"We are winning the war for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people."
Over and over again, at theater, force and unit level, this message was included in every mission briefing. At every echelon of command, commanders and staff officers were thoroughly convinced this little effort in Viet Nam would soon be over. I met people who were concerned they would not be able to earn military honors before the fighting ended.
By early Spring of 1966, our forces were heavily engaged with an enemy force composed mostly of Viet Cong guerillas and other irregular troops. It had been some time since the Marine amphibious landing near Da Nang, and the Leathernecks were growing more battlewise every day. The Army's 25th Division was learning about tunnels in the deadly area around Cu Chi. To the south, American Army and Navy units were patrolling the Mekong Delta, sniffing around the Cambodian border, and trying to keep Highway One open. Every day, contracted commercial aircraft were bringing in loads of fresh meat for the grinder.
"But," the powers-that-be proclaimed, "we are winning the war for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people."
If that were true, why was I taken from the arms of my family, with but two days warning, and sent to this terrible place? What need of my country could be greater than the needs of my family?
We had returned from three years of overseas duty less than four months previously. My military pay did not permit our family to live well at our new northern California duty station. With five children, and another on the way, my wife could not take outside employment, and my family responsiblities precluded my taking on an additional job.
So we lived in the projects - with other impoverished families. I learned there are decent people trapped into living among thieves, whores, and drug addicts in those projects. Some of them helped my wife while I was gone about the nation's business.
"We are winning the war for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people."
I do not doubt Lyndon Johnson believed that to be the case. I am even willing to accept Ambassador Bunker and just about everybody with a power position in the rear echelon of our politico-military structure also believed this to be a true statement.
And why should they believe anything different? The reports they received from the Combat Zone were filled with glowing accounts of major victories won by our heroic forces. Always, these reports included high body counts of enemy soldiers killed. Always, these reports included lists of villages reclaimed for democracy. Always, these reports minimized U.S. losses.
The remains of Americans killed in Viet Nam (and in places we were not supposed to be) were returned to the United States sealed inside airtight aluminum canisters. Respect for the dead, and military transport regulations, dictated these canisters be transported no more than three to a cargo pallet. Nothing was to be stacked on top of the remains of our brave departed. When the remains arrived in the States, they were processed by a northern California mortuary and forwarded to relatives for final disposition.
In the Spring of 1966, in-country transshipment points had to deal with a supply crisis. They ran out of body canisters. So many of our boys were being chewed up in fighting along the Cambodian border, in Da Nang, and a hundred other places, the mortuary affairs people had no canisters to ship their remains home. Efforts were made to expedite the return of empty cans from California, and interim procedures were placed into effect to reduce back-up in the mortuaries.
Bodies began to pile up. They had to be moved. Canisters were stacked three deep, sometimes even higher, on cargo pallets. Bodies were shipped in the same plastic body bags in which they had been retrieved from the battlefield. This last measure was a source of some annoyance to the Air Force, because the body bags were not airtight. Decomposing bodies leaked fluids and gasses into the framework and insulation of the cargo planes carrying them. Removal of the resulting odors was difficult-to-impossible, and always expensive.
How could we be winning the war if so many of our boys were dying? Why was the theater commander calling for more and more men and resources? Did he know something the folks in the rear did not know? Did he know what any line grunt could have told anyone who cared to listen?
The fact is, we were not winning and, unless we changed tactics, we were not going to win this bloody war. No one listened to the little guys who, day after day, slugged it out toe-to-toe with an implacable enemy. No one in our national leadership seemed to believe the front line soldier, ground down by continuing contact with the enemy but still doggedly determined to carry on the fight, could possibly know how to fight this war. So, the rear echelon elitists managed the war according to theories set down by von Clausewitz and lessons learned in the two World Wars. Our young men continued to die, and we eventually lost the Viet Nam War.
We did not lose because of the enemy's overwhelming technical superiority. They whipped us with hand-me-down Soviet and Chinese hardware, and with weapons and supplies they took from us and our allies.
We did not lose the war because of the enemy's superior fighting ability. Every time the opposing force elected to stand and fight, our troopies trounced them. Even in hit-and-run attacks and ambushes, our boys usually took victor's honors.
We lost the war in Viet Nam because the enemy's leadership was superior to ours in one key area. More than 58,000 Americans, and uncounted tens of thousands of Vietnamese, died horribly, perhaps needlessly, because our elitist military and political leadership were unable, or unwilling, to adapt their tactics to suit the conflict in which they were engaged.
