Published on
the Bangor Daily News (Maine)

Dear W: Take a Hint From Nixon

Happy Anniversary! Let's celebrate our anniversary the way so many do: by renewing our vows. Today is the 23rd of January: 35 years after President Richard Nixon vowed to withdraw all U.S. troops from combat within 60 days. And though he was off a little, he kept his word. The last soldier left Vietnam on the 29th of March, just six days later than promised.

If you are old enough you may remember Richard Nixon's 1973 speech in which he announced simultaneously in both Washington and Hanoi that he would end one of the great blunders of the 20th century.

He never once spoke of the ignominy of sacrificing 58,226 U.S. soldiers in a losing proposition. Nixon never mentioned the unnecessary slaughter of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of Vietnamese. He never pointed out that we had engaged in a bloody, violent and useless waste of human, technical and natural resources - but still failed to bring a Third World nation to its knees.

No, in this famous speech that has its anniversary today, Richard Nixon never mentioned failure. He mentioned only honor.

"At 12:30 Paris time today, January 23, 1973, the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam was initialed by Dr. Henry Kissinger on behalf of the United States. ... Throughout the years of negotiations, we have insisted on peace with honor."

Why did he do this?

Why? Well, the American people were sick of the Vietnam War. The majority of Americans wanted the war to end. The American people knew that the words he used didn't matter - even if he insisted on saving face by calling the immediate withdrawal of troops "peace with honor" - because we knew that when it all was said and done, this country had for 10 years been fighting a war without honor.

There is no honor in killing without purpose. There is no honor in maintaining hostilities because you lack the guts and gumption to withdraw. Like a child who hides the shards of the broken cookie jar, there is no honor in pretending you didn't break it. But there is even less honor in continuing to break things to make it look like the cookie jar likewise had to be broken.

Richard Nixon had words of encouragement for the South Vietnamese he left behind as he pledged to extricate the U.S. from Vietnam. "By your courage, by your sacrifice, you have won the precious right to determine your own future and you have developed the strength to defend that right. We look forward to working with you in future, friends in peace as we have been allies in war."

Ever wonder why some folks dislike us?

It's rather self-righteous that the president of any country should tell another people that they have won the right to determine their own future.

But this arrogant comment was just another face-saving gesture to replace the words that should have been said. Words such as: "We thought we could make decisions for you and get what we wanted from your country and in your part of the world. We were wrong and now we're going to leave you to whatever fate may hold. Too bad we didn't have a crystal ball. We could have saved many wasted lives. Next time we'll know better. We'll learn that it's more useful to invade a country that has lots of oil instead of lots of shrimp. But anyway, good luck!"

Ful-scale war broke out again between North and South Vietnam in 1975.

Eventually the two sides resolved their conflict and the first elections to a National Assembly were held in 1976. The nation has been united ever since. In fact according to the CIA World Fact Book, Eurostat and The Economist Intelligence Unit, Vietnam's current gross domestic product growth rate is two and a half times that of the U.S.

I can only recommend that we leave more countries alone.

And for those nations we haven't left alone: I have more of Richard Nixon's famous "Peace with Honor" speech, "The important thing was not to talk about peace, but to get peace."

Let's renew that vow. Stop just talking about peace and withdraw our troops from Iraq within 60 days.

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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is an author, activist and advocate. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States."  Her new novel, The Magic Diary, is due out in late spring.

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