Guest Editorial: Learn from the past, be wary of the future

Farmington Daily Times

May 27, 1964:
U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson:
“What do you think about this Vietnam thing? I’d like to hear you talk a little bit.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Russell, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“Well, frankly, Mr. President, it’s the damn worst mess that I ever saw. ... I knew that we were going to get into this sort of mess when we went in there. And I don’t see how we’re ever going to get out of it without fighting a major war with the Chinese and all of them down there in those rice paddies and jungles. I just don’t see it. I just don’t know what to do.”
It’s one of the many cruelties of war. Once you get in, your enemy will help decide when you get out.
The dialogue above is part of the PBS documentary “The Vietnam War,” depicting the behind-the-scenes agony of American leaders who realized early on that a war so easily entered had become impossible to quit.
Had they known what lay ahead, their agony might have turned to terror. Another decade of war lay ahead and would end with humiliating defeat, the loss of 58,000 U.S. soldiers and 300,000 Americans seriously wounded.
We revisit it now because the country is in a dangerous place.
The man-child dictator of North Korea is developing nuclear weapons designed to level major American cities. The president of the United States is answering him with cryptic messages that strongly imply America is about to invade North Korea
Because war is unpredictable in ways that are usually disastrous, our young soldiers in South Korea could find themselves in combat with a million-man North Korean army that is fed a steady supply of Russian and Chinese arms. The last time we fought in Korea, we faced 1.3 million Chinese.
On Thursday, the president stood with some of the country’s most important military leaders for a photo op in the Oval Office, and told the assembled media it was the “calm before the storm.”
This after he had already threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and kill its leaders.
We are becoming inured to the unfiltered rantings of President Donald Trump, but we’re now hearing the unfiltered warnings of more serious leaders in our government. Over the weekend, one of the most respected foreign-policy minds in the U.S. Senate gave his unvarnished judgment of the president.
Mr. Trump poses such a significant risk to the country, said Sen. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn., to the New York Times, that “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.”
A president of the United States who doesn’t read, cares nothing for what he doesn’t know, has no foreign-policy experience and an exaggerated view of his own abilities has put this nation in peril.
The North Koreans may turn from missile rattling to missile strikes and leave us no choice but war. But until then, we must try to resolve this peacefully.
Trump’s irreverent behavior that could sometimes amuse on the campaign trail is a threat to the nation when it frames policy in critical moments. We cannot allow him to continue conducting diplomacy by bombast and Twitter. This has to stop.
Arizona Republic, Oct. 9