Vietnam—Peace? or Whitewash?

IN A historic telecast from the White House at 10 P.M. on January 23, the President of the United States announced to the world that at long last a cease-fire had been agreed upon by all the parties involved in the war in Vietnam. It was to become effective on Saturday, January 27, at 7 P.M. Washington Time.

In his televised statement Mr. Nixon also said, “Throughout the years of negotiations, we have insisted on peace with honor. In my addresses to the nation from this room on January 25 and May 8, I set forth goals that we considered essential for peace with honor. In the settlement that has now been agreed to, all the conditions that I laid down then have been met. … Within sixty days from this Saturday all Americans held prisoners of war throughout Indochina will be released.

“There will be the fullest possible accounting for all of these who are missing in action. During the same sixty-day period all American forces will be withdrawn from South Vietnam. The people of South Vietnam have been guaranteed the right to determine their own future without outside interference.”

Further along in his statement, Mr. Nixon included some words of caution. “We must recognize,” he said, “that ending the war is only the first step toward building the peace. All parties must now see to it that this is a peace that lasts and also a peace that heals, and a peace that not only ends the war in Southeast Asia but contributes to the prospects of peace in the whole world. This will mean that the terms of the agreement must be scrupulously adhered to. We shall do everything the agreement requires of us, and we shall expect the other parties to do everything it requires of them. We shall also expect other interested nations to help insure that the agreement is carried out and peace is maintained.”

“The Foolishness of Man …”—Proverbs 19:3

As the longest war in the history of the United States thus promised to come to a close there was great relief, if not wild rejoicing, at home and abroad; for there had always been the not-too-remote possibility that the bitter conflict in Southeast Asia could at any time burst forth into a third world war involving all the great powers, leading to unimaginable devastation and death.

It was not only the longest war engaged in by this nation, but it was doubtless the most frustrating, as well as one of the costliest. This nation alone suffered some 350,000 casualties, including more than 46,000 dead. The monetary cost to this country has been estimated at 125 to 150 billions of dollars. But the human suffering and material losses endured by the other participants in this long, futile conflict can hardly be imagined. And of course the suffering, grief, and hardship, including that of innocent women and children, will continue indefinitely; for the signing of a cease-fire does not magically restore the dead to life; it does not replace missing arms and legs, or mend shattered faces; nor does it make the blind to see, nor restore the mentally broken once more to health.

Face-Saving Ambiguities

The three months that had intervened since Mr. Kissinger’s ill-timed “peace at hand” statement on October 26 tended to blunt the impact of the final announcement, giving it an anti-climactic flavor. And when the initial hopeful news had been more critically reviewed, second thoughts began to arise as to the real substance and durability of the agreement that had been concluded.

For one thing, there are still some 145,000 North Vietnamese troops occupying positions in South Vietnam. The legal right or lack of right of these troops to be in South Vietnam was not clearly defined. The South says they are invaders; the North says they are not invaders, because in their view Vietnam is all one country. Indeed, it is this last point that was at the heart of so much of the difficulty during the final stages of the negotiations, and led to the retention in the agreement of another ambiguity, relating this time to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Much haggling ensued on this point, being resolved finally (and surely unsatisfactorily) in the adoption of language that could be variously interpreted by either side.

Obviously, such ambiguities can only be a fruitful source of future endless contention, but their incorporation in the agreement seems to have been necessary to induce the two parties to come together at all. The hazards of such a procedure were manifested even before the final signing of the cease-fire on January 27, with Hanoi loudly proclaiming its own interpretation of the meaning of the DMZ, while Saigon on its side was doing the same. One must seriously wonder how firm a peace can be grown from soil that is so generously sown with the seeds of discontent.

Ghosts of Past International Treaties

A careful reading of Mr. Nixon’s original statement of January 23 also gives rise to doubts. He made it clear, as we noted earlier, that the attainment and maintenance of a real peace in Southeast Asia will depend on scrupulous adherence to the terms of the agreement by the parties to it, and on the co-operation of “other interested nations.” When one considers the performance of some of these “other interested nations” in the matter of “scrupulously honoring” international agreements mutually arrived at in the past, one may be excused for entertaining doubts as to the outcome of the recently concluded Vietnam agreement, already referred to by several commentators as a “fragile” peace.

It is impossible to believe that the pragmatic Mr. Nixon is not aware of all these uncertainties, and more. He no doubt sincerely and earnestly hopes that peace will ensue; but that he is aware of the pitfalls in the situation is clear by his own statements of the essentials for achieving that desired peace, and for making it stick. He no doubt feels he has achieved all that could be achieved, and that he made the best deal he could in a bad situation; somewhat late, perhaps; but still the best he could do with a foe who had almost no regard for human life; a foe who could live a lifetime (as many did) in a hole in the ground, sustained by a few grains of rice.

