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A BUSINESS EXECUTIVE QUESTIONS “THE SYSTEM” Extracts from testimony by Edward Gelsthrope, President, Hunt-Wesson Foods, before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, May 12, 1971. Reprints and further information may be obtained from Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace and New National Priorities, 201 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002. Like many of us who now speak with such candor and conviction regarding our abhorrence of the Vietnam involvement, I, too, in the early days trusted my government and believed with the majority of Americans in the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the early consequences that resulted from that Congressional action. I held to this belief until about five years ago. This conflict is now ten years old, the longest war in our history and, in my opinion, a completely destructive one to our nation. If to date it has had redeeming qualities, my limited view prohibits me from recognizing them. The tragic loss in combat of 50,000 American lives, 270,000 Americans wounded, and the even greater number killed or injured in war related accidents represents only the very obvious top of this indescribably tragic iceberg. I hold that it is not honorable to refuse to admit a mistake. I believe the majority of Americans believe our Vietnam involvement to be a mistake recent polls support this. Inevitably confidence will be lost in an individual, an institution, or a nation which refuses to admit a mistake. This loss of confidence will be within the entity itself and be shared by those who view the entity. America has made a mistake in Indochina. Contrary to what many Americans once believed, I think we now know we cannot and should not police the world with our political view; it is both arrogant and impractical. We have, in Vietnam, involved ourselves in what I believe to be basically an internal conflict. I would hold too that no nation, no institution, nor any individual can be strong if its morale is poor. Our Administration’s failure to admit a mistake is severely damaging America’s morale both civilian and military. The polarization of our population caused by Vietnam and encouraged by some officers of this Aministration manifests itself in a number of ways each of them destructive to our nation’s well being. First, the profound disillusionment of young people is now affecting many of us and I am not referring to just the radical left but to thoughtful moderates as well. We may all ask the question, “If this unyielding position of our Administration on Vietnam is what our political socio-economic system leads to, then, in fact, shouldn’t the system itself be questioned?” .. . Secondly, our morale is damaged because we know we are not doing all we can and should do within America for our energies both emotional and economic are simply too strained by ten years of wasteful war. . . . Third, the war is bad for business. One can’t absolutely quantify what role the war has played in inflation. Nor, can one say with certainty what role the war has played in the fact that corporate profits as a percent of sales have been steadily declining. Both of these factors are very harmful to our economy and benefit no one. A military budget of approximately seventy-eight billion dollars with some thirty percent going to Southeast Asia is a misallocation of our resources; and, it must be a major contributor to our present economic problems. . . . Fourth, I believe our military strength has been weakened by the war. . . . Because in increasing numbers our population has totally rejected this war, our military has been weakened through sheer lack of emotional and intellectual support both from civilians and then from many of the men who have or are doing the fighting. The result is that the respect from many for our senior military officers has been eroded. In the ranks we have been experiencing a substantial loss of discipline, an increase in fragging, a real problem with drugs, killing and bombing civilians of all ages and both sexes, destroying villages, and relocating some millions of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian citizens. . . . Many veterans of Vietnam come home not proud of their service but ashamed of what the policies of their country have asked them to do. How severe this psychological damage may be long term, nobody knows. If men are going to be asked to kill and risk being killed, they must above all else believe in the reasons behind this most supreme of all human disciplines. If I correctly perceive how many Americans presently see our armed forces and how many men who are serving or have served in the armed forces see themselves, then this is frightening evidence of another portion of the nation’s deteriorating morale and in fact of the nation’s military strength. Fifth, morale of the nation is adversely affected by distrust in the truthfulness of many of its leaders. For many of us, the Vietnam War has been a succession of disbeliefs from three different Presidents. Without belaboring the past, to me the current problem of credibility is this word “Vietnamization” which implies an ability for the Saigon Government to achieve near self-sufficiency and political self-determination; it becomes an excuse for a continued American involvement of indeterminate length and magnitude. . . A very real part of the disaster of the Vietnam War, regardless of how soon it now ends, is a loss of confidence in our government by many because of two phrases, “honorable peace,” and “Vietnamization,” and the stubborn deathly actions for which they have been excuses. The alternatives I believe we are faced with are clear; one is to continue fighting while reducing levels on the ground and at unknown levels in the air until our prisoners have been released and this nebulous “Vietnamization” has been effected. The other is to set a known date for withdrawal, end all military operations immediately, and then proceed with the negotiation for prisoner release and the safety of the South Vietnamese and provide, if the Congress deems it appropriate, assistance to the Republic of South Vietnam. The risks inherent in either alternative are necessarily substantial. There is no way to extricate a nation from such a debacle without risks. I believe in the second alternative and I believe that with proper exposure this will be endorsed by a majority of Americans. . . . The first alternative, to fight on the ground at reduced levels while withdrawing and maintaining, or perhaps be forced to accelerate our bombing, which in total tons of bombs dropped already exceeds our activity in World War II, and then to hope we are generally out by November 1972 and hope a token force remaining is sufficient to cave in the Viet Cong and cause them to release our prisoners, is simply illogical to me; it’s backwards, it guarantees longer incarceration and further risks the lives of our prisoners, it permits more prisoners to be captured and endangers the lives of the remaining ever decreasing number of American troops. It guarantees more American deaths. . It is up to the Senate and the House too, which to date has been so dilatory, to lead this nation out of war. Obviously the Congress can do it for it controls the funds of war. Childers Manufacturing Company shares the growing awareness that corporations have a responsibility to the society in which they are participants, and here offers another in its exchange of ideas series . . . as a contribution to public thought, discussion, and understanding. OCILDE1118 MAIIIIIFACTURINO COMPANY Box 7467, Houston, Texas 77008