“Most of what you believe about the Vietnam War isn’t true,” the YouTube page for this Prager University video notes. It features Prager’s 2011 interview with “foreign policy expert Bruce Herschensohn, [who] explains how the U.S. Congress turned victory in the Vietnam War into defeat.” Herschensohn is the author of 2010’s An American Amnesia: How the US Congress Forced the Surrenders of South Vietnam and Cambodia.
It’s understandable that America would want to forget that period, as 1968 through 1980 was an extended nadir in America’s history. Back in 2011, I assembled a lengthy post titled “Welcome Back My Friends, to the Malaise that Never Ends,” which rounded up quotes and videos from liberal elites in 1968 such as Bobby Kennedy, who had abandoned the optimism of his late brother’s New Frontier-era worldview, through Jimmy Carter’s infamous “malaise” speech of 1979. Midway through that period were the events captured in the above video, including the Democrat Congress pulling the plug on our funding to South Vietnam in 1975, and ushering in its defeat. About which, this quote from Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-AR) appears at the 3:15 mark in the video:
On the night of the surrender of South Vietnam to North Vietnam former Senator J. William Fulbright announced that he was “no more depressed than I would be about Arkansas losing a football game to Texas.”
Carter delivered his “malaise” speech in 1979, which further signaled the exhaustion of postwar liberalism. This was the self-defeating atmosphere in the west that Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II turned around the following decade, as Mark Steyn noted this week:
In 1979, Britain was not at war, but as much as in 1940 faced an existential threat.
Mrs. Thatcher saved her country — and then went on to save a shriveling “free world,” and what was left of its credibility. The Falklands were an itsy bitsy colonial afterthought on the fringe of the map, costly to win and hold, easy to shrug off — as so much had already been shrugged off. After Vietnam, the Shah, Cuban troops in Africa, Communist annexation of real estate from Cambodia to Afghanistan to Grenada, nobody in Moscow or anywhere else expected a Western nation to go to war and wage it to win. Jimmy Carter, a ditherer who belatedly dispatched the helicopters to Iran only to have them crash in the desert and sit by as cocky mullahs poked the corpses of U.S. servicemen on TV, embodied the “leader of the free world” as a smiling eunuch. Why in 1983 should the toothless arthritic British lion prove any more formidable?
And, even when Mrs. Thatcher won her victory, the civilizational cringe of the West was so strong that all the experts immediately urged her to throw it away and reward the Argentine junta for its aggression. “We were prepared to negotiate before” she responded, “but not now. We have lost a lot of blood, and it’s the best blood.” Or as a British sergeant said of the Falklands: “If they’re worth fighting for, then they must be worth keeping.”
Mrs. Thatcher thought Britain was worth fighting for, at a time when everyone else assumed decline was inevitable. Some years ago, I found myself standing next to her at dusk in the window of a country house in the English East Midlands, not far from where she grew up. We stared through the lead diamond mullions at a perfect scene of ancient rural tranquility — lawns, the “ha-ha” (an English horticultural innovation), and the fields and hedgerows beyond, looking much as it would have done half a millennium earlier. Mrs. T asked me about my corner of New Hampshire (90 percent wooded and semi-wilderness) and then said that what she loved about the English countryside was that man had improved on nature: “England’s green and pleasant land” looked better because the English had been there. For anyone with a sense of history’s sweep, the strike-ridden socialist basket case of the British Seventies was not an economic downturn but a stain on national honor.
A generation on, the Thatcher era seems more and more like a magnificent but temporary interlude in a great nation’s bizarre, remorseless self-dissolution. She was right and they were wrong, and because of that they will never forgive her.
In America, Barack Obama will never forgive President Reagan for ushering in an era of America rebirth in the 1980s, as Jonah Goldberg wrote this past week, when the news of Lady Thatcher’s death broke:
Obama’s stated desire to become a transformative president — unlike Bill Clinton — stems from an ambition to return to the pre–Thatcher-Reagan era when conservatives were expected to agree with liberals in principle, but have small business-like quibbles about the details. That’s why he so often waxes nostalgic for Eisenhower and the old Republicans who played the “me too” card on domestic policy. His idea of a reasonable Republican, to borrow a term from WFB, is a castrated Republican.
But when you think about it, 1979 was even more significant. That was the year that Deng Xiaoping introduced market reforms in China, in effect beginning the era of “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” that replaced the horrors and ineptness of of Mao’s “Marxism with Chinese characteristics.” Of course, the Communist party kept a good amount of its Leninism, lest its leaders lose the ability to boss people around while becoming billionaires. Still, if you look back on the almost inexorable rise in intellectual and political respectability for statism, 1979 looks increasingly like the moment when the arc of history started to bend away from the inevitability of socialism.
For a moment, at least.
Related: By the way, good thing our current elites would never try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, eh?