The enemy conducted lightning hit and run attacks with small units, while our commanders assembled large forces for set-piece battles. The enemy traveled light and under cover; our boys labored under 70-pound rucksacks in daylight. The enemy used stealth; we moved along roads and trails. We had the hardware advantage, but it was neutralized by the enemy's innovative tactics.
To those of us not privy to the inner workings of government, it appeared the opposition was determined to win, while our leaders seemed more concerned with continuing the fight and with looking good.
an old war here at home
Are our pro-life leaders fighting abortion the way America fought Communism in Viet Nam?
Recently, I attended a pro-life fund-raiser. Some 150 of the faithful had gathered to hear what pro-life professional Carol Everett had to say concerning the possible effects of recent political elections on the pro-life movement. Those present constituted the nucleus of the local pro-life establishment. I recalled having seen the same folks at just about every other pro-life activity in which I had participated.
Mrs. Everett spoke briefly about the elections, and then recited the same victory message I have heard from every pro-life leader since I became involved in the struggle.
"We are winning," they proclaim. "Just look at these victories all across the land." "Be patient, and continue as you have been doing," they admonish, "and we'll win this final victory some day."
a question of attitude
I have also heard speakers lament we are not going to win in this lifetime. They add that winning is unimportant, that it is our obedience to the Lord which matters. In other words, do not worry about doing well, just be content that you are doing God's Will. I believe this attitude is a bit too me-centered. Could it be that those who hold this view have a slightly distorted understanding of spiritual reality?
I believe God is more interested in our willingness to do his Will than in how successful we are in the effort. However, I also believe He expects us to do our best as we seek to serve Him. God did not have to give Joshua the victory at Jericho. The walls came down when Joshua had fulfilled the Lord's command, and the victory followed.
I wonder if the result of that battle would have been the same if some of the Jewish army had been a bit less willing.
"Yo! Josh! Like, we have been walking around these stupid walls for six days, now."
"Yeah! It's hot and dirty here, man."
"What's this garbage about doing seven trips around the walls today? No way, Bud."
"Shout? I am not into shouting, you dig, but I will help with the applause."
What if Joshua's reply to his troops had been: "Right! I understand you are hot and tired. Tell you how we'll handle this bit about the seven turns around the city. We'll take four trips this morning, before it gets too hot, then take a break for lunch. After the heat of the day passes, we'll do the other three turns. Okay?"
I believe our Lord made clear his opinion of halfhearted involvement in his warning to the Church at Laodicea. I believe He views halfhearted obedience in much the same way He views the lukewarm faith of the Laodicean Church.
If you want to play football, son, you got to be willing to get your clothes dirty. If you want to participate in the pro-life struggle, you need a similar attitude.
A football player who finishes a game without soiling his uniform probably had little to do with the outcome of the contest. Similarly, the pro-life sympathizer who avoids the muddy fields of direct confrontation does little to advance the standard. Both are benchwarmers.
There will always be someone willing to stand toe to toe with the opposition. These are only slightly aided by the guys who stand around and hold their coats. Cheerleaders don't win contests; committed players and superior tactics do. It is the same in life struggles; halfhearted efforts yield poor results.
Homosexuals are out of the closet. Isn't it time pro-lifers showed the same commitment? Carol Everett reminded us that Texas, second largest state in terms of population, has one of the poorest pro-life records in the Union. Why is that?
While deeply-committed men and women are involved, the movement has attracted more than its share of dilettantes. I have this fantasy of successful doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs who desperately require a public cause to flesh out their entry in Who's Who in Texas. What could be better than involvement with a movement trying to save cute little babies? Given there will always be a few activists out on the fringe to keep the pot stirred, more genteel supporters are asked to do little more than write an occasional check. It is just about perfect: a good cause, few demands of time or energy, and it should take up at least a line and a half in Who's Who.
There are those who would love to do more, but don't believe they have much to contribute. Others do little for lack of effective leadership. These folks sincerely want to do more than gather at the same places, with the same people, to hear the same tired speeches.
Then, there are those who try to do everything and, as a result of overload, do nothing well. Their hearts are definitely in the right place; they simply lack direction.
