When Leaders Hide the Truth

I have been watching the excellent documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick called “The Vietnam War.” After just two episodes, a key conclusion can be made. When leaders hide the truth, people suffer.

American leaders, both military and in the White House, did not shoot straight with Americans and people died. There were numerous opportunities to realize what we should have known going in, that we were abetting a war effort that could not be won.

We backed a leader that was corrupt and who hired corrupt leaders all down the line. We were battling an enemy who was winning the hearts and minds of the rural people, who detested the corruption and Americans who supported it. We told Americans at home, things were going better than they were and tried to cover up the bad news.

As evidence, there was one battle after which the leaders in Saigon declared victory, but the leader in the field said it was a debacle. It was so bad, the Viet Cong was galvanized around their victory and no longer feared the Americans.

Leaders must not hide the truth. An American soldier said we were the first troops to realize we could not trust our leadership to tell us the truth.This battle was early in the Kennedy Presidency, so we could have saved many American lives had we been more honest with ourselves and the American people. What became apparent, we remained and expanded our efforts only to prevent the spread of communism as this was in the middle of the Cold War.

The sad truth is we do not learn lessons from history and are destined to repeat mistakes. Everything we needed to know, we could have gleaned from the French failure in Vietnam. Later, we went into Iraq and Afghanistan without full understanding of the issues and people involved. We should have known about Afghanistan as we aided the tribes to drive out the Soviets in the 1980s. We sided with the less than scrutable leadership in Iraq.

What frustrates me is people die when we don’t think things through and are not truthful. And, as John Fogerty sang, it is not the senators’ sons who are dying. This is what bothers me most about our current President who has a very hard time with the truth. Coupling that weakness with his lack of desire to learn what he does not know exacerbates his ineffectiveness. I just hope people won’t die due his limitations and behaviors.

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