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U.S. Combat Forces In Vietnam: The Fiftieth Anniversary
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One of my late father’s favorite trick questions was, “What does a cat learn if it jumps on a hot stove burner?”
The answer, of course, is not “To stay off the stovetop when it’s hot,” but the overly broad “Stay off the stovetop PERIOD.”
That comes to mind because March 8, 1965, was the date that the first 3,500 U.S. combat Marines were dispatched to South Vietnam, and I wonder if any of us (isolationist, interventionist or in-betweener) have learned the right lessons over the past five decades.
Nowadays for something as simple as “Are you or aren’t you in a relationship?,” Facebook offers the “It’s complicated” designation. But many people look at a conflict that directly or indirectly affected all the world’s superpowers, confounded JFK’s “the best and the brightest,” brought down a presidency and cost more than 58,000 American lives --  and smugly think they have all the answers about countering a guerilla war, the perils of the military-industrial complex and the proper role of the news media.
True, some individuals have done the requisite heavy lifting of research and wrestled with their consciences about “that old crazy Asian war” (as Kenny Rogers described it in the song “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town”). But a lot of Americans either dismiss the subject as ancient history, close their ears to anything that conflicts with their entrenched worldview or talk AT their opponents over an unpleasant Thanksgiving dinner.
If we can all agree with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman that “War is hell,” one would think that playing DEVIL’S ADVOCATE would be fitting; but too few are willing to try.
Too many people get their unshakeable opinions from fragmentary memories of things their college professor spouted between bong hits or from 5,000 gung ho sessions of listening to a scratchy 45 rpm record of “The Ballad of the Green Berets.”
On one side people are dead certain that giving peace a chance was the answer and that the “domino theory” was a bunch of hooey (although documents show North Vietnam at least had ASPIRATIONS of spreading communism to other nations). On the other side are people who think that nuking the Demilitarized Zone (preferably with news anchor Walter Cronkite present) would have solved all our problems, without any lingering ecological or geopolitical ramifications.
I know that many people are squeamish about reopening old wounds, but quite often reopening old wounds helps with healing and provides useful information for future patients. Our policymakers and the people who VOTE for those policymakers need all the information they can get.
Somewhere between the extremes of the defeatist “Ah, people never learn from history” and the optimistic “If we just tweaked this…” exist practical lessons.  
As the fiftieth anniversaries of various Vietnam War milestones roll along, I challenge you to Google questions such as “Could we have won the Vietnam War?” or “Could the U.S. have won the Vietnam War?”
Yes, you’ll find a lot of name-calling, exaggerations and irrelevancies; but somewhere in there you may find facts and perspectives to give you a more nuanced view of the war.
As we wrestle with issues such as ISIS and Vladimir Putin’s expansionism, we owe it to the war dead, the veterans and future generations to ask the hard questions and make an honest effort to know what we’re talking about.
Danny welcomes email responses at and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”