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Which Way the Trolley: America’s Hot Wars During the Cold War, Part 2

Our defeat in Vietnam brought not only tremendous divisiveness, but much humiliation. The latter may have been a secret blessing. For the war was fought in spiritual presumption, and without a national prayer campaign. General Westmoreland and the political leadership just assumed that America’s overwhelming military and economic strength would ensure victory. World War II seemed to have been won by our sheer ability to out-produce weapons and munitions on a far greater scale than our enemies.

The Bible warns the people of God against this:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7).

Perhaps we should learn that when the Nation is again poised on the verge of pulling the trolley lever of war, our leaders should be bathed in prayer for wisdom. And if the war is necessary, our troops covered in constant prayers for protection.

The American military and its allies have taken much care in limiting civilian deaths in the Iraq wars and in Afghanistan. The rules of engagement have been rigorously enforced.

Finally, while I have been fiercely critical of the anti-Vietnam war movement, I must recognize that some good came out of it. Specifically, it brought to the fore the issue of civilian casualties in war and made it impossible for political and military leaders to drift into the “all things are fair” mentality that led to the massive civilian casualties in World War II. You can note how much care the American military and its allies have used in limiting civilian deaths in the Iraq wars and in Afghanistan. The rules of engagement have been rigorously enforced in these wars, and there seems to have been no repetition of the My Lai massacre. In fact, the military leadership in Afghanistan discussed creating a new medal for “courageous restraint” to be given to those troops who withhold fire under sever provocation and danger – recall the B-24 airmen I mentioned at the beginning of the article. [24] The medal was never approved or implemented, but it is indicative of how sensitive the American military is to the issue of civilian casualties.[25] This is a return to a sane and workable Just War practice and should be lauded.



Notes for Part 2

[1] The Viet Ming were initially well supplied with American arms and ammunition given them in WWII because they were an effective fighting force against the Japanese. This is similar to what happened in Afghanistan with American arms and munitions that went to the Mujahidin to fight the Soviets – and then supplied what became Al-Qaida. Wars are full of unintended consequences and surprises of this sort.

[2] I have a friend who served in an Army intelligence unit based in Thailand during the Vietnam War. The American presence in Thailand was never recognized. His base was not on the map, and his unit’s records are gone. He and his fellow soldiers on the base never received the Vietnam service ribbon. One of his intelligence intercepts was so important that when it was radioed to Washington President Johnson was awakened (4:00 am). He has not told me what it was.

[3] John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

[4] Very similar thing happened more recently in Iraq. After much American blood and treasure, the American forces left Iraq with its army well on its way to becoming a highly professional and competent fighting force. But the Iraqi president Maliqi cashiered efficient officers who were not his cronies and Iraq’s Army quickly became a corrupt and inefficient force, routed by a small number of ISIS fighters in spite of having much superior equipment. More money and effort were required to rebuild it.

[5] Note the rules of war in Deuteronomy 20.

[6] This has not been documented sufficiently. I received some information on this from Major Russell Ramsey (later mayor of Gainesville, Florida) when he was a graduate student at the University of Florida where we took several classes together. In 1967, he had returned from deployment with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) as a company commander. He described several heart-rending stories of the Viet Cong purposely using civilians as shields. Currently, in Afghanistan, the Taliban also understand all too well the American rules of engagement and use them similarly. Of course, Communist government crackdowns do not show such restraint. For instance, the Chinese suppression of the Tibetan revolt was utterly ruthless with many massacres perpetrated, and no news about them permitted to escape.

[7] Karl Marx, The German Ideology. First written sometime before the Communist Manifesto, but not discovered and released until 1932.

[8] John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage. I recall, circa 1964, at a fair in NYC, meeting a pair of American Communists at a Soviet Union display. They claimed that the Hungarian uprising of 1954 was nothing other than a rebellion by vicious “fascists bands.”

[9]Sadly, in the peace established by Yalta agreements, Poland was left to the tender mercies of Stalin’s Red Army. This was because the Western powers, perhaps rightly, sensed they were not in a good position to fight Stalin’s huge and effective tank armies – our Sherman tanks would have been overrun by the Red Army’s T-34s and the newer Stalin tanks.

[10] This reminds me of something that Governor Lester Maddox of Georgia said back in the 1970s when queried about prison reform, “What Georgia prisons need is a better class of prisoners.” In the Cold War, we needed a better class of allies to fight for.

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Category: Church History, Winter 2017

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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