make value judgments, to select the wiser course of action.” First there were the hard facts of the war, of history. The facts began with a Friday-night screening of “Tet 1968,” a segment of a 13-part TV series called “The Vietnam Project” to be aired on PBS next fall. On Saturday morning Dr. George Herring, Professor of History at the University of Kentucky and author of America’s Longest War, suggested that “had we looked all over the world, we might not have found a less promising place for an experiment in nationhood.” We went to war in Vietnam, he said, through “a series of incremental commitments made over a period of 15 years.” The essential flaw was “not that we. misused our military power, but that we intervened where local forces ran against us.” Following Professor Herring, Douglas C. Kinnard, a retired U. S. Army general who served in Vietnam and now teaches political science at the University of Vermont, called Vietnam “the greatest failure in American policy in our time.” A scholarly, articulate man, the author of three books on military policy and two more nearing completion, Kinnard alluded to Remarque’s observation in All Quiet on the Western Front: that it is the society with the weakest will which collapses first. He also noted that “war can never be separated from political intercourse.” This country had no grand strategic plan for Vietnam, Kinnard, an aide to General Eisenhower during World War II, pointed out. Instead we made do with a series of programs. The result, as suggested by a survey Kinnard administered after the war, was that 70% of our generals were uncertain of the war’s objectives. In Vietnam, the aim was to search and destroy, not seize and hold as in other wars. “Given those constraints,” Kinnard said, “the enemy has the initiative.” Kinnard offered, from a general’s point of view, several lessons to be learned from the Vietnam experience: A lack of clarity of objectives doomed the effort from the beginning. Fighting a war of attrition with an enemy who has the initiative is a war of wills, not of power. In Vietnam, “we had power; they had will.” The forgotten lesson from the Korean War is that the “fragility and nonhomogeneous nature of American society can’t handle a long war with no clear objectives.” It must be a crusade like World Wars I and II. From now on, the media, especially television, must be taken into account when deciding strategy. Kinnard wondered aloud how live TV from Omaha Beach on D-Day might have affected the war in Europe. defense must be taken into account. In the early days of the war, Kinnard contended, Sec. McNamara gave the military too much leeway. “The lack of meaningful guidance from Washington, [General William] Westmoreland could take as approval.” Walt Rostow, as he would do frequently during the weekend, questioned some of the conclusions. “In my judgment,” he said, “if we had seen it through, South Vietnam would have ended up as South Korea has.” It was cuts in aid by the American Congress in 1975, he said, that “broke the back of the South Vietnamese.” “It was an excessive expenditure of resources in an area that could never pay off,” the general responded. He also noted that “the conclusion of the CIA expressed in the Pentagon Papers was that ‘We can’t beat those guys.’ But the CIA doesn’t make policy.” AFTER LUNCH and small-group discussions in Salado homes, the, symposium turned to what Jim Veninga of the state humanities committee has called the “subjective, soft side” of our experience in Vietnam, in Veninga’s words, “the most hidden and the most difficult dimension of the war.” A white-haired, soft-spoken Harry Wilmer began the session by talking about his work with veterans. Of the 2.7 million men and women who served in Vietnam, he said, V2 million are troubled by their memories and their nightmares. He has studied 103 Vietnam veterans, interviewing and analyzing each of them over a two-year period. \(He’s awaiting publication of The Healing Nightmare, a book No one in the V.A. hospitals around the country had talked to the veterans about their dreams, or even about their combat experiences, and Wilmer himself received no V.A. encouragement whatsoever for the work that he was doing. Wilmer also discovered that the veterans had told no one else about their nightmares; they talked neither to each other nor to their fathers, who might have known similar experiences. They kept the horror to themselves, and the rest of us encouraged their silence, perhaps because we too were acquainted, through television, with the Vietnam shadow. “We made the tragic mistake,” Wilmer said, “of turning from our veterans and forcing them to carry the odious shadow for us.” “The worst nightmares of all,” Wilmer said, “are not about his [the veteran’s] own bodily harm, but about the killing of others, the killing of buddies, the killing of women and children, the killing of babies and infants.” Night after night, the veteran relived those experiences, 14 NOVEMBER 26, 1982
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