“Peace, and There Was No Peace”

But after all is said and done, and after having done the very best he could, Mr. Nixon must have grave doubts about it all, even as he bravely strives to offer hope to the American people, and to the people of the world. At this point, he and Mr. Kissinger can hardly do other than to read into the agreement, and to offer to the world, only the most optimistic expectations, in spite of their innermost misgivings. For it is a common human failing to hold out as fact, that which one wishes to believe in his own heart.—Ezek. 13:3

One is reminded of God’s condemnation through the Prophet Ezekiel of those among the Jewish captives in Babylon who called themselves prophets, saying to the people, “Peace, and there was no peace.” (Ezek. 13:10) Ezekiel goes on to speak of those who claimed to have built up a wall that would insure peace, but l0, they attempted to cement it with “untempered mortar.” The Revised Standard Version says the wall was “daubed with whitewash.” It will not be long before the realities of the situation begin to emerge, to reveal wherewith the Vietnamese wall has been cemented—whether with real mortar, or whitewash.

Sorrowful Homecoming!

But whatever may develop in Southeast Asia following the cease-fire, at least there is fervent hope that the active fighting role of the United States in that stricken area is ended. The first great result of the accord is to be the release and return home of the still-living American prisoners of war, and the search for American soldiers missing in action. What a day of mixed blessing this will be for hundreds of families scattered over the land! For most such families it is to be hoped the reunions will be joyous; for many others there will be unspeakable sadness. For many of these POWs will be broken in body, mind, and spirit, as are so many of our wounded veterans already returned.

The Outlook—Business As Usual!

The disengagement of our forces from active warfare will relieve thousands of American boys of the gnawing fear of being drafted into the armed forces. Mr. Nixon now will no doubt vigorously promote his idea of a volunteer army. And the campus and political conflicts relative to the war should tend to disappear.

For the rest of the nation it will largely be a matter of business as usual, due largely to the manner in which Mr. Nixon has “wound down” the war over a period of some four years. There will be no sudden outpouring of great numbers of men who fought in the war, for almost all have already returned to civil life. There will be no vast sums of money suddenly shifted from war efforts to domestic purposes for the same reason. Moreover, although the United States will no longer, it is hoped, be directly engaged in war activities in Vietnam, there seems to have been given a commitment to keep South Vietnam supplied with certain amounts of war materiel under certain conditions.

There are, too, costly plans to modernize certain aspects of the national defense, such as building longer-ranging and more powerful submarines, more powerful and faster war planes, and other new defensive weapons. Also, if the volunteer army concept is adopted, this will cost many more billions. Whatever small remaining sums may still be diverted from defense requirements, these seem already to have been allocated to presently approved and ongoing domestic programs. This is all made crystal clear by the fact that, even in the light of the cease-fire, Mr. Nixon has already submitted to Congress a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1973 that anticipates a deficit of some 12 billions of dollars.

So then, where do we now find ourselves? On the one side of the balance sheet we have the United States disengaged from an active role in the war, with our prisoners of war soon to be home. The divisive factor of an ongoing war should be eliminated, and the nation should be able more readily to direct its energies and attention toward domestic problems, of which there are so many. And then there is the hazy hope that a fragile peace may indeed be more than that.

On the other side of the balance sheet there are the dead and the wounded, many of whom are crippled, blinded, incapacitated for life; in Vietnam, North and South, hundreds of thousands dead, untold numbers wounded, millions homeless and destitute; there is a continuing bitter contest between the opposing factions, with North Vietnam no less determined than ever to gain control of South Vietnam; and a meaningless cease-fire supposedly leading to a distant peace whose attainment seemed even more remote by reason of the fighting that continued without ceasing even after the hour came and went for the cease-fire to have taken effect.

“He Maketh Wars to Cease.”—Psalm 46:9

In his recent statement announcing the cease-fire Mr. Nixon expressed the opinion that the world could now look ahead to a generation of peace. We fear, however, that this will turn out to be another case of crying “peace, and there was no peace.” For all the factors that have led men to countless wars in the past are still present in the world. Until these are banished there can be no hope of lasting peace on earth.

And they will be banished! For the hope of peace in the world is based, not on the vague promises of frail though earnest men, but on the sure Word of the Heavenly Father. And when Christ’s kingdom is established in the earth the main order of business will be the bringing forth from their graves of all the dead, where they have been so long held prisoners. But what a home-coming that will be! All will come forth from their graves to have an opportunity to gain everlasting life on an earth made perfect, under the perfect rule of a righteous kingdom under Christ.

The war-weary of the world, the sin-sick, will rejoice in its beneficent government. Selfishness, the root of so much sorrow and suffering, will be no more, and every man will love his neighbor as himself. All mankind will then know and love their Lord, from the least even to the greatest, for

“In the last days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.

“And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

“And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”—Micah 4:1-3

May thy righteous kingdom soon come, Lord!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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