On Memorial Day I raised our American flag in the morning to half-mast, honoring our dead lost in battle. I intended, respecting national custom, to raise it to the flag pole top at noon celebrating our nation’s victories. But when noon came I reflected on the tragedies of Iraq, Vietnam and Korea. I left it at half-mast, where it remains. Since then, perhaps a half-dozen people have asked why the flag is flying at half-mast. Perhaps those reasons deserve wider sharing.
The tragedy of Korea was American hubris led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. This arrogance found it necessary, after turning back the North Korean invasion of South Korea to the 38th Parallel border with minimum loss of life, to push on to invasion of North Korea without considering the possibility of an armistice to end the war then and there. We know now we might have had it. We ignored the Chinese Communist’s declaration that they could not let this reversal invasion pass without response. They loosed their hordes across the Yalu River to support the North Koreans. The loss of life was horrendous – over 43,000 American dead. The result was finally an armistice to resume the 38th Parallel as the border between North and South Korea as it remains today.
The tragedy of Vietnam would never have happened if our World War II leaders had paid attention to the aspirations of Vietnamese allies; and their desire to cast off the yoke of French colonial occupation following victory over Japan. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution, based on false premises promoted by President Lyndon Johnson, was an incredible disservice to our armed services. There was no need for the loss of over 50,000 American lives on the killing fields of Vietnam. Proof is the existence of a unified peaceful Vietnam for over a quarter of a century.
The tragedy of Iraq began with President George Bush’s decision, under false pretenses, to invade a nonthreatening nation. This disaster is still unfolding with no end in sight. Almost 1,700 American deaths so far seems a small number compared with other wars. However, over 12,000 wounded, many saved only by the best-ever battlefield first aid, is not insignificant.
Whatever the outcome, to the families of those soldiers dead or maimed for life by this war, my guess is few will surface who think our invasion of Iraq was worth this cost. I feel deeply a sharing of their dismay. That’s why our flag continues to fly at half-mast.