I recently came across a plaque with the heading “Died in Service to the Nation — Vietnam 1961-1975.” The plaque then listed several members of the U.S. Armed Forces who were killed in the Vietnam War.
The plaque demonstrates a central ill afflicting many Americans — an ill that can be described as living the “life of the lie.” Until a critical mass of Americans confront this phenomenon, recognize it, and correct it, our nation will continue to remain mired in tyranny and oppression all wrapped up in beautiful “national-security” language.
From 1961 to 1975, the Pentagon sent hundreds of thousands of American men to Vietnam. Their mission was to kill people. American soldiers ended up killing more than a million people. In the process, more than 58,000 American servicemen got killed, and many more were wounded.
The obvious question arises: How in the world can it be said that American servicemen who got killed in Vietnam were serving the nation?
For one thing, every U.S. soldier who got killed in Vietnam was there because the U.S. government ordered him to go there and to kill people. It is a virtual certainty that if American servicemen had not been ordered to go to Vietnam, no American would have been killed “serving the nation” in Vietnam.
It’s also worth noting that many of the American soldiers who were sent to Vietnam and who got killed were conscripted to serve in the U.S. armed forces. That is, they were effectively seized from their everyday lives, forced to become servants of the U.S. government, and then sent to Vietnam to kill or be killed.
It’s also worth noting that the people whom U.S. soldiers were charged with killing, namely North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong, had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so.
How did U.S. officials justify sending U.S. soldiers into Vietnam to kill people? They maintained that there was an international communist conspiracy to take over the world, one that was based in Moscow, Russia, and whose tentacles extended to Red China, North Korea, North Vietnam, Eastern Europe, and Cuba. If the U.S. government didn’t stop the Reds from taking over South Vietnam, U.S. officials maintained, the rest of the countries in Southeast Asia and then the rest of the world would begin falling like dominoes until the United States fell victim to the conspiracy.
It was a lie. In fact, Vietnam was nothing more than a civil war, one in which North Vietnam was forcibly attempting to unify the country. Moreover, when North Vietnam ended up actually winning the war in 1975, the rest of the world, including the United States, did not end up falling to the supposed international Red conspiracy like dominoes.
Thus, why doesn’t that plaque I saw simply read, “Died in Vietnam 1961–1975”? Or more accurately, “Died in Service to the U.S. government — Vietnam 1961–1975”? Why does it instead say, “Died in Service to the Nation”?
One reason is that for U.S. officials, especially those in the national-security establishment — i.e., the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA — the government and the nation are one and the same thing.
In their minds whenever a U.S. soldier dies in combat, he is dying for his country no matter the circumstances surrounding the combat. Thus, if the United States were to initiate an unprovoked attack on another country, as it did in 2003 against Iraq, any U.S. soldier waging war against that country and getting killed there would be considered, automatically, to have been serving his country.
But that’s just another lie. In actuality, the government and the country are two separate and distinct entities. This phenomenon is demonstrated by the U.S. Bill of Rights, which expressly protects the nation from the federal government. If the federal government and the nation were one and the same thing, the Bill of Rights would make no sense.
Such being the case, it is entirely possible for the government to engage in activity that is contrary to the interests of the nation. If the Pentagon were to initiate the killing of peaceful U.S. citizens, as it did at Waco, Ruby Ridge, and Kent State, it could not legitimately be said that U.S. officials participating in those killings were serving their nation. Instead, they would be serving their government and attacking their nation.
That’s what U.S. soldiers were doing in Vietnam — they were serving their government and, in the process, bringing inordinate harm to their nation. Of course, all of them were following orders issued by the Pentagon, but that doesn’t change the nature of what they were actually doing — intervening with force in a land in which they had no legitimate justification for intervening.
Another factor to consider is the mindset of the soldiers themselves as well as that of their wives, parents, siblings, and other family members. It is important to the national-security establishment that they be made to believe that their loved ones died for something meaningful — such as service to the nation — rather than something mundane and meaningless, such as intervening in a domestic conflict thousands of miles away.
We must also never forget that the U.S. intervention in Vietnam was illegal under our form of government. Under our system, the U.S. Constitution controls the actions of U.S. officials. The Constitution outlines what powers can be exercised and what powers are denied to U.S. officials.
The Framers understood that of all the powers delegated to government, the power to make war was among the most important because it inevitably entailed the potential destruction of the liberty and economic and financial well-being of the nation. The Framers also understood the tendency of rulers to embroil their nations in war.
Therefore, the Framers decided to separate the power to declare war from the power to wage war. They delegated the former to Congress and the latter to the president. Thus, while the president was authorized to wage war, he was prohibited from doing so without first securing an express declaration of war from Congress.
Congress never declared war on Vietnam, which means that no U.S. soldier had any legal authority to serve in Vietnam or kill people there. Moreover, obedience to orders to does not change that fundamental legal fact.
Thus, how can anyone claim that U.S. soldiers who died in Vietnam were serving their nation when, in fact, they were engaged in a purely illegal act, one in which they were obeying the orders issued by U.S. government officials? It’s just a plain lie. Those soldiers were killing people unlawfully, and they died in the service of their government that was waging an illegal war, not their nation.
We also mustn’t forget the lie that U.S. officials, especially those in the Pentagon, used to persuade Congress to enact the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which, most definitely, was not a declaration of war. Knowing that Congress would not declare war on North Vietnam, as the Constitution required, Pentagon officials, in complicity with Lyndon Johnson, concocted a false story that North Vietnam forces had attacked U.S. gunships in North Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin, where they had been strategically placed in order to be “attacked.” The idea was to use the false attack as a way to exclaim, “The United States has been attacked by the communists and so now we have the right to defend ourselves by sending U.S. combat forces into Vietnam to kill communists.” How can soldiers who were killed in Vietnam be said to have been serving the nation when, in fact, they were there on the basis of an intentional lie issued by their own government officials?
The much bigger lie, however, was with respect to the supposed international communist conspiracy to take over the world, with its base in Moscow, Russia. That was a much bigger lie than the lies that surrounded the Vietnam War. And it is that bigger lie that fundamentally altered American life and, in fact, destroyed our rights, our liberties, and our well-being. It is that lie that needs to be confronted and dealt with if America is ever to regain its footing and get back on the right road.
The main lie
America was founded as a limited-government republic, one that had a relatively small army. The federal government’s powers were extremely limited. That was by design. But everything changed after World War II. The U.S. government was converted into what is known as a national-security state, a type of governmental structure that is opposite to a limited-government republic, especially with respect to the powers of the federal government. With the conversion to a national-security state came such omnipotent, totalitarian-like powers as kidnapping, torture, assassination, foreign coups, wars of aggression, support of dictatorial regimes, destruction of foreign democratic regimes, foreign wars, and military and paramilitary invasions of foreign countries.
None of those powers was part of America’s limited-government republic. In fact, if the Constitutional Convention had proposed a federal government as a national-security state, there is no possibility whatsoever that the American people would have approved the Constitution. In that case, the United States would have continued operating under the Articles of Confederation, another type of governmental structure, one in which the federal government didn’t even have the power to tax.
After the conversion, the American people were taught that nothing fundamental had changed. It was just one more lie, one still believed by all too many Americans. To this day, many Americans continue to refer to the United States as a republic because that’s what has been ingrained in them since the first grade. From the very beginning of the conversion to a national-security state in the latter half of the 1940s, U.S. officials have deemed it of the utmost importance that Americans continue believing that everything was still the same with the federal government in a fundamental sense.
Yet the lie is easily recognizable to anyone who has the will to confront it. For example, the Fifth Amendment expressly prohibits the federal government from killing anyone without first following principles of due process of law, which involve, at a minimum, notice and hearing. Thus, operating in a limited-government republic, U.S. officials never engaged in peacetime assassinations. With the creation of the CIA in 1947, however, that situation changed radically, for the worse. Suddenly, the federal government, operating through the CIA, wielded the omnipotent, totalitarian-like power to murder people who were deemed to constitute a threat to national security, a two-word nebulous and meaningless term that nonetheless has become the most important term in the American political lexicon.
But everyone is supposed to act as though nothing has changed — that America is still a limited-government republic, one with limited powers. But the reality is that things did change at the most fundamental level. The federal government became one that now wielded many of the same omnipotent, totalitarian-like powers that were being wielded by communist nations that were part of the supposed worldwide communist conspiracy to take over the world.
There is something else important to note about America’s conversion to a national-security state: It was done without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment. That made the conversion illegal under our form of government. Unfortunately, however, recognizing the vast and growing power of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA within the federal governmental structure, the U.S. Supreme Court early on decided that discretion was the better part of valor and decided to defer to the national-security establishment on all matters relating to national security.
Another big lie — one that was used to justify America’s conversion to a national-security state — was with respect to the supposed international communist conspiracy to take over the United States and the rest of the world. Every national-security state needs official enemies to justify its existence. Without official enemies that are said to threaten national security, people are likely to ask why they need a national-security state.
After World War II, the Soviet Union, which had served as America’s wartime partner and ally and Hitler’s enemy, filled the position as official enemy perfectly. The Soviet Reds, Americans were told, in combination with Red China and other communist nations, were committed to conquering the United States. Only by adopting a national-security state could America hope to save herself from a communist takeover. The dark irony, of course, was that the Soviet Union and Red China were themselves national-security states. The implication was that when the Cold War ended, Americans could have their limited-government republic back.
In his Farewell Address in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower alluded to the fundamental change in America’s federal governmental system when he stated that the “military-industrial complex” posed a grave threat to the liberties and democratic processes of the American people.
More important though was John Kennedy’s conclusion after the Cuban Missile Crisis that the Cold War was an unnecessary, dangerous, and destructive racket, one that he decided to bring to an end. By the time his life was ended, he had decided to withdraw all troops from Vietnam and to live in peaceful coexistence with the communist world. It was obviously a conclusion that ran deeply contrary to the mindset of the national-security establishment, whose existence would have been threatened if Kennedy had not been killed.
When the Cold War ended in 1989, unfortunately the national-security establishment did not end. Instead, it searched abroad for new official enemies, finding one in global terrorism, which its own interventionist foreign policy provoked, and then later returning to Russia and China to refill roles as official enemies of the United States.
Meanwhile, the power and influence of the national-security establishment has grown infinitely greater since the Eisenhower-Kennedy years. No president since then has dared to question its existence, its ever-growing budgets, its overseas bases and interventions, or its vast power and dominion over the United States and the rest of the world. There are now a vast number of military veterans within the nation who instinctively support whatever the Pentagon and the CIA want. The CIA has devoted loyalists throughout the mainstream press who would never even think to question the federal government as a national-security state. And woe to any member of Congress who dares to challenge the existence and destructiveness of the Pentagon, the CIA, or the NSA or even just oppose military pork. His district will lose military largess and he will be derided by the local press as being an “ineffective” congressman.
Having the American people adhere to the many lies that undergird the national-security state is essential to this entire sordid process, including the lie that American soldiers who died in Vietnam were serving the nation.
This article was originally published in the March 2021 edition of Future of Freedom.