Moving On In Vietnam, But Remembering Its Lessons by John Kerry, John McCain and Bob Kerry
As President Obama visits Vietnam, we are struck by the fact that most citizens of both countries have no living memory of a conflict that claimed the lives of more than 58,000 Americans and upward of a million Vietnamese.
As Americans who fought in that war, we are frequently asked about its lessons. There are few easy answers, in part because every conflict is unique and because we have learned that attempts to apply past lessons to new crises sometimes do more harm than good. But a few things are clear.
The first is not personal to us, but a principle that applies to all who wear the uniform: We must never again confuse a war with the warriors. American veterans deserve our deepest respect, gratitude and support whenever and wherever they serve.
The second lesson is that our leaders need to be honest with Congress and the American people about our plans, goals and strategy when the lives of our fighting men and women are put at risk. (The mission of the first American combat troops deployed to Vietnam was described as “flood relief.”)
The third is to exercise humility in assuming knowledge about foreign cultures. During the war in Southeast Asia, neither America’s allies nor our adversaries acted in accordance with our expectations.
A fourth and final lesson of the Vietnam conflict is playing out before our eyes: that with sufficient effort and will, seemingly unbridgeable differences can be reconciled. The fact that Mr. Obama is the third consecutive American president to visit Vietnam is proof that old enemies can become new partners…