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Opinion: Columnists

Gregory Kane: Some veterans still offended that Hanoi fought back

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Opinion,Gregory Kane,Columnists

Sometimes the voice of dissent must be a conservative one.

Unlike members of the American Legion, other veterans' groups and Sen. John McCain, I was not offended when producers of the CBS show "The Amazing Race" decided to use the site of a downed B-52 bomber as a kind of prop.

I wasn't offended so much as an iota.

But American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz, a Vietnam veteran, had plenty of offense for him and me, with some left over.

After hearing of the controversy, Koutz dashed off a letter to CBS execs, chiding them for the show's "disgraceful slap in the face administered to American war heroes." Oh, and he wasn't finished.

"The show is called 'The Amazing Race,' " Koutz continued, "but I call it 'The Amazing Gall.' In a broadcast reminiscent of Tokyo Rose, reality game show contestants visited a 'B-52 Memorial' in Vietnam, which featured the wreckage of a B-52 bomber shot down during the war. What wasn't shown were the U.S. crewmen that were killed or the grieving American families that were left behind."

On that point, Koutz was absolutely correct. But there was a lot more that wasn't shown.

Have we forgotten why there is a B-52 sitting smack-dab in the middle of Hanoi in the first place? The plane and its crewmen sure as heck weren't flying over Hanoi on a sightseeing tour.

No, they were there to bomb the place, to smash North Vietnam's military capabilities and, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, to kill quite a few civilians -- intentionally or not.

Those veterans and veterans' groups in such high dudgeon about the North Vietnamese making a memorial of a downed B-52 bomber might want to calm down long enough to ask themselves this question: Why were we bombing North Vietnam in the first place?

Was it because North Vietnamese were bombing American cities? No, it was because of that Gulf of Tonkin incident back in August of 1964. The official version of President Johnson's administration was that North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked, without provocation, the USS Maddox in international waters.

The North Vietnamese version was that there was indeed a clash between the Maddox and the torpedo boats, after the Maddox had engaged in a series of raids on North Vietnamese soil. The North Vietnamese were known to lie, but history's final judgment is that in the Gulf of Tonkin incident, it was the Johnson administration that had what might be called "an adversarial relationship with the truth."

When Johnson sought congressional approval that would allow American bombers to lay waste to North Vietnam, only two U.S. senators voted against what became known as the Gulf of Tonkin resolution: Ernest Gruening of Alaska and Wayne Morse of Oregon. Both hurled down a checks-and-balances gauntlet at Johnson's feet, in essence telling the president that if he wanted Congress to declare war against North Vietnam, then he had better darned well go before that body and ask for one.

If America had a president with respect for checks and balances and the Constitution circa 1964 -- and congressmen and congresswomen with some backbone -- there might not be any remnants of B-52 bombers in Hanoi.

For many veterans, that B-52 memorial in Hanoi is, as Koutz said, a slap in the face to those that served in Vietnam. For me, it's a symbol that North Vietnam refused to be bullied by a superpower.

In violation of our own Constitution and with little justification in international law, we dropped bombs on North Vietnam. It seems that some people were, and still are, upset that the North Vietnamese had the temerity to fight back.

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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