I was inspired today after reading ...Or Something and this post. I tend not to be too political on my blog, but seeing as today is a very important anniversary for my country, I wanted to get this out. First, some background.
Separating minerals for geochronologic analysis is a rather long and tedious process. There are many different steps, non of which are particularly difficult, but screwing them up can mean the complete loss of months of time and thousands of research dollars. Therefore, I can't juggle mineral separation with any activity that requires my eyes or hands, I have to keep those free for the task at hand. To keep myself entertained, I usually turn on my iPod and listen to music, a book on "tape", or, more recently, a podcast.
A few months ago I was "floating kspars" and listening to an American Radioworks Episode about the recently released audio tape collection of presidential phone calls and oval office conversations. I was struck by some of Lyndon Johnson's conversations, especially those that related to the Viet Nam War (although, for a true laugh I recommend his call to the Haggar clothing company requesting some custom made slacks, seriously, some of the funniest stuff I've ever heard). Back to Viet Nam. In particular I was struck by a conversation he had with Senator Eugene McCarthy (Democratic Representative from Minnesota) about the Viet Nam War. This conversation took place on February 1, 1966 (transcript and recording can be found here, more conversations from Johnson and other presidents are here or downloaded here including the aforementioned Haggar Slacks call).
President Johnson : What they [subscribers to the Walter Lippman - J. William Fulbright argument] really think is we oughtn't to be there [in Viet Nam] and we ought to get out. Well, I know we oughtn't to be there, but I can't get out. I just can't be the architect of surrender....I'm willing to do nearly anything a human can do, if I can do it with any honor at all.
As I said earlier, this conversation took place on February 1, 1966. This was the beginning of the escalation in Viet Nam, and just before the deadliest years of the war. According to the National Archives, as of 2/1/1966, there had been 2,670 American deaths in the Viet Nam War, less than 5% of the eventual total of 58,193. Hindsight is 20/20, but if Johnson could have looked ahead at the 55,523 more soldiers who would die before the U.S. got out of the war, you have to wonder if his definitions of honor and surrender would have changed. And why is the focus on honor anyways, shouldn't it be on doing the right thing and saving innocent lives? So when I hear talk of surrender now with Iraq, this is what I think of, I think of the 55,523 kids who could have been saved if someone would have had the guts and foresight not to think of their re-election, or even their short term legacy, but of the long term consequences of saving face. To realize that these are real lives, real people who will pay the price for their political ambitions.
I know that playing the "what if" game with history is dangerous and pretty fruitless. It is easy for me to look back and tell people what they should have done, years before I was even born. I just hope that in 41 years someone isn't writing the same blog entry about Iraq.
If you are interested, this conversation is on tape WH6602.01 9602, the part I highlighted starts at about the 1:28 mark (you can download the .mp3 from here).