5-16: Cambodia, The Mayaquez Incident

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Cambodia Captures Mayaquez

Two years after our ignominious departure from South Vietnam, the U.S. found itself in another Southeast Asian predicament. Cambodia, which had turned communist by then, captured an American freighter called the Mayaquez sailing in Cambodian claimed waters. Thirty-nine crewmen were captured, an act which drew a quick response from President Gerald Ford. According to reports at the time, “Ford called the Cambodian seizure of the Mayaguez an ‘act of piracy’ and promised swift action to rescue the captured Americans.”

Ford, along with many conservative politicians and so-called intellectuals, still felt the sting of Vietnam. They worried that existential threats (today’s language) would turn into hot battle zones because enemies questioned America’s national will to fight its way into another Vietnam. A&E (http://www.history.com) provides this summation of the incident:

“On May 14, President Ford ordered the bombing of the Cambodian port where the gunboats had come from and sent Marines to attack the island of Koh Tang, where the prisoners were being held. Unfortunately, the military action was probably unnecessary. The Cambodian government was already in the process of releasing the crew of the Mayaguez and the ship. Forty-one Americans died, most of them in an accidental explosion during the attack.”

“The military action was probably unnecessary.” Sounds a lot like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, doesn’t it? And once again it sounds like the U.S. was the aggressor not the defender.

America’s Civilian Response

And this is the part that gets me.

“Most Americans … cheered the action as evidence that the United States was once again willing to use military might to slap down potential enemies.”

As far as I can tell we haven’t looked back since. Slapping down a potential enemy is an act of aggression and, therefore, is illegal, despite all those cheering Americans at home away from the fighting. We lost the war in Vietnam and then we slipped on a banana peel in Cambodia. For so long, the battle cry was , “no more Vietnams.” Arm-chair generals are almost fanatical in their lust for American “wins.” Loss is not an option. And in order for us to keep winning we must keep warring.

Tell that to the Gold Star Families around the country who have lost loved ones in places most of us never heard of before. Tell that to the thousands of service personnel who now rely on artificial limbs just to function. Tell that to PTSD sufferers who continue to ask the seminal question: Why?

Why are lives on both sides of any conflict expendable? Why must we insist that another country’s natural resources, most notably oil, be available to us in quantities that meet our demands? Why must citizens of any country be given no other option than to flee due to intolerable and interminable war? Why do our politicians through our soldiers tout the American way of life around the world, when so many of our brothers and sisters are homeless, so many must rely on food stamps to survive, and so many have no health care insurance? Why?


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