Masterful documentarian Ken Burns has embarked on his most difficult project to date, an 18-hour PBS history of the Vietnam War. Many will view this show with anxiety, especially those who suffered the horrors of that war.

No Vietnam veteran should get the impression that his service, injuries and other sacrifices were for naught. American soldiers were sent to the other side of the world to engage the enemy in a war that was poorly planned and defended by their civilian bosses — and weakly executed by their military commanders.

The goals were ill-defined, the enemy was elusive, and without total victory as the goal, many Americans lost interest in the war, focusing instead on their own material progress during the boom years of the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

Nevertheless, with all these strikes against them, American soldiers fought bravely, never losing a major battle, not even the Tet Offensive, so misreported by the American media.

The troops returned home without fanfare or glory following the Kissinger-arranged peace treaty. But then Congress backed down in its support of South Vietnam.

The communists took advantage of political disunity in the United States to break the agreement and impose their will on the south.

The loss of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was not the fault of American soldiers but a failure of America’s political class — a war-weary Congress and a weakened Watergate presidency.

Now that 40 years have passed, a clearer picture is emerging about what was accomplished in Vietnam. We were there to prevent what eventually did happen when we left — the tragedy of the Vietnamese boat people, the Cambodian “killing fields” and the poverty and desperation of life under communism.

Our moral and military support to southeast Asia was honorable, even though divided government and war protesters gave the enemy the advantage.

History now shows our soldiers’ 10-year battle to stop communism in southeast Asia gave the rest of that area time to become more prosperous and democratic. Our Army of Vietnam reversed the correlation of forces, allowing the world time to measure the failures of communism against the successes of democratic capitalism.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan became strong and