It's eerie. Actually, it is worse than that. It's scary.
58,000 dead and more to come, horrific daily death tolls, a global nightmare, universities closed and an extremely corrupt and deceitful President who has a plan that is not working.
The COVID-19 crisis today, yes. But this description also applies to the Vietnam War 50 years ago. As the American death toll from the coronavirus soars beyond the total number of US soldiers killed in Vietnam, the parallels between these two national traumas are many.
Like Trump with corona, Nixon had a plan to end the war in Vietnam. Actually, his first plan was as Vice-President in 1954 when he wanted to offer nuclear weapons to the government of France so that it could keep its colony in Vietnam. But the French lost and went home that year. His second plan was in 1968 when he was running for President and pressured South Vietnam not to accept an agreement with President Johnson for fear that he would lose the election to Humphrey. This dirty trick was actually treasonous as Johnson noted but did not pursue. And, finally, in that same election year, Nixon boasted that he had the "secret" plan to end the war.
The President's plan did not work. More war, more deaths and Nixon even continued US intervention to his very last day in August 1974, only to have President Ford stretch it out even longer to April 1975, when the Vietnamese won a political and military defeat of the United States government. By then, more than 58,000 American soldiers were dead.
It is all coming back. Our country has now passed the same number of corona deaths today as the total number of soldiers who died in Vietnam. And, by coincidence, the total corona cases in the world, 3 million currently, is very close to the total number of Vietnamese lives lost because of America's war there.
And, that is not the only fateful coincidence. We reach the corona equivalent of all US deaths in Vietnam during the very week, almost to the day, that Nixon authorized the invasion of Cambodia on April 28, 1970.* This catastrophic escalation lead to 4 dead students at Kent State, 2 more at Jackson State and 4 more during the Chicano moratorium. Almost 900 universities across the country were affected by the protests, the last time so many of our nation's schools were shut down until now.
President Nixon, like Johnson before him, misled us with his promises to end the war with "Peace with Honor" which was a cover to extend the slaughter of the Vietnamese and sacrifice of our soldiers. They both knew the war could not be won. And, as the Pentagon Papers revealed, the main reason for our continuing the war rather than ending it was to save face and our global image and reputation. In fact, our reputation was already damaged and not salvable. Wanting all along to use nuclear weapons and convince the Vietnamese that Nixon was crazy enough to do so, after failing to gain concessions during negotiations in the fall of 1972, our government did bomb the hell out of them with 11 straight days of the infamous Christmas air campaign. Hospitals, river dykes, schools, apartment buildings and all things civilian were targeted.
Nixon's fiendish plan to get concessions via terror backfired and after the Paris Peace Agreement in January, 1973, Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Vietnamese negotiator refused to accept it.
Even as our corona deaths now surpass the total Vietnam funerals, President Trump is likely to continue his ongoing campaign for his own Nobel Peace Prize, an honor that would be as ill-suited as Kissinger’s. Positioning himself as a ‘wartime’ leader during the early days of America’s response to the coronavirus, Trump has since demonstrated a reckless, erratic, and often ignorant strategy, while reinforcing the old adage that truth is the first casualty of war.
Oddly enough at this very time, there is a greater awareness and appreciation for our common global humanity and interdependence. All over the world we are sitting inside and trying to protect ourselves. Our masks and daily routines are identical everywhere. During the war in Vietnam, there was also a sense of global solidarity. It was against the US killings in Indochina. America was the outlier and the whole world was watching.
The world is watching us again with the most cases and deaths of any country and even more than the total of the next 5 nations combined. Once again, our President does not have a working plan.
Let's remember what a similar president did 50 years ago. Let's not repeat the mistakes that we made then.
- Terry Provance is on the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee
*Nixon authorized invasion on April 28, it began on April 29 and was publicly announced on April 30.