Who are “they?” The Left.
What war? Vietnam.
What battle? The one that determines who gets to write history.
It’s said that history is written by the winners, and that’s true. But Vietnam just may have been the first war in which those who opposed the conflict “won” in the forum of public opinion by convincing their fellow citizens and government to abandon the war itself, and then got to write most of its chronicles.
Case in point: this piece in the NY Times Magazine, which states the following foregone conclusion [emphasis mine]:
In the decades after Vietnam, despite having been proved right about the war itself, a generation of Democrats who opposed the war nonetheless struggled mightily to find a credible response to armed conflict, to reconcile the breach that separated the antiwar left from the broader swath of Americans who disdained reflexive pacifism.
Proved right? Hardly. But the Left and even most Democrats consider it axiomatic that those who opposed the war have been “proved” right. I’ve spent many hours and many words discussing the proof that exists for the opposite side: that our abandonment of Vietnam in the mid-70s was an unnecessary tragedy and a shame (see the category “Vietnam” on the right sidebar). And I’m hardly the only one.
But word doesn’t seem to have penetrated a huge swath of liberals and the Left that there still might even be another side—much less that it might have some validity, and that it offers arguments that require responses.
I’ve encountered this “everybody knows” attitude about Vietnam many times before, including on the occasion of John Updike’s death. Updike, a liberal Democrat, had angered most of his fellow literati during the 60s by offering a principled and compelling argument that the war may have been a well-intentioned effort by the US to allow the South Vietnamese to maintain their freedom from tyrannical Northern Communists. Updike got much condemnation and little praise for his pains, even after his death, at which time I wrote the following:
Last night…as I was watching a Charlie Rose tribute to John Updike that featured a panel composed of Updike’s editor Judith Jones, former New Yorker editor David Remnick, and New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, the latter casually mentioned, amidst the praise and reminiscence, that “of course, Updike was on the wrong side about the Vietnam War.”
Of course. Everybody who’s anybody knows that.
[NOTE: See this for Updike's position on the war, in his own inimitable words.]