I believe tens of thousands, more likely millions, of people would willingly join the pro-life movement as active participants, if only they thought they could. I believe some potential life-warriors are held at bay by the apparent confusion and lack of cohesion within pro-life ranks. I believe many still view us as mad bombers and rioters, because that is the only image they have ever seen. There likely are many who believe ours to be a Roman Catholic crusade, because they haven't learned the truth from us or from their pastors. No doubt, some see pro-life men and women as Olympians, who would inflict their higher values upon the great unwashed masses.
If any of the preceding statements are accurate, are we doing anything to correct the situation?
You be the judge. Look at our leaders. What are their priorities? How do they support pro-life goals?
Given our limited personal contact with the leadership, we cannot accurately gauge their commitment to this cause. However, we can observe them at open meetings and when they participate in public pro-life activities. Do they aggressively seek solutions, or do they engage in meaningless polemic? Are they so ego-involved with specific projects or concepts they will not countenance alternative positions? Are they talk oriented or action oriented? If they don't always get their way, do they pick up their marbles and go home? Is meeting their personal needs given higher priority than their pro-life work?
A great way to appear active, while actually accomplishing nothing, is to refer everything to committee for review and recommendations. With any luck at all, controversial projects can be tied-up in committee until supporters give up in disgust. A similar, and equally effective, ploy is to return enabling paperwork for re-write. By judiciously selecting minor flaws, a good parliamentarian may block a proposal forever.
Are our leaders actively participating in the struggle? Or do they restrict their involvement to membership on oversight committees and sitting at the head table during banquets? Next time you are out on the street for life, look around you. How many local leaders are standing up to be counted? Confront the invisible leaders, and demand they explain their lack of active participation. Consider replacing those leaders who are always on the sidelines.
It is a simple thing to take pot shots at leadership. Even ineffective leaders tend to be more visible than their surroundings and are easy to attack. Perhaps it is time to focus the limelight on the rank and file pro-life membership. On you and me.
Why are you involved in pro-life activity? Are there squares to be filled on your personal scorecard? Are you looking for ways to work off some lingering guilt feelings? Is this a good way to meet people and make friends? Do you feel morally obligated to take a stand against the modern holocaust? Do you believe the Lord has called you to the struggle? Do you see this battle as a way to manifest your faith? Or is it something else?
How can we accurately evaluate another person's reasons for getting involved? Given that we can not read their hearts as does God, we must content ourselves with external signs. While I believe anyone who aspires to leadership must truly be called to take a guiding role, I have no such standard for rank and file troopies. To paraphrase Sgt Franz in the movie Hamburger Hill, "You don't want to rescue, you don't have to. You don't have to stand outside abortion clinics, but you do have to do something."
That something can take many forms. Some do choose to join in rescues, perhaps as prayer warriors. Others distribute literature. Some write letters to newspapers and politicians. Those with political inclinations work year 'round to help put pro-life men and women in public office. Some lecture in schools, churches and wherever they find an audience. And there are a zillion other ways to serve in this conflict. Ask the Lord for guidance; He'll likely answer promptly.
One way everyone who supports the right to life can help is by spreading the word. Simply determine not to let a day pass without making at least one person aware of what pro-choice really means. Tell your neighbors. Tell your co-workers. Tell someone at the supermarket. Tell the policeman who writes you a parking ticket. Tell someone!
It seems clear to me we can not win by adhering to the tactics used over the past 17 years or so. Granted there have been victories using these methods, but that does not make them holy writ.
I believe the enemy is well-served by the establishment of genteel rules of engagement. While our forces maintain polite standards of conduct, the opposition is hampered by no such self-imposed restraints. They are free to conduct themselves in any way which suits the conditions at the time of confrontation.
I do not propose we abandon truth in favor of unmitigated lying, as do our antagonists. However, I do believe we can be forceful and creative in confronting their lies with God's truth.
One of our most deadly errors, I am convinced, is our reluctance to strike first, to take the battle to the enemy. Rather than sortie forces to strike at any perceivable opposition weakness, our leaders prefer to huddle behind secure walls and passively await a hostile thrust. Consequently, we are almost always on the defensive, forced to contend where and when the baby killers choose. Defensive wars are costly and difficult to win.
We are not fighting the psychological war very well, either. Oh, we have horribly graphic proofs that abortion is a monstrous and savage crime against babies, mothers, fathers and society in general. Unfortunately, we are not very good at getting the uninvolved public to look at our pictures. So, we take turns looking at them ourselves.
