Letter – A war America should have won

Published 4:49 pm Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

Today, March 29th, is National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

Charles Krauthammer, who passed away several years ago, once proposed a hypothesis. He called it “The Krauthammer Conjecture” In sports, the pleasure of winning is less than the pain of losing. Or, conversely, the pain of losing is greater than the pleasure of winning.

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Although he meant it for sports, I think it also applies to war.

Had we persevered and “won” in Vietnam, after a while, another victory for American arms would have just become part of our proud national history — and perhaps even a welcome catharsis from the military stalemate in Korea a few years before. Instead, the heartbreaking defeat in Vietnam endures. It hurts even today during the annual national remembrance of that war.

It is especially painful for us Vietnam veterans.

Hardly a month passes without some new TV military documentary about how brilliantly versatile the Huey helicopter was, how mercilessly effective the AC-47 gunships, the F-4 Phantoms and the A-1 Skyraiders were, how deadly the 7.62 Minigun was, how professional and well-trained our soldiers were, how overwhelming the bomb tonnage delivered by our B-52s was, how our 16-inch battleship guns outmatched anything on land, how our supercarriers launched thousands of combat sorties and how we bested the North Vietnamese Army on the battlefield virtually everywhere with our enemy-to-friendly “kill ratio” of 10 or 15 to 1.

And on and on and on.

But today it all means nothing. The TV shows seem only to be bragging about what could have been or might have been. Should have been? 58,000 brave Americans died for what? That is the true and abiding sadness of the US involvement in Vietnam.

Krauthammer also quoted Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” To which he adds his own conjecture: “Yes, but losing is worse.”             

I think Krauthammer would agree that his sports “conjecture” applies also to national military endeavors. The excruciating pain of losing went to the very core of our national psyche and lives on in very many of us even to this day.

We could have won that war. We should have won that war.


Albert P. Burckard Jr.

Army Infantry, Vietnam 

October 1969-May 1971