Opinion: An urgent message to President Biden this Vietnam War Veterans Day
| March 29, 2021 1:00 AM
As we observe Vietnam War Veterans Day today, let’s recall the human rights disaster that resulted from the fall of South Vietnam in April 1975. Many thousands of South Vietnamese who had helped, trusted and relied upon the U.S. were murdered or imprisoned, to the great dishonor of our nation.
A similar disaster is looming on the horizon in Afghanistan and we must take action to prevent a human catastrophe there.
In the case of Vietnam, even though we knew weeks beforehand that the fall of South Vietnam was imminent, we made no concerted effort to extract the Vietnamese who had steadfastly supported the United States. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled the country and, although we eventually gave sanctuary to many, our help was slow in coming. Policy blunders by the U.S. had placed them in jeopardy and we were honor bound to do everything possible to protect them.
During the long and tortured course of America’s war in Afghanistan, many Afghans stepped forward at their great peril to serve and protect our military personnel. As the situation continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan and the danger to those folks dramatically increases, we are morally obligated to help them because, again, we are largely responsible for their situation.
Many informed observers believe it is just a matter of time until the Taliban take control of Afghanistan. Because of America’s unforced errors in the so-called peace talks, the Taliban have a clear upper hand. Veteran U.S. diplomat Ryan Crocker, who has been involved since the start of the war, characterized the peace discussions as “surrender talks.” President Biden has presented a new peace proposal, but it is unlikely the Taliban will embrace it. They know they hold the winning cards.
The President should do everything reasonably possible to bring the war to a peaceful resolution. But, facing the realistic probability of a Taliban take-over, he should require contingency plans to be drawn up to evacuate Afghans who will be targets of Taliban reprisal--those who volunteered to help and protect U.S. forces, uncorrupted government and military officials, women’s rights advocates, educators and others who put themselves at risk by supporting democratic principles.
President Biden has pledged to substantially increase the yearly refugee cap, now at an historic low of 15,000. That is an important first step. The refugee settlement infrastructure in the U.S., which has suffered grievous damage during the last four years, must be rebuilt and adequately funded to accommodate an influx of Afghan refugees.
The U.S. must own up to its responsibility toward Afghans who trusted our stated intentions to make their country a better and safer place to live. Boise has a refugee resettlement program that is highly regarded across the country and we could accommodate many of these good people. A number of Afghan refugees have been settled in the Boise area in recent years and they have been a credit to the community.
Like many troops who served in America’s wars, this issue is very personal for me. I lived and worked with South Vietnamese soldiers in 1968-1969. I trusted them with my life, while they relied on the U.S. Government as a friend and ally.
Most of my Vietnamese friends were Catholics who moved to South Vietnam from the North in 1954 to escape persecution. They were fiercely anti-communist and pro-American. It broke my heart when the Communists took over in April 1975, knowing that my friends would be killed or imprisoned, as were many thousands of their countrymen.
We had a moral obligation to extract as many as possible but, instead, we abandoned them to a horrific fate. We simply cannot allow that kind of tragedy to happen again with the Afghans. My prayer on Vietnam War Veterans Day is that this great nation does not again turn its back on beleaguered people who placed their trust in us.
Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran, who served 8 years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as Idaho Supreme Court Justice (2005-2017).