Getting our excellent literature into the hands of the public is another thing we are not very good at. Good and creative minds crank out a steady supply of truth-telling pamphlets and handouts, but who beside us reads them? Excellent articles appear in fine publications read only by insiders. We can pass these things around until the earth is covered in pro-life literature, but until we stimulate interest in our movement, few will be seriously considered by the general public. It is easy to dismiss what we distribute as nothing more than self-serving ravings of the lunatic fringe.
While the opposition are able to utilize public communications media virtually at will, we can only garner media space when something absurd happens, or when we lose an election. Why are the pro-abortion folks the darlings of the media? Because they have taken the time to learn how to capture media interest!
While our leadership primp and fuss over their appearance, the opposition show up in outrageous T-shirts and carrying witty signs and banners. Consequently, our well-groomed spokesmen come across as uncaring elitists with little real concern for the problems of the downtrodden masses; while the pro-choice people appear as staunch defenders of the weak. We look nice, but they look G-O-O-D.
I am reminded of the drawing room farces so popular in Depression Era movies. Because no one in the movie-going public could identify with the characters on-screen, who seemed to wear formal evening attire even at the breakfast table, it was easy to laugh at their comic antics and petty problems.
My friends, how many families drawing public assistance and living in conditions considerably less than ideal can identify with the fairy tale princess who visits them at church to talk about right to life? How many men and women struggling to acquire an education or move up the corporate ladder can identify with the successful attorney or executive who tells them he understands their problems and has answers for all their concerns? Apparently, not enough!
Getting our material into the newspapers is usually accomplished in one of two ways: committed pro-lifers pen letters to editors, or our leaders somehow come up with enough money to buy advertising space. The aborters, on the other hand, seem to turn up in print all the time. How do they do it? Early in the struggle, they learned what the press likes to print, and they write stories that get printed. And they write all the time! How many news releases has our side issued in the past six months?
Even rescues at centrally-located abortion clinics do not seem interesting to the media. Ah, but add a response from the hairy-legged ladies of NOW, and watch the news vans arrive! Why? Because those defenders of women's rights know how to talk on-camera. They also know how to act for the cameras; and television is a visual medium.
We hold a rally, and a few thousand gather to promote the right to life. Crowds of tearful believers chant wimpy slogans and sing hymns. Perhaps a cub reporter will turn up, maybe even a photographer from the Daily Hogblatt, but no one from the networks will be within a hundred miles of the place.
By contrast, the Gorgeous Ladies of NOW assemble six dozen 200-pounders for a media event and you can not even get close to them, for all the cameras and tape recorders blocking your way. As the cameras and recorders grind away, the ladies flex their biceps, wave catchily-worded signs, and sing good old fashion fight songs. Hell! They put on a good show; one that will look great on the News at 10.
I do not advocate a complete divorce from our current strategies. Let us continue to use what has worked in the past, but let us also incorporate some new ideas and methods into our arsenal. We still need elegant and tasteful spokesmen to counter the image of that stylish lady from Planned Parenthood or that dreadful female attorney from southern California. We also need street fighters to balance the more common element so often utilized by our opponents. Let's take the gloves off every now and again and get serious about this pro-life struggle!
Some of us have been sold such a bill of goods by the opposition! I have been told never to mention God in any of my presentations, for that would make it easy for the audience to reject my teaching as the ravings of a religious fanatic. I have been told only women are qualified to speak about abortion and its effects on the survivors. I have heard only younger persons should be selected as spokesmen, because the population at risk can not identify with oldsters. I have been told grooming and appearance must be to very high standards, or the speaker will be discounted and his message ignored. All this, and any other so-called standard, is just so much horse apples!
Please! Please! Please! When speaking before a pro-life gathering, do not dwell on past victories. Do not repeat the same cliche expressions of hope. Do not tell us how wonderful and self-sacrificing we are.
To return to the football analogy: if your team is losing by 21 points at half-time, you do not gather them in the locker room to tell them how sweet they are. Oh, no! You review their mistakes, plot new strategies for the second half, and fire them up with an exhortative tirade.
I really believe we need exhorting much more than we need yet another sleep-inducing, pat-on-the-head, patented pro-life talk. So long as just one woman considers abortion a viable alternative to childbearing, and can freely contract for that abortion, this war is not won!!!!
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