For the past 8 days I have been dutifully watching a PBS documentary series on the Vietnam War, covering the 1961-1973 American involvement in what had hitherto been a French problem. And the overarching message that I have received has been – if they’d just applied the Second and Third Resolutions, maybe the lives of 282,000 US/South Vietnamese and other allies’ service personnel, 444,000 North Vietnamese/Viet Cong soldiers, and 627,000 civilians, would have been saved. Not all, I suspect – if North Vietnam had simply been handed control there would no doubt have been the kind of casualties usually associated with a communist takeover.*
Why would the Second Resolution have saved them? Character.
You see, the recurring message of the testimony and evidence produced showed (a) how often the US authorities admitted, in secret, that they were fighting a losing battle from when Kennedy was still alive and (b) that the self-interest of Presidential re-election was the focus of some of their decision-making. They even produced evidence that Nixon sabotaged peace talks as a way of supporting his efforts to replace Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 elections. How many of his citizens dies because of self-interest – because of a lack of character?
Which also brings up the Third Resolution. The other factors that killed countless people was unbridled ambition on the part of the leaders of both sides. The North could argue that they wanted to unite their country under one flag, albeit a communist one. The American evidence was clearly that, rather than acknowledge a huge error and step back from it with careful consideration as to how, they just threw people at it to avoid having to admit to a mistake – even someone else’s! Just to maintain power 6,000 miles away.
When I saw how many soldiers died taking ‘strategically important’ hills, only for the victors – survivors – to leave them once they got to the top, I was grateful that my children never volunteered to join the Forces, and simultaneously even more respectful of those who do.
I have always been willing to acknowledge and apologise for my mistakes. Even when my efforts have been rebuffed, and lies told about my errors, my disappointment has been more about another’s unwillingness to accept my apology out of self-interest, than it has been about the negative personal consequences.
Saying sorry often takes courage. It means acknowledging imperfection, it means risking a reputation – it means being vulnerable. Acknowledgement of a genuine effort to apologise is the least one can ask for.
But as Vietnam shows, stubborn insistence on ‘being right’ when patently ‘doing wrong’ in an effort to hide being even more wrongis dangerous to everyone involved.
Particularly for those who didn’t realise they were being misused by the players in the game.
Tell the truth. Live the truth, Acknowledge the truth.
*Turns out there weren’t any massacres. Just big re-education camps. Honest.