Defending America
David Hackworth
15 April 1997

DON'T WE EVER LEARN FROM THE PAST?

LBJ compared the Vietnam War to a hitchhiker caught in the open during a Texas hailstorm: "I can't run, I can't hide and I can't make it go away."

Last week, when I was contacted by Brian Meadows, the Vietnam War thundered back even harder than a hailstorm. Brian was a son in search of his father, Sergeant First Class Roy Meadows.

Roy Meadows was the last American soldier killed in my final outfit, the 44th Special Tactical Zone. His death was the trigger which caused me go public on national TV and tell the American people the truth about how we as a nation had been deceived by our politicians and generals over Vietnam.

For more than two years before Meadow's death, I'd been advising and training some of the elite units in the South Vietnamese Army. I knew if these supposedly crack airborne, ranger and special forces units couldn't hack it, the average, down-in-the-mud rifle outfit didn't have a chance.

I told my bosses, the American generals, that the Vietnamese Army was lousy to the core. Not because the Vietnamese soldiers were bad, but because too many of their officers were corrupt losers interested only in filling their pockets and living the good life. And without decent officers an army is doomed.

The generals blew me off, continuing to chant self-congratulatory reports on how well President Nixon's "We're-Winning-In-Vietnam" snow job was going and how soon victorious warriors like Meadows would be marching down 5th Avenue through the confetti.

This was the party line. Nixon ordered that his Vietnamization program would work and many self-serving generals clicked their heels and shouted "Yes Sir, there's light at the end of the tunnel and we're prevailing, prevailing, prevailing."

Meanwhile, soldiers like Roy Meadows in the US Army and US Marine Corps were down in the trenches trying to make the generals' lies the truth in a war that should have been abandoned long before.

On a dark night in May, the Regional Force outpost where Meadow's team was set up was attacked by the Viet Cong. The RF soldiers he'd been training, though heavily out-numbered, fought well, hanging tough even though their officers predictably cut and ran.

Meadows and his Green Beret side-kick Sgt. Larry Bowman took charge of the fight. They led by example, stiffened the defenders will to fight and brought in gun ships and fighter aircraft which blistered the attackers, driving them off.

When the sun came up, the little mud outpost though battered and broken was still in friendly hands. But Meadows lay dead and Bowman badly wounded.

The generals used this fight to brag about how well Vietnamization was working and how if we just held on a few more years we could turn the corner on the war and bring in a winner. All this was said as Meadows was being eased into a metal coffin and Bowman's broken body was being stitched together in a field hospital.

In 1964, well before we got stuck into the swamp, LBJ said "I don't think it's worth fighting for and I don't think we can get out." But instead of standing tall and saying publicly what he'd told his aides in private, he hid the truth to get reelected. Then, he escalated the war and more than 58,000 Americans such as Roy Meadows paid the ultimate price for his double dealing.

Like most wars, Vietnam was a lie from the beginning until its cruel end and the biggest error made by American presidents and congresses in our history. Five presidents from Truman to Nixon and one defense secretary knew Vietnam was a quagmire, but all went along to get along.

No one wanted to be labeled as being soft on communism. Everyone chose victory at the polls over preventing a human disaster.

Today Bosnia smells a lot like Vietnam. The president is lying, the generals -- the aides of the generals of the Vietnam-era -- are twisting the truth, and congress again is not doing its due diligence.

A generation from now, I only hope that another Brian Meadows won't be out there searching for the truth about his dad who fell in Bosnia because we citizens allowed ourselves to be sold another pack of politically-expedient lies!

The end