On the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon (also the 70th of the death of Adolph Hitler) we can see more clearly the lessons of Vietnam.
At the time the war was thought to be a useful corrective to the tendency to see in every minor aggressor a potential Hitler, teaching us limits to what Western nations could do in the world and what they needed to do.
Unfortunately after 1975 the regime in Hanoi proved to be not nationalist agrarian reformers but brutal Communists, the Khmer Rouge launched a genocide in Cambodia and the Soviets went on a geopolitical offensive through Africa and even Latin America that also included the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan that still haunts us.
And while the Soviets in turn experienced imperial overstretch far more serious than the Americans ever did, the long war in Vietnam clearly delayed their major expansion for 15 years during which the inefficient Communism system stagnated, rendering the USSR more rigid and sclerotic and far less dangerous than it would have been in 1965.
In the end we learned that while not every conflict is a Second World War, either in the positive sense of ending in a decisive victory or the negative one of posing a serious threat to the survival of our way of life, we must fight the minor, ambiguous and distant conflicts with some determination if we are not to find ourselves facing major, clear and immediate threats.
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