Monday, July 18, 2005

Westmoreland: Questionable Legacy

There are moments when I have to really try to set aside everything I know and everything I believe to truly understand the significance of a life. For the last few hours I've been wondering a lot about men, who in trying times, are not a success, but neither a failure.

General William Westmoreland died today at the age of 91.

Westmoreland was appointed the head of the military advisory mission to Vietnam in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, he served as Commander of MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) until 1968 commanding U.S. combat forces in Vietnam and later became chief of staff of the Army.

I wish for the sake of appearing less nerdy, I didn't understand so well the outcomes of the war America could not win. I wish the Vietnam War was more foreign to me and I understood less the costs and the casualities (both those who died in Vietnam, and those who lived to come home). But I understand fully that there are lessons and costs that we have only now started to see. There are men and women whose entire outlooks have changed, politicians who have changed ideologies, and kids, close to my own age, who will never serve their country for fear of what may become of them.

Westmoreland once said: "It's more accurate to say our country did not fulfill its commitment to South Vietnam. By virtue of Vietnam, the U.S. held the line for 10 years and stopped the dominoes from falling." Can we really say we stopped anything? Sure, the dominoes didn't fall, but neither did the Soviet Union for another 20 years. We didn't fulfill our commitment to South Vietnam, we left there turning our backs on everything we went in there believing.

So in his death I've come to realize that the significance of his life is this: He did what most men were unwilling to do. He served this country through thick and thin, torment and triumph, victory and defeat. And for that today this nation lost a patriot. Agree with Vietnam or not, Westmoreland's dedication in the face of defeat was admirable.

General William Westmoreland
1914 - 2005


Anonymous said...

Vietnam was a great tragedy, but hey, we came in second place. If there had been a way to gt oil out of palm trees, we'd still be there fueling the money machine. The US could have accomplished the same ends by producing the same war machines and dumping them into the ocean. The economy would have thrived just the same. sorry, he did his best with what he had to work with. Everybody dies eventually. Unfortunately for the 50,000 that didn't have to it's too late. I'm not sure time heals wounds.

Anonymous said...

Tedo, are you or are you not a liberal? This post was almost too conservative for you.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Okay, first of all, someone has to know me pretty well to be calling me Tedo, so I should be assuming by that comment that anonymous must know that I am very much a liberal and doesn't need a clarification there.

Next, Vietnam, as a great American tragedy must have had heroes and villians. Who they are we still don't know. Nixon? Certainly not. Johnson and McNamara, no. Had Kennedy lived (either John or Bobby), maybe, but the truth is the questions far outweigh the answers.

I truly believe John Kerry couldn't win because of his role in Vietnam, I wonder how Clinton ever won, and I wonder if John McCain could ever stand a chance. Vietnam is too closely linked to the big-bad-monster persona in American minds. Americans seem more lenient toward draft dodgers and men like George W. Bush. Right or wrong, it's part of the politics and cultural belief of America.

Westmoreland did what he had to, whether or not we agree with that. My post may have shined a nicer light on the man that I had even wished, because in all honesty of military generals, Westmoreland, in my book, ranks up there with Curtis absolute embarrassment to American dignity.
My aim was merely to recognize that as the Vietnam generation dies, we'll be questioning the war all over again.