The insidious flavor of avoiding the unpleasant

It has been 40 years since the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. 40 years of self deception, propaganda, and the defense of self from the ugly reality of the world. The Lies of Tet by Arthur Herman in the Wall Street Journal describes the reality as now being seen in hindsight.

Media misreporting of Tet passed into our collective memory. That picture gave antiwar activism an unwarranted credibility that persists today in Congress, and in the media reaction to the war in Iraq.

the desperate fury of the communist attacks including on Saigon, where most reporters lived and worked, caught the press by surprise. (Not the military: It had been expecting an attack and had been on full alert since Jan. 24.) It also put many reporters in physical danger for the first time.

One Vietnamese province after another witnessed new peace and stability. … However, all this went unnoticed because misreporting about Tet had left the image of Vietnam as a botched counterinsurgency — an image nearly half a decade out of date.

To Congress and the public, however, the war had been nothing but a debacle. And by withdrawing American troops, President Nixon gave up any U.S. political or military leverage on Vietnam’s future

The collapse of South Vietnam’s neighbor, Cambodia, soon followed. Southeast Asia entered the era of the “killing fields,” exterminating in a brief few years an estimated two million people — 30% of the Cambodian population. American military policy has borne the scars of Vietnam ever since.

It had all been preventable — but for the lies of Tet.

Those reporting had no context for their perceptions. Very few had any experience directly under fire or under oppression. They had the luxury of being able to safely deny the actual horror of what they could only see at a distance or through the eyes of others. What they could see, served up on the plate in front of them, was a small horror. This was an individual horror of battle casualties and spattered blood. It was not the collective horror of oppression and social fear. It was tangible and terrible and not easily hidden behind psychological defenses.

Even now there are those who cannot grasp the reality of the killing fields of Cambodia or the suppression of the Vietnamese since the U.S. quit and abandoned that country. That is why Rumsfeld’s (Wikipedia) favorite satellite picture was that of the Korean peninsula at night. The stark contrast of a bright, lighted South Korea compared to a dark North Korea was testament to something otherwise denied.

As Brokaw called the parents the The Greatest Generation (, their children, known as the baby boom generation, will be seen as something else. It is a generation with a seemingly overabundant hubris and cynicism, one that runs from the ideals that drove its parents and one that hides in denial of the oppression, terrorism, and the lessons of history to reach for idealized constructs that bury the reality of human nature. Sometimes called the ‘me’ generation, it is one where only base emotions such as greed and envy are given weight and the ends justify any means.

The denial of the truth of the Tet offensive was perhaps the apogee of this generation, its defining moment marking the start of its expression.

Comments are closed.