Roger Helle / Feb. 24, 2021

Win the Battle, but Lose the War

Some lessons from Vietnam still apply to our political landscape today.

As a Vietnam veteran, I understand the concept of winning the battle but losing the war. I have been returning to Vietnam for 32 years now. On every trip, our organization (Vets With A Mission) hosts a “Reconciliation Dinner.” We invite the local communist soldiers that we once fought against to dinner. In fact, our first dinner in 1989 was attended by none other than Morley Safer of “60 Minutes” fame.

Our media was never in favor of America’s involvement (anyone surprised?) in Vietnam. Our first trip was also Safer’s first trip back since the communist takeover in 1975. Our team of returning veterans was interviewed by “60 Minutes” on three separate occasions. One of them was at the first dinner we hosted in Saigon.

As a Christian group, we were interested in how Safer would view us. During two tapings without him, the film crew wept as we shared stories of our Vietnam experiences and God’s redeeming grace in our lives. When the episode aired three months later (on my wife’s birthday), we were not surprised when all Safer said was, “We met these veterans in Vietnam.” One team member’s story of his best friend dying in his arms at Khe Sanh was included. I’m “shocked — shocked” that Safer neglected to say anything good about our involvement!

Our dinners were always interesting, as former enemies sat together across the table from each other, talking about our shared experiences during the war. One former North Vietnamese soldier told me, “When they would tell us, ‘Tomorrow we fight the Marines,’ I would cry.” I told him no one ever told us that. We sat together, no longer enemies, but as men who had lost much during the war, and each respected the other as a worthy adversary.

But the most interesting aspect of every dinner together was the opinion of our former adversary as to why America lost the war. High-ranking officers admitted the Vietnamese couldn’t defeat America on the battlefield. They won because they knew our politicians lacked the resolve to see the war through to victory. Yet they won the war and lost the peace.

The cost? After one million soldiers died in the fighting, over 2.5 million died in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in the aftermath. Amazingly, many of the soldiers we met admitted it was a hollow victory, because what they won was not what they were told they would win. They won a repressive communist regime. The anti-war protesters who rallied against the war in America were referred to as “useful idiots.” Jane Fonda, call home!

The point is, too many in our country today want the type of government that has resulted in untold millions dead and oppression that continues to this day. The South Vietnamese government did not get serious about the fight until it was too late. I pray we do not do the same here.

Many think it matters little which party is in power because things will go along as usual. They’re wrong. Each day we see more and more of our freedoms being threatened.

The battle for the soul of our country is going to be fought two ways: at the ballot box and on our knees. This battle is not for the fainthearted. We need to heed the words of Winston Churchill during World War II: “Never give up! Never give up! Never, never, never give up!”

Something to pray about!

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