Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has responded to Jim Brittle's and Lorne Cramer’s letters to the editor concerning Vietnam. A full copy of the Congressman’s response is included below.
I am writing in response to the letters to the editor posted by Jim Brittle (12 Dec 07) and Lorn Cramer (15 Dec 07) in the Samoa News.
As a Vietnam veteran who served at the height of the TET Offensive in January 1968, I will fight to defend any veteran’s right to say what he or she will say about his or her experience in Vietnam. However, I will not let others make false claims about my service, or question my patriotism. While I have always respected Jim and Lorn’s views about Vietnam which differ from my own, I believe both are out of line to label me as a communist sympathizer, a liberal Democrat, or imply that I associated myself with the likes of Jane Fonda during the Vietnam War.
To set the record straight for Jim, I was not on a junket when I visited Vietnam last month. I was on assignment as part of my duties as the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment which has broad jurisdiction for U.S. foreign policy affecting the region.
To set the record straight for Lorn who stated that I should represent the views of my constituents and the U.S. Congress in Asia, he should know that as a matter of our national policy, the United States is committed to strengthening relations with Vietnam and it is my responsibility as a Member of Congress to see that our current and future relationship with Vietnam is built on the premise of peace, not war. I believe this is what the people of American Samoa also want, although Lorn and Jim suggest that our Territory should advocate a policy of hatred and bigotry toward those who were once our enemies.
Would Jim and Lorn also have us cut off relations with Japan, Germany, and others we fought against during WWII? We are not a nation of bigots. This is not the kind of America we are. After most conflicts in which we are engaged, America reaches out and rebuilds. This is the case with Iraq. It was the case with Japan and Germany, and the same can be said of Vietnam. America is on a clear path to normalizing relations with Vietnam and establishing a vibrant, trade and economic partnership, just as we enjoy over a $300 billion trade relationship with communist China. For Lorn’s information, this is the current position of the United States, and this is the position I put forth when I represent my constituents and the U.S. Congress in Asia. While Jim and Lorn may not support the U.S. on this point, I have never accused them of not being patriots and it is absurd that they would accuse me of being a communist sympathizer because I choose to support U.S. policy regarding Vietnam.
It is also absurd for Jim to accuse me of being like Jane Fonda just because she claims to be a Democrat. I have never suggested that Jim is like his conservative, Republican friends, including Vice President Dick Cheney who obtained five draft deferments so that he did not have to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. Nor have I suggested that Jim is like former President George H. Bush who somehow managed to get his son, now president George W. Bush, to serve in the Texas Air National Guard which led to his not having to serve in Vietnam.
Regarding Ho Chi Minh, I suggest both gentlemen read a little more of history before making gross assumptions about my comments regarding this Vietnamese leader. Why did Ho Chi Minh and so many other Asian leaders become followers of socialist, Marxist, and communist ideologies? One obvious reason is that the worst examples of those who advocated freedom and democracy were those European countries that came and colonized so many of these Asian nations, including Vietnam.
For some one hundred years, Vietnam was colonized and exploited by the French. During President Dwight Eisenhower’s Administration, the French government requested American military assistance to fight the Vietnamese who, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, were struggling for independence from French colonial rule. President Eisenhower refused to help the French in Vietnam for the simple reason that French exploitation and colonial policies in the region went against the ideals upon which America was built. Subsequently, in 1954, long before American intervention in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh led his people to fight against French colonialism for which the famous battle of Dienbienphu was fought to liberate his country. My reference to Ho Chi Minh was in acknowledging him as a significant historical figure who only wanted to get rid of 100 years of French colonialism and establish a better life for his own people.
Regarding the Vietnam War, I do not need Lorn to remind me of the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform. I honor their sacrifices because I, too, served and fought never knowing whether or not I would return home in a body bag. But the war in Vietnam was never about me or Jim or Lorn. As we all know, what the war was about was never clearly defined. To be sure, our nation was never fully committed to the war, and neither were our citizens. In fact, for some ten years our political leaders in Washington were divided as were the citizens of our nation.
While space will not allow me to elaborate about the competing interests of ridding the world of colonialism versus communism and America’s decision to eventually intervene in Vietnam, the majority of the American people did not know of the complexities facing the countries of the Asia region. But none of this takes away from the honorable service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.
It also does not take away from their sacrifice to say that war is ugly. War is not pretty and atrocities were committed on both sides. The Viet Cong used booby traps and subjected our prisoners of war to inhumane cruelty. The U.S. used napalm and Agent Orange and, to this day, thousands of our soldiers and tens of thousands of Vietnamese civilians continue to suffer as a result. But, unlike Jim and Lorn, I believe it is time to put the Vietnam War in the past.
I also believe it is time to end the war in Iraq. We did not go to war in Iraq, as Lorn has suggested, to fight the Jihad, and Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11. Osama Bin Laden did. We went to war in Iraq because the American people and Congress were told by the Bush Administration that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and especially nuclear weapons. It turns out that this was not true, and that the Republican Administration led us into war based upon false intelligence and misinformation. As a result, America voted for a new direction and has entrusted the Democratic leadership to bring our troops home.