Unlike many of the other writers, I am not sure that history has "lessons" for the future. Past events, like the Vietnam War, seldom "repeat." The French made that mistake in their futile construction of the Maginot Line. I'm not sure that the Kosovo incident is that similar to Vietnam that either Smith or Holbrooke could use the "lessons" of Vietnam appropriately. Nonetheless, what bothers me is the idea that Holbrooke could believe that he could "build" a multi-cultural nation in Kosovo that all sides would agree to. This seems to be another round of American imperialism. The only suitable democratic role the US could play would be to help the Serbs and Albanians decide for themselves how they want to live together. If they want to live separately, then that form of self determination is part of what the US committed to in the signing of the UN document. It is not up to us to determine how other peoples should live together, or apart.
Thank you for an informative and timely program on the war in Yugoslovia. I am thoroughly disgusted with Richard Holbrooke and others in the State Department who apparently are too blinded by ambition and don't understand the lessons history has taught us about the use of military force. The Weinberger Doctrine is an expensive lesson they obviously don't understand.
The leaders of our military spend their entire careers reading about the use of military force and attending Service Schools studying warfare and the appropriate use of the military. I believe our civilian leaders need to listen to their experts more and their egos less.
The problems in the Balkans are horrific but so are those in Somalia, Haiti, China, North Korea... Where do we draw the line? We definitely draw the line when we expect our military men and women to nation-build--a task they are not trained to accomplish nor should we expect them to--that is not the military's function nor should it ever be.
If our civilian leaders are surprised at the retention and recruiting problems now occurring in the military, they will surely be surprised if they transform our military into a Peace Corps, of sorts.
I salute men like Adm Smith, Gen Powell and Gen Estes--they are men with impeccable moral character who understand the proper use of military force and have learned the lessons of history. Men like Richard Holbrooke have lost touch with reality in their quest to make their mark in history.
Again, thank you for such a wonderful program.
Some of the people who wrote in about your recent program "Triumph of Evil", in which America and its leaders were roasted over a spit for standing idly by while a massacre occurred in Rwanda, should compare notes with the minions of isolationism from whom the present program sparked such a response.
Overall, I think the lesson is that intervention in another country is, from a military, political and spiritual standpoint, an enormously complicated issue which defies simplistic conclusions and indictments.
Having said that, I have to add that the manner in which Mr. Holbrooke and our President have carried on the discourse on this issue seems less than honest and certainly smacks of a failure of experience and vision. I felt a lot of ego when Holbrooke was on the screen.
los angeles, california
I enjoyed your show on Kosovo and Vietnam very much. I highly respect Adm.Smith and I understand Mr. Holbrookes' intentions.
As a Reserve infantry captain,my perpspective is more in line with Adm. Smith's. I have no problem in helping the people in Kosovo, but when it's my life that is on the line and that of my soldiers, I want to believe that my country is doing everything it has to to support me.
That's the problem today, We want everyone to be good people and get along, well the world isn't like that and sometimes we have to use brute force against those people who refuse to act in a civilized way. When that happens you have to realize that war is not civilized and that it can't me won in a civilized matter.
This country makes less and less sense as we go along. During WWII in America we didn't have kids shooting up their schools, but we fire bombed Dresden and Tokyo indescriminately, We did what we had to do inorder to win, and that meant losing people and doing what today would be considered barbaric but we held back nothing and the war ended.
It seems to me we were much more civilized when we let the politicians handle the politics and let the Generals fight the wars. People need to know that there are severe reprocussions for inhumane conduct
Clearly, we have not learned anything from Vietnam. No country has the right to interfere in a sovereign nation's civil war, no matter how despicable the ruler may be. There are dozens of nations where atrocities are currently being committed, and we are not bombing their cities. Why Kosovo? Why now? Apparently, the Clinton group, and their supporters only take to the streets when THEY are the ones who must do the fighting. Talk about an immoral war!
stafford springs, ct
Overall I thought your presentation was very well done... However, one point sorely needs to be corrected.
You stated that military personnel were leery about Clinton because of a) his lack of Vietnam military experience and b) his support of gays in the military. As an Air Force veteran who retired just before the 1992 election I had been deeply involved in discussions about Clinton before and after the election, and I think you got it completely wrong.
The second issue, his support of gays in the military, was a concern to us, but that issue isn't relevant to this subject. The first concern, that he had no Vietnam military experience, was a very minor issue and among many of us not even an issue at all. For example, Nixon's military experience was rather minimal (I don't think he even served), yet he ordered the Linebacker II bombing campaign which was instrumental in bringing North Vietnam to the Paris Peace Talks.
Instead, we were seriously concerned about c) his overall animosity towards the military, which was initially demonstrated by his letter to the draft board more than 20 years earlier expressing his "loathing" of the military. This apparent animosity was further evident when he placed like minded people in his staff, people like Les Aspin whom you covered in the Mogadishu disaster episode.
Further actions by Clinton confirmed our fears until he started to show an apparent support for military affairs. However, the depth of his sincerity towards the military is rather suspect, as shown by our current departure from the Weinberger Doctrine in Kosovo.
Again, the overall focus of the show was excellent, but for the record this glaring error really must be corrected.
I am so grateful for your program Give War a Chance. The interview showing Richard Holbrooke and Admiral Smith helped me resolve a conflict I have had about our military. The military does not do evil things. It is the people who are unskilled, uncommitted, or playing political games that do evil things.
As your program opened with the young Holbrooke entering South Vietnam to coordinate with the leaders, I was fascinated to learn his perspective and to understand his motives. He talked about helping people who were being treated unfairly. He also spoke of his concern for refugees in Yugoslavia but I was left with the impression that there was something else at the forefront, like being in the limelight.
As each man's perspective unfolded, I was astonished to see my allegiance as a "Dove" shift from Holbrooke to Smith. The turning point was when Holbrooke expressed some disdain for those who had been scarred by Vietnam. The men who fought in Vietnam learned a very important lesson and were able to develop a military creed to avoid such a horrendous mistake. In characterizing the application of this creed as a symptom of a person who has not recovered from a war wound, Mr. Holbrooke shows that he has not learned his lesson.
And so here we are in Yugoslavia repeating the same mistakes we made in Vietnam. What will it take to gain wisdom? I hope programs such as this will help people to chose wisely and justly.
Both gentlemen should be commended for their respective positions. Unfortunately, Mr. Holbrooke comes up the bridesmaid with his naive and short-sighted views in this instance. However, like all bosses, he can do what he wants. In this case he replaced an expert that didn't tell him what he wanted to hear with an expert that did.
Mr. Holbrooke is a mirror image of the entire Clinton administration.When the truth hurts, find someone with the same myth you have and place him or her in charge to carry out your program. Regretfully, I have to sit back and watch this debacle orchestrated by Mr. Holbrooke unfold. Regretfully, before this is all over, more American lives will be lost. We are in this mess in Bosnia as well as other places in the world because dyed-in-the-wool Clinton followers rely on how the they "feel" more than what they have žexperiencedÓ as their guiding vision.
Admiral Smith should be commended by every American and honored with a ticker tape parade down 5th Avenue for doing his job. Mr. Holbrooke should be chastised by the Congress and "hanged in effigy" by the American public for stroking his own ego by jeopardizing American lives and world peace. Paul Romano U.S.N. Retired
As usual, Frontline presents as objective and insightful an analysis as any program on any media.
I hope I am not being petty, however, in suggesting that the practice seen on so many other programs -- that of playing loud music in the background during the commentary -- is not a welcome addition to an otherwise stellar presentation. Jazz and Beethoven are fine, in the right context, but maybe not so "cool" with many of your listeners. Just my opinion, and stated with great respect for all you do and have done so well and consistently!
Retired Admiral Snuffy Smith is a good man and a fine officer. I thought his views were valuable and he should be commended for appearing in the program. But deciding whether or not to get involved militarily in the Balkans is not in his job description. That is the President's job (as well as the Congress). For a man who, admittedly, had trouble getting his degree at Annapolis, we are expected to trust in his judgement about the historical, political, and moral calculus of stopping genocide in Kosovo. Being a naval aviatorŮor an admiralŮdoes not make you director of foriegn policy and secretary of state. Lessons from Vietnam - yes there are plenty. But here is one from Korea: the president is the commander-in-chief and he is put there by the American people. I wish the admiral had been as critical about tactics and force during Vietnam when we were losing 150 men a week. Perhaps waging war against communists met his personal litmus test. Or maybe just too risky a career move?
Thank you for your insightful documentary on our involvement in the Balkans. It tied a lot of events together into a coherent picture. As a Vietnam era Vet and a career employee of the Air Force, I find it ironic that the present administration is so willing to press a military they do not support into service for uncompelling reasons. How can Clinton commit troops to an effort that he claims constitutes the "moral high ground" when his own lack of morals is still a blight on this nation? Mr Holebrook is a very intelligent and articulate man, but his arguments were unconvincing. Hurray for men of integrity and fortitude like Admiral Smith that are willing to sacrifice their careers to keep young men out of harms way against unimaginable political pressure. Our country would be well served if our politicians and diplomats had the same good sense, guts, and moral fiber that was exibited by the military leaders highlighted in your program.
I have had a terrible feeling about our involvement int he prosent Yugoslavia/Kosovo conflict. When Clinton threatened an air campaign, I had a gut feeling that this was wrong and would be a fight we could not win. Who is to say which side is right in this conflict? Right now the Serbs have the upper hand and are commiting unspeakable atrocities against the Albanians. But don't think for a moment that if the tables were turned, the Albanians wouldn't be doing the same thing to the Serbs!
south weber, ut
Both sides are compelling. How do we as a nation turn our collective back on such horrors? On the other hand, if we confront the horrors and fail, what good have we done? As our history has repeatedly demonstrated, we are excellent at doing the wrong things for the right reasons. The Balkans fit this pattern... and I hope that Holbrooke and his boss are prepared for a hundred year occupation and the blood of many Americans soldiers -- or failure and a reassessment regarding the politics of humanitarianism. We've got amateurs and uniformed "yes men" in charge these days... kudos to Snuffy for getting fired.
Frontline did a great job explaining the situation.
In Vietnam we had over one million civilians killed and we couldn't keep bad people from killing good people. Everyone would want to save a drowning child. But you have to know how to swim and be sure you can make it back out of the water before you should jump in.
How many will we kill to save how many?
Don't get in a war unless we are doing the right thing, know how to do it, have the will to finish it, are willing to pay the price for it, and have no other choice.
Until now, I thought that the Clinton administration and especially Mr. Holbrooke were idealists with no military experience.
After viewing "Give War a Chance" it is clear that the driving force is a narcissistic intellectual arrogance. I had an ambivialent response to the plight of the Albanians: a Hitler-like Serbian president and the terrible plight of the Albanians versus the national interests of the USA.
Now I see the obvious parallels to Viet Nam and the continuing denial of reality not only seen in the Clinton response to Kosovo, but in MacNamara's release of his book. If he can still deny he made a serious mistake, God help us in Kosovo. The military response is in keeping with their political limitations: obey or get out of the way. This leaves the field open for those commanders who are not afraid to side with the administration in order to get ahead (the NATO Chief, for instance) and will bode poorly if the war isn't stopped.
President Clinton has been concerned about his legacy. He needs to heed the plight of LBJ, then declare a great victory and leave the way Nixon did.
fond du lac, wi
It is apparent from "Give War a Chance" that U.S. policy makers, from the President on down, ignored the lessons to be learned from World War II.
As Germany's Eastern Front collapsed under the Russians' assault the Nazi's speeded the liquidation of Jews. Then, before committing suidcide, Adolf Hitler ordered destruction of what was left of the German economy.
Our strategy in Serbia assumes a rational leadership of the country. History points in a different direction.
The show "Give War a Chance" was excellent. As a former military officer, I share Adm Smith's frustration with the "Wilsonian"approach of Holbrooke/Clinton. We will regret the decision to veer away from the Powell Doctrine.
home +smith & holbrooke +uses of military force +nation building +lessons of vietnam
chronology +discussion +synopsis +press +tapes & transcripts
frontline +pbs online +wgbh
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation