The Two Vietnams was first published in 1963. It lay on the bedside table of most respectable American and European reporters, diplomats and senior officers I met while working in Saigon. I have never ceased to wonder why so few of my illustrious colleagues took Bernard B. Fall’s warnings to heart. When I first met Fall, this Austrian-born Frenchman was a professor of Howard University in Washington, D.C. Having fought valiantly in the French Resistance, he proceeded to record the West’s follies and blunders in dealing with Vietnamese Communism with greater penetration than any scholar whose work on this subject I am familiar with.
Fall must have added the paragraphs cited above to the original 1963 edition of his seminal work on Vietnam shortly before his last journey to that country. On Feb. 21, 1967, while accompanying a platoon of U.S. Marines in Thua Thien Province in the northernmost part of South Vietnam, 40-year-old Bernard B. Fall stepped on a landmine and was killed along with Gunnery Sergeant Byron B. Highland.
Thus Fall did not live to see the day when his warning and Gen. Giap’s prediction became bitter reality in America’s self-inflicted defeat in 1975 — self-inflicted precisely because many media stars and political leaders ignored Gen. Giap’s insight that the democratic system is not psychologically equipped to fight a protracted war, irrespective of how evil the foe’s designs. In The Two Vietnams pilloried the fallacious notion that Ho Chi Minh was but a righteous nationalist. To Fall, Ho was a Bolshevik. “The fact that this was not understood by naïve outsiders was certainly not his fault; his career as a Communist has been on record since 1920,” wrote Fall.
Last year I read a piece by Edward I. Koch, the former mayor of New York, whose columns are published by WorldTribune.com and Newsmax.com. He cited a statement by Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, referring to the war in Afghanistan as “unwinnable.” This echoes CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite’s description of the Vietnam War after the 1968 Têt Offensive, a statement prompting President Lyndon B. Johnson to say, “We have lost Cronkite, we have lost the Midwest.”
In his column, Mayor Koch goes on to suggest that the United States and its allies declare defeat in Afghanistan and get out. Here again, I discern echoes of the Vietnam era. Without any consideration of the disastrous geopolitical and strategic consequences a Taliban return to power in Kabul will have, Koch concludes: “We have sacrificed enough dead, wounded, and treasure in a failed cause. Enough is enough.” This kind of rhetoric has by now become commonplace worldwide. In Germany last week, three Lutheran bishops delivered similar messages in their New Year's sermons, ignoring Martin Luther’s warning that fusing the secular and spiritual realms was the devil’s work.
Reading this and Bernard B. Fall’s warning from his grave made my blood curdle. Surely, the Taliban and Al Qaida must have studied Gen. Giap’s analysis, which could have only led them to one conclusion: The way Western democracy has evolved since the mid-20th century, it is driven by suicidal urges. None other than the former Mayor of New York and the RNC chairman have confirmed this just now.
Uwe Siemon-Netto, the former religious affairs editor of United Press International, has been an international journalist for 54 years, covering North America, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe for German publications. Dr. Siemon-Netto currently directs the League of Faithful Masks and Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in Irvine, California.