5-27: Who Is Commander-in-Chief Matters

I will try to parse a paragraph I found at http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/goldwater-suggests-using-atomic-weapons? The year is 1964 and Barry Goldwater is running for President of the United State. The headline reads:

Goldwater Suggests Using Atomic Weapons

Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona), running for the Republican Party nomination in the upcoming presidential election, gives an interview in which he discusses the use of low-yield atomic bombs in North Vietnam to defoliate forests and destroy bridges, roads, and railroad lines bringing supplies from communist China. Remember, this is 1964. Goldwater was a rigid anti-communist, I know, but what was happening in Vietnam at that time can best be described as civil war. The Vietnamese themselves were struggling to unify their country. I guess Goldwater thought it an act of moderation to use “low-yield” atomic bombs to “defoliate” and “destroy.”

During the storm of criticism that followed, Goldwater tried to back away from these drastic actions, claiming that he did not mean to advocate the use of atomic bombs but was “repeating a suggestion made by competent military people.” Ah, yes, the Blame Game. PowerPoint wasn’t invented yet, so I guess it was at some flip chart briefing that “competent military people” proposed atomic bombs as at lest an option for dealing with our enemy-in-waiting. I don’t believe that generals ever propose anything but the biggest stick in our arsenal when preparing for combat. I have been in a napalm-stripped jungle. The damage is fierce, frightening, and forever.

Democrats painted Goldwater as a warmonger who was overly eager to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. They were right. Perhaps his most famous quote is: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” First, American liberty was not at stake in Vietnam. Second, there is a huge gap between moderation and atomic bombs. It also troubles me that Goldwater uses the words “vice” and “virtue” almost sanctimoniously, as though America somehow embodied those concepts. Plenty of U.S. citizens still believe that mush and then they turn around and shout about immigration, the Affordable Care Act, the right to bear arms.
Though he won his party’s nomination, Goldwater was never able to shake his image as an extremist in Vietnam policies. That’s because he was an extremist.

This image was a key factor in his crushing defeat by opponent Lyndon B. Johnson, who took about 61 percent of the vote to Goldwater’s 39 percent. Quite a bit of irony here. Johnson won the less bellicose image against Goldwater but his extreme days were just ahead of him and his presidency. When I arrived in Vietnam in 1966, under Johnson’s leadership, there were approximately 50, 000 U.S. combat troops in-country. There were 500,000 when I left in 1967. Stuck in a pond of quick sand and nothing to save him but (bad) advice, Johnson saw no way to extract our troops from Vietnam and so he did not run for another term as Commander-in-Chief. We defoliated lush jungles, we destroyed essential infrastructure, and we sent back to America 59,000 soldiers in flag draped caskets.

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