by Jack Anderson and Douglas Cohn
Washington — Among the talk of commemorating the fall of Saigon and sending Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba, we are almost led to believe that communist dictatorships are simply the government of choice of other people, like parliamentary democracies, democratic monarchies, socialist democracies or even American, like bicameral democracies. But they are not.
Communist dictatorships do not simply control the reins of government. They control the economy, and, worse, they attempt to control the minds of their inhabitants, beginning with the indoctrination of the young.
Worse still, communist dictatorships have proven themselves to be the most barbaric military machines since the original barbarians sacked Rome. Not even the excesses of the Middle Ages, when whole cities were put to the sword, can compare. For example, only 700 or so of our men came back from North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camps. Yet America had more than 500,000 men in South Vietnam at the height of the war and an average of about 350,000 men for the eight years of fighting. Where were the prisoners?
The answer is that the North Vietnamese government sanctioned the murder of prisoners. In addition to the fact that hardly any infantrymen returned from the POW camps, there is ample evidence of wholesale battlefield murders. I (Douglas Cohn) served as a recon (reconnaissance) platoon leader in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 in the First Cavalry Division on the Cambodian border. During that time, firebases were overrun and all of the defenders were killed. In fact, I never heard of a single instance of an American being taken captive.
All of us serving in combat well understood this. No consideration was ever given to surrendering, because the enemy didn't take captives. Interestingly, before arriving in the combat zone, some time was given to the rules concerning behavior in the event of capture, but once in country those discussions ceased. Even the Japanese took captives during World War II, though they treated them brutally. Even Hitler's armies took captives. The North Vietnamese did not.
A few years ago American veterans who fought in the Iadrang Valley met with their Vietnamese counterparts at the battlefield site. Then they told their story of how the American unit became separated into three parts and how they heard the screams of the men in the forward units after they were overrun. The following day they found not a man alive. Those who had attempted to surrender were tied, tortured and murdered.
So when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says the wrong side won, it is a matter of understatement. Yet there are those who condemn him for speaking such a truth, especially on a visit to Vietnam. But it is the truth. Not just the wrong side won, an evil and murderous side won. They were the enemy then. They should be the enemy now. And what they did validates and justifies what America tried to do more than 25 years ago. America tried to prevent the communist takeover of South Vietnam, but only succeeded in buying more time for the other nations of the region to shore up their economies and defenses.
And we learned. Much is made of discussions about mistakes. But the lessons were promptly put to use when America turned the tables on communism by supporting surrogates in Afghanistan against a Soviet invasion. The lesson we have apparently not learned is that President Ronald Reagan's description of the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire" applied to most of the other communist dictatorships, especially to the North Vietnamese communists.