A Showman Stages an Accidental War

We just passed a significant date in U.S. history: August 7, 1964, the beginning of the Vietnam War. On that date, Congress enacted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the President to conduct military action against North Vietnam. Congress acted quickly in response to the now infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident that allegedly occurred on August 4. Just two days before, there had been an exchange of fire between the USS Maddox and North Vietnamese patrol torpedo boats. On that occasion, the Maddox determined that the approaching patrol boats were threatening and unintentionally initiated the battle with warning shots across the bow. That warning, regrettably, was misinterpreted. The patrol boats launched torpedoes and were summarily destroyed or damaged. But the stage was set for the phantom attack on August 4, its erroneous report, and the resulting Congressional authorization to begin the Vietnam War.

I was caught up in that war. For many years, I suppressed its memory until I finally decided to confront the shadow that lurked deep in my soul. The novel that resulted from that decision— “A Culpable Innocence”—was a work of historical fiction, researched from many historical accounts and declassified documents. My research uncovered two startling facts. The first I just recounted: the incident that started the war never occurred. The second was the 1952 Geneva Treaty that called for an end to the Vietnamese-French conflict and a national election to presage a peaceful transfer of power to a reunified Vietnam. Although America negotiated this treaty, at the last minute the Eisenhower Administration pulled out of the agreement. The American government betrayed its own diplomatic effort to unify Vietnam and effectively laid the groundwork for the war that ensued.

Today, America just won a resounding diplomatic victory in the United Nations Security Council where all 15 participants voted to impose severe sanctions on North Korea for its continuing development of nuclear weapons and their ICBM delivery system. But instead of supporting this diplomatic breakthrough, the President seems intent on sabotaging it by inciting the North Korean leader into a war of threats and bluster: in the President’s own words, “fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen.” As a result, Kim Jong-un has responded by putting cruise missiles on patrol boats and by announcing an August 15 missile launch aimed in the direction of Guam. If he does so, how will America respond to a missile landing at or near one of its military bases. Even if the missile landed 300 miles away from Guam, how would the American military determine its intended target after traveling nearly 3,000 miles? Or how would America respond to a cruise missile shot across the bow of an American destroyer? What could possibly go wrong?

We lost more than 58,000 soldiers and over 250,000 wounded veterans in Vietnam. We killed over a million enemy soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). (Casualty figures for the NVA are not available since American combatants left only the dead behind.) If we now shortcut our diplomatic efforts with threats of “fire and fury” and stumble into a war over a chance or mistaken encounter, the result would make the Vietnam casualty figures appear miniscule. We have some 20,000+ American troops on the border facing a million-man army. There are ten times that number of American civilians living in South Korea, mostly in Seoul, only 60 miles from about a thousand enemy howitzers. Within 14 minutes, those howitzers would begin to rain shells on Seoul. Hundreds of thousand could die under that bombardment. If Kim Jong-un decided to use his nuclear arsenal, millions could die. Of course, North Korea would be devastated. There are some 70 trident missiles lurking offshore in American submarines. The President just ordered B1 bombers to Guam and already has authorized their flights offshore of North Korea. Even if these flights remain over international waters, they will challenge North Korea to shoot down an American military plane–as they have done in the past.

Listen, America, the President is not just threatening a nuclear holocaust, he is readying for a nuclear war.

Confronted with this possibility, the President just said, “it’s better we fight them over there, than here (a paraphrase).” How do you think our South Korean and Japanese allies feel about his priorities? If his real intent is just to distract Americans from the Russian collusion investigation or win public support for defending America from an insane dictator, then Congress should begin impeachment proceedings as soon as possible. If, instead, he believes North Korea presents an immediate and serious threat to the homeland, then he needs to present facts and figures to Congress and the American people to support his bellicosity. I am no military expert, but cruise missiles on patrol boats do not seem like much of a threat to the counter measures built into our Navy ships. And long-range missiles with no fins seem unlikely to hit any intended target thousands of miles away – except by accident.

Simply put, are we overreacting to ridiculous provocations? And to what purpose is the President rallying Americans with his war cry? If he undercuts his Administration’s attempts at diplomacy and blunders into a war, he will likely become the first wartime President in history to be impeached. But even his impeachment could never undo the shadow he would cast over future American generations.

World leaders are beginning to criticize our President for his language and warlike posture. Perhaps his supporters will applaud the emotions he elicits with his hyperbolic rhetoric. On whatever stage he occupies, he is ever the entertainer. But as a President on the international stage, he casts a very dark shadow. What happens when the curtain comes down on his circus act? He may be ludicrous and the gist of satire. But the flipside of the dark humor he inspires is a sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach. That feeling is repulsion—a mixture of anxiety, disgust, and moral outrage.

America desperately needs a real President, not a showman. Let’s remove this showman from the world stage before he brings the curtain down on an apocalyptic climax.

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