘60s, Vietnam would have become an “Asian tiger” along with the other free countries of Asia instead of a communist slave pen that produced concentration camps and boat people. We did not have the will to do it.
I see the same confusion of purpose in the war against militant Islam that we had in Vietnam. To give an example, there have been reports of American troops in Afghanistan who could see the Taliban in Pakistan, but were unable to pursue them across the border. Is this a serious way to fight a war? Can you imagine General Patton in WWII afraid to cross the border into, say, Yugoslavia because the pragmatists back at the State Department didn’t want to destabilize the region?
Or how about the battle of Tora Bora? America, more worried about “world opinion” than doing what it takes to win, tried to use the Northern Alliance, a bunch of Afghani tribes. The Afghanis botched the operation, allowing many of the enemy, including Osama bin Laden, to escape.
When America lets “world opinion” take precedence over doing what it takes to win, then America puts chains on itself. American warriors needlessly die. The enemy lives a day longer. More Americans will die because we do not have the will to win.
As General Sherman approached Atlanta, he was begged to spare the city on humanitarian grounds. He refused. Atlanta burned. War is hell. He understood that sparing Atlanta would allow the enemy to live another day. More of his men would die.
Lack of resolve and confusion of purpose kill more Americans in the long run.
The worst part about fighting a war half-way is not that it is impractical (although it is), but that it betrays moral uncertainty. Our enemy is morally certain that killing Americans is good. Our leaders in Washington, D.C. are wobbly. (This is surely the result of centuries of modern philosophy attacking the idea of moral absolutes and the metaphysical and epistomological foundations of morality.) Moral uncertainty is the surest way to kill a cause.