Foreign Policy Blogs

We Don’t Need Another Vietnam

We Don't Need Another Vietnam

A young John McCain after being captured by the NVA after he was shot down in 1967. He spent 5 years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

PBS in the United States is airing an intriguing broadcast this summer: a documentary series called The Vietnam War. The viewer can take many perspectives from this documentary when comparing it to modern times in the United States and abroad. A memorable moment was when one of the ex-Marines, who you become familiar with throughout the series, tells you the story of how he was conscious with a massive hole in his chest and discounted for dead, despite his brother at arms doing everything they could to get him to safe treatment – even putting their own lives at risk to do so. Because of the courtesy and kindness of one surgeon, who placed humanity above the situation where a morass of patients made for an impossible situation, the soldier survived to tell his story.

Armed conflict should always be avoided until it is necessary or essential to respond in order to stop acts of human rights atrocities. During the Cold War there was a starting point in discussions where a return to pre-1945 Europe was seen as a situation that was to be avoided by both sides in the conflict. When the Americans went into Vietnam and the Soviets into Afghanistan, a reminder of the terrors of open conflict were amplified, and it changed the countries that fought in those wars forever. Arms treaties followed and, while a return to passive warfare did not take much of a pause after the end of the Soviet Union, fear of open conflict and respect for an earned peace was paramount. It was understood that great powers would always challenge each other, but that a strong and intelligent defense would keep your country safe and secure as a whole. Any perception of a lack of defense or an inability to stop the interests of a foreign power may alter the perception and give way to further conflict.

The last few years have given rise to a view of opponents that do not meet the criteria of the Cold War era nor the immediate post-Cold War era. A lack of understanding of the Middle East for example has led to not only a genocide tantamount to the worst atrocities of the Second World War, but also has allies and former opponents who formally cut through political barriers to fight the Wehrmacht working against their own interests. For the Kurdish fighters that were the tip of the spear in fighting against ISIS, little support was received and there was almost no attention given to their fight in helping to prevent further genocide against minority groups in their region. The end result was that Western allies allowed a NATO ally to bomb their positions in Syria and Iraq. While there are no ties linking Western support in the region going to ISIS, the lack of support for the men, and sisters in arms that were the Kurdish women’s brigades fighting against ISIS should have wholly prevented any NATO member from attacking the small community that have fought for every free citizen of the world. While there are strong political differences between Turkey and the Kurdish communities, the end result is that Western allies were not supported, and in an even more horrific turn of events, genocide victims who have made it to safe countries are now finding their torturers living with them as neighbours, with local aid telling them to forget who they saw on their bus. We were always taught to never forget.

It would be hard to justify another Vietnam, and certainly the ex-Marine and those women who fought to free themselves from sure torture, rape, and horrific execution by taking up arms against ISIS share a bond in that they have seen the worst of humanity and have been ignored by those who think opening up a further conflict will resolve their political disputes. In the end, any advance by one country’s interests should be checked through defense, whether it be a missile or a computer or a simple series of discussions. To push for a greater conflict when we cannot even prevent a genocide or protect those who protect us all should be a sobering realization. Accelerating a conflict will just lead to another Vietnam. We would be hard pressed to find any average citizens in Europe or the United States that wishes to donate more of their family member to a battle in the fields of Ukraine. Enough have died there needlessly already.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration