Your show was excellent in the comparison of two philosophies; Adm Smiths lessons-learned from the Vietnam war and Richard Holbrook's lessons-forgoten from the same war. Desire to protect the weak and mistreated are admirable qualities, but Holbrook would disregard those who would have to do the work (and dying) to have things done his way. The missing element is a President who must make the difficult choices instead of the expedient ones. This problem isn't because Clinton didn't go to Vietnam, but because he has the character of someone who dodged the war. As a retired Naval officer, I pray for the men and women in the services now because they are being led by civilians who haven't offered up their lives and are now too willing to offer up the lives of others.
Your insightful idea of interviewing Holbrooke and Admiral Smith completes the ironic, sad tragedy of the legacy of the Viet Nam experience for me. The report portrayed in excellent fashion how those who actually experienced the reality of combat under political rules have learned hard lessons to abide by while those who see themselves as having received a higher calling continue to play with life as if it were some detached board game in which they may carve their initials for those similarly unaware to admire. The highly intelligent, combat-experienced military personnel of this nation must be given more attention when matters such as Kosovo occur; their insights are invaluable. I am distressed that the likes of Holbrooke and Clinton are in positions that can overrule. I wonder if Holbrooke sees the complete twist of logic he has come to defend. Thank you again for such fine work. You provide a priceless service to this country.
I was particularly disturbed by Holbrooke's own words. When he spoke with strobe talbott of the importance of military intervention in the Balkans, he said, "Strobe, this is important. This is a critical moment for us personally. A responsibility of the nation. And the right thing to do." It is telling that he spoke of himself first, before the nation. And when he spoke of his experience in the Johnson White House, he criticized Johnson's micromanagement of the war: "The use of force is a political decision at its core, in terms of its objectives; then the military, as the experts, must be brought in to tell you how to do it." Yet, Holbrooke seems oblivious to the fact that he and the current administration are repeating that same mistake. They have no real personal experience of the military, and they obviously mistrust their military commanders. He twice openly accused Admiral Smith of deceit, once based only on his own intuition and desires (with the dubious support of Warren Christopher), and once based on the word of a single journalist. He is both self-righteous and careless of military force. A frightening combination that seems endemic to this administration.
st. louis, mo
"Give War a Chance" makes clear that Richard Holbrooke should go back and read David Halberstam's "The Best and the Brightest" again. He is making the same mistakes politicians in the 1960's made in Vietnam, for the same reasons and using the same justification. He is a drugstore warrior using the military in an amateur and tragic way because of his boundless arrogance. In saying that if Kosovo falls, Greece and Bulgaria will follow, Holbrooke is aping the domino theory used to justify the Vietnam war. The arrogance of power has clearly corrupted him. He and the President should have listened to Admiral Smith--and kept him on.
pasadena , md
Thanks for your very informative piece. Two things caused me to ponder. First, How does a democracy deal with the arrogance and open defiance a Adm L. Smith whose action or inaction hindered the goals of the civilian appointed to implement the peace plan. Secondly, Pres. Clinton's tacit undermining of R. Holbroke's effort for a greater peace. I sympathize with R. Holbroke. If the Dayton Accord was our opening move in this Balkan Game, I hope Nuremburg-type trials are part of our endgame and characters like Adm. L. Smith are no longer players
Well done. Your program "Give War A Chance" was timely and on the mark. We need more reporting of the facts and less prime time sensationalist P. R. couched as news.
Snuffy Smith represents what we want in a commander. A man who commits troops (people) to life threatening combat only after careful analysis of the situation, a man who is honest and has the courage to stand up for his convictions. He understands that the cost is high and if success is not a likely outcome the cost should not be born.
The government policy makers are responsible for determining when to engage military forces. I believe they have become somewhat cavalier in their attitude in this regard. A litmus test they may try in the future is the "my child" test. Let them consider if they would be willing to send their son or daughter on this mission and except their death as a fair price for the outcome. This is the test many in this country face.
As a baby boomer I am subject to feel the indignation of social injustice that identified us in the 60s, and see the evil embodied in people like Milosevich. As a Vietnam vet I am subject to some of the "scarring" mentioned on the program and feel that putting our people in harms way is a grave matter, and should be done only in extreme situations. As a retired professional soldier I remember the oath I took many times as "Defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic", not "act as world policeman". We need to look hard at all these questions. Is the moral imperialism of the unscarred worth the lives of our young people? If it is, are we approaching the task in a militarily sound manner adhering to the six points of the Weinberger Doctrine? Finally is this a proper and legal use of our Department of Defense forces?
If the answer to all of the above is yes then pull out a family picture, take a long hard look and apply the "my child" test one more time. The Balkans do not pass this test for me.
Speaking as a citizen it feels good when the U.S. flexes its muscles from time to time, but if the United States is to carry on as a superpower then we must be able to handle situations like the Balkans easily or get out of the superpower business.
As Admiral Smith correctly informed us, U.S. forces are not designed for policing moral dilemmas raging out of control in other countries. His message cannot be any clearer. A different force structure is required to handle situations like those occurring in the Balkans. So what are we waiting for?
D. J. Libey
fort worth, texas
I enjoyed the insightful Frontline episode comparing the Vietnam War and the Balkans War.
It is interesting that Richard Holbrooke can look back at Vietnam and see that it was a bad mission, while at the same time embroiling us in the same kind of ill-defined conflict in the Balkans.
While the military has learned the lessons of Vietnam, former 'dove' politicians have not.
The smirking elitest attitude of the neo-hawks is stomach turning. As long as one can fight a war without any personal sacrifice it seems a cheap way using personal power.
This whole administration's attitude is that they know better than the rest of us and because they have such lofty ideas the rest of us dumb cattle can just follow along and dare not question them.
Let's go back to the old 60's bumper-sticker motto-QUESTION AUTHORITY!
san diego, ca
The US soldiers are not trained to be policemen. That is not their mission nor their duty. To expect them to do so indicates an extreme lack of understanding of their training. They are trained and indoctrinated to be warriors and to be proud of their trade. Attempts to assign them as policemen does a disservice to them and their long tradition of service to their country. If Mr Holbrooke wants policemen he should hire some, not malassign our fighting men and women as cops for the world. Holbrooke lived too long in the Hilton and needed to spend some time with the troops in the mud. Maybe then he can understand what duty and responsibility to your troops means.
Is it not ironic that in both Vietnam & in Kosovo, both questionable and unsuccessful military campaigns, that the US had presidents who tried to fight a the war politically and not militarily.
In Vietnam, Washington clearly did not listen to the advise of the military; and the same mistake is being repeated today. Bill Clinton and his advisors thought they could fight and win a "Nintendo War".
It is also ironic that the one issue that was never seriously discussed during either of Clinton's presidtial campaigns was international policies; only domestic issues were discussed. And now, unfortunately, we are reaping the fruits of having no international polices.
The haphazard nature of US diplomacy frightens me. We seem to rush to whichever crisis holds world's attention at the moment. Perhaps a cynical diplomat like Talleyrand or Metternich is less dangerous than an idealist like Holbrook.
The military leaders did their duty in mentioning the great difficulties of an intervention in the Balkans, but the Clinton administration has committed us to a rather unwise course of action. It reminds me of a cliche about a road paved with good intentions.
As a Vietnam vet I watched these two positions with great interest. What was over-looked as another lesson of Vietnam was the "will" to wage war.
We don't have it now, didn't have it in Vietnam - as the North Vietnamese and Serbs do now - and won't ever have it in another country's civel action. Remember the Hearts and Minds of the People"? The other thing we didn't have then and don't now is a large dose of truth with the American people which is the oil of our democracy.
normandy park, wa
"Give war a chance" is one of the best insights to a Balkan crisis. Great job PBS. I believe that politics backed by a force is the only effective way to deal with dictators. Bad side of this is that it forces politics and military into a marriage that neither want.
Dayton peace accord stopped killing in Bosnia only because the balance of arms-power was established. I believe this will have to happen in the Kosovo crisis before any peace agreement is reached.
virginia beach, va
If we really had a national defense interest in Kosovo we would be willing to risk any number of ground forces and rather than this halfhearted effort, we would fight to win with the backing of an overwhelming majority of Americans.
So we are there because of our guilt, not guilt for having caused the suffering, which we didn't, but our guilty selfless need to sacrifice ourselves for those in need. You notice that it is always easier to sacrifice if you are not the one to do the dying. The sickening thing is that Kosovo is not worth one American life. The KLA is as bad as Milosevic and if every Serb and Kosovar were dead it would not affect our vital national interest one whit. If the refugee pictures pull at your heart, then wait until you see our young men getting killed there, that is what happens in war and it will be worse with this inept anti-military president calling the shots, he demonstrated in Somalia he knows how to get soldiers killed.
I hope that we deluge the Congress and the White House with email and letters before this foolishness goes any further.
Thank you for showing both sides in "Give War A Chance".
ponca city, ok
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