John Kerry: The Vietnam War was worse than what followed





James Taranto misinterpreted my words and misreads history (" 'It Didn't Happen,' " July 26). I know the tragedy that followed a tragic war. John McCain and I led the effort to locate American POWs and ultimately normalize relations with Vietnam. I traveled to Cambodia to help create a genocide tribunal to bring to justice the butchers of the killing fields.

But what did not happen was the region-wide war or immediate chaos predicted by many who believed we had to maintain our massive military presence in Vietnam. A brutal dictatorship consolidated power in Vietnam, the region's refugee crisis worsened, and two years after we left Vietnam, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge launched a genocide.

Mr. Taranto mistakenly views the violence after 1973 as a direct result of our withdrawal. In fact, the violence arose from the conditions that led us to withdraw: a Vietnamese civil war we couldn't stop supported by a Cambodian insurgency we couldn't bomb into submission. It's horrifying that so many South Vietnamese suffered. But, even accepting Mr. Taranto's estimate of 165,000 Vietnamese deaths--double that of most academic sources--this is a significant decrease from the preceding eight years when 450,000 civilians and 1.1 million soldiers were killed.

We should not repeat the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq, but let's have an honest debate rather than a hysterical one. The agony of exiting a quagmire is that there are few certainties and no good options. That choice was created not by the advocates for changing course, but by the architects of a disastrous war.


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