Ho Chi Trump

Earlier this week, while many of us were riveted by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s damaging testimony before a House committee, the President was half a world away, trying to find success at the nuclear arms summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The meetings ended early, without tangible results for either side, and both leaders left Hanoi, Vietnam with nothing they lacked when they arrived. Yet, while the talks continued, a curious sidebar occurred, one both telling in its optics and outrageous for its mockery of history. The incendiary moment came before the limited number of press cameras permitted to be in attendance as Trump, a five-time draft dodger during the Vietnam War, posed for pictures standing in front of a huge bust of Ho Chi Minh, North Vietnam’s president, prime minister, and wartime leader of that sanguinary conflict which took the lives of 58,000 American soldiers, sailors, and airmen, grievously wounding hundreds of thousands more. The war deeply divided our country, ended Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, and ended in a stalemate that achieved Minh’s goal of a unified, socialist Vietnam.

The intransigent hypocrisy displayed by that juxtaposition of a President posing with an enemy he refused to fight (and used his father’s connections to avoid fighting), is stark, invidious, and disturbing. While Trump was seeing a friendly doctor for his get-out-of-the-draft card, thousands of young men his age who didn’t enjoy the luxury of having a wealthy, powerful family, went off to Southeast Asia for a year many of them wouldn’t survive, and that none of them would forget. History pauses before Ho Chi Minh, a revolutionary who battled first the French, and later the United States, for the ability to extend his rule throughout the two Vietnams. The South was a putative democracy, a bulwark against Soviet-backed Communism in the North; the American doctrine of the era posited that if South Vietnam fell to the Communists, all the other countries teetering on the edge would fall as well, becoming client states of the USSR, just as Cuba did when Fidel Castro took over in 1959.

The United States had been sending “military advisors” to help the South Vietnamese since the Eisenhower administration, along with some equipment to modernize their army and air forces. Both Eisenhower and Kennedy proceeded cautiously in the region, opting for measured, limited involvement instead of becoming mired in actual, direct combat. All that changed after Kennedy’s death, when in 1964 the Gulf Of Tonkin incident transformed America from interested ally to full-scale belligerent. President Johnson sent in the troops to engage Minh’s regular North Vietnamese Army, and his guerrilla units, called the Viet Cong. We fought him for the next eleven years.

The war was brutal, with atrocities carried out by both sides. American troops captured by Minh’s forces ended up in the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison, among others, including naval aviator John McCain, son of the WWII admiral who later became a Senator and presidential candidate. When his captors learned he was the son of the commanding admiral of the Pacific, they offered to let him go free in a prisoner exchange. McCain chose to stay with his fellow POWs, and endured unspeakable, crippling tortures alongside them.

Trump, on the other hand, was enjoying his draft deferments, hobnobbing with his dad’s real estate mogul friends, and living off his family’s largesse. He wasn’t alone in this, of course, but Trump’s unwillingness to don his country’s uniform is made even more odious because of his ridiculing others who did serve, including McCain. ‘[McCain] is not a hero,” Trump thundered during his 2016 campaign, “He got captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Trump not only “wasn’t captured,” he was never there.

Today the souls of the 58,000 men who perished in the jungles and rice paddies of that faraway land are disquieted at the spectacle of the Commander-in-Chief posing for photos before the visage of the enemy. No other President has done this, being akin to Obama posing before Lee’s statue, or Bush posing before Hitler’s would be. When Ronald Reagan visited a German military graveyard at Bitburg, which contained the remains of Waffen-SS stormtroopers in 1985, the firestorm of protest on both sides of the Atlantic was immediate and strident. The optics of a President paying homage to the enemy were so awful, that several WWII veterans returned their medals to the White House in disgust. Reagan himself was a WWII Army veteran, adding to the controversy. Trump neither acknowledged or heeded the warnings of history. All living Vietnam veterans should take due notice of his conduct. It speaks volumes, coming from a man too self-important to serve with them. Ho Chi Trump, indeed.



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