By Walter Cronkite
The Miami Herald
Thursday 23 March 2006
When young Anh Duong fled war-torn Saigon in 1973, she never imagined she'd grow up one day to make bombs for the U.S. military. She was just a child whose passage to safety in the United States she credits to "a thirst for freedom" and "the sacrifice of other people."
In the important new documentary film Why We Fight, Duong's remarkable saga is told alongside the stories of a number of everyday people working for America's defense. From a wide-eyed young recruit to the pilots who launched the opening strike of Operation Iraqi Freedom to a New York policeman who lost his son on 9/11, the film is a scrapbook of the American family at a time of war, trapped in a tragedy of history repeating.
Today, Duong is an explosives expert employed at the Naval Surface Warfare Station at Indian Head, Md. Credited with the development of a powerful bunker-buster used in Afghanistan and Iraq, she proudly recounts her rise from refugee to "defense technician."
"I do remember the desperation," Duong recalls, the obvious sunshine in her nature battling the anguish of memories.
"A lot of South Vietnamese felt that the Americans had left them to fend for themselves. That in the end, America deliberately withdrew all the support."
Though the pain of betrayal is not lost on her, there is an irony in her path from war victim to war professional. Though Duong's tale is a stirring immigrant success story, watching the movie's scenes of Saigon's fall at a time when we are facing the withdrawal question in Iraq gave me a profound sense of déj vu.
Not unlike the Vietnam quagmire on which I reported in 1968, we are today presented with the Iraq quagmire. The threat of world communism has been replaced by international terror as a pretext for another misbegotten and mismanaged war, but the falsehoods, broken promises and withering national faith are too familiar.
Now, as then, with each further escalation, we come closer to the brink of cosmic disaster. A recent poll revealed that three-fourths of U.S. troops serving in Iraq want full withdrawal, one-fourth immediately. Despite the executive's stubborn optimism, two-thirds of the public now favor withdrawal.
Yet in Congress, such voices are the minority.
In my February 1968 broadcast, I called the position of Vietnam a stalemate.
I'm not sure "stalemate" fits the U.S. military's loose footing in the sands of Iraq, but the need to cut losses does. In the wake of the Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra, Shiites and Sunnis now clash across the region. Our men and women in uniform face the task of trying to stave off a civil war when their very presence as an occupying force more often than not fuels the violence and represents an obstacle to Shiite and Sunni reconciliation.
As I stated in relation to Vietnam, the only rational way out is to proceed not as victors but as an honorable people who tried to defend democracy the best they could. Recently, I suggested that in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina there was an opportunity to withdraw from Iraq and still maintain our sense of honor. We had an urgent need to redirect our resources to the aid of our communities and people stricken by the devastation of the great storm. Almost no one on Capitol Hill was listening.
Why We Fight should be required viewing for Americans but even more for those on Capitol Hill. The film sends a chilling warning that should not be ignored by Congress and our executive branch.
Walter Cronkite is a former anchorman for CBS News.