Reading Bob Herbert’s July 7 column, entitled “After the War was Over,” reminds one powerfully of just how correct Reed Irvine was about the media’s overt intentions to sabotage and discredit the Vietnam War.
Mr. Herbert takes the occasion to spew toxic invective perfumed by the stench of tunnel vision in what can only be described as a truly vulgar form of ritual urination on the grave of Robert McNamara. Criticism in obituaries and memorials is nothing new, and should be expected in articles about a man who arguably did more harm than good in his management of a controversial war, but clearly, the Times has no intention of observing the fine line between legitimate criticism and morally obtuse narcissistic rants ripe with contradictions.
Mr. Herbert begins his screed by dropping the unsubstantiated claim that the deaths of Vietnam veterans were “utterly pointless” while insulting the late Mr. McNamara’s appearance and character, calling him “icy-veined, cold-visaged and rigidly intellectual.” What exactly qualifies Mr. Herbert to diagnose the temperature of Mr. McNamara’s veins, or the relative coldness of his face is not detailed. We are then treated to an extended period of navel-gazing, in which Herbert opines that “youngsters 18, 19, 20 and 21” were “shipped off to Vietnam in droves” and “would die there, and…would come back forever scarred.” Former President Johnson and Mr. McNamara, Mr. Herbert exclaims, “should have been looking out for those kids, who knew nothing about geopolitics, or why they were being turned into trained killers who, we were told, could cold-bloodedly smoke the enemy — ‘Good shot!’ — and then kick back and smoke a Marlboro.”
For all his talk of cold blood and “icy veins,” Mr. Herbert’s own selfish, short-sighted worldview is the only thing which emerges from these passages, whose scandalously self-indulgent tone of outrage makes them all the more repulsive. Mr. Herbert seems to have unlimited sympathy for the “kids” who lost their “buddies” to the bullets of unrepentant communists and terrorists, but apparently has no compunctions about the fact that in his ideal world, Marxist tyrants like Pol Pot and Ho Chi Minh would have been allowed to butcher millions of their own people and tighten the grip of Communist imperialism uninterrupted by the West.
Mr. Herbert then proceeds to further insult his readers’ intelligence by ignoring the causes of war. “The hardest lesson for people in power to accept is that wars are unrelentingly hideous enterprises, that they butcher people without mercy and therefore should be undertaken only when absolutely necessary,” Mr. Herbert writes. Apparently when it’s his “buddies” being killed rather than innocent anti-communist Asian civilians, Mr. Herbert’s selective moral outrage kicks in.
Yet even if we excuse him for his mysterious double standard, he seems to be singularly unaware that wars do not simply blossom in the minds of craven politicians – they are an inevitable outcome of rival ideologies, especially when those ideologies have made it their mission to crush each other. Communism and freedom are two such ideologies, and for better or worse, one of their battlegrounds was Vietnam. Surely, one can make arguments in hindsight about how the war could have been prosecuted differently, or outright avoided, but Mr. Herbert is uninterested in making such serious arguments.
Rather, he seems to view the occasion of Mr. McNamara’s death as a convenient podium from which to deliver yet another assault on the War in Iraq, writing that “More than 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq, and no one knows how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Even as I was writing this, reports were coming in of seven more American G.I.’s killed in Afghanistan…None of these wars had clearly articulated goals or endgames.” Someone had better send the memo to Barack Obama and David Petraeus, who seem to both agree that these wars can be fought and won using an already successful escalation strategy.
Yet perhaps the most hilariously ironic piece of Mr. Herbert’s column comes at the end, when he laments the passing of “common purpose and shared sacrifice that marked World War II.” If Mr. Herbert wants to find the culprit for the demise of this “common purpose and shared sacrifice,” then perhaps he ought to take a quick look in the mirror. After all, as Robert McNamara himself pointed out in 1995, unlike World War II, Vietnam was “the first war in which the press acted without censorship.” So perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in Mr. Herbert’s prescriptions for the improvement of war, after all—if nothing else, a return to censorship would certainly serve to keep ill-informed, historically unjustified rants of the kind Mr. Herbert writes out of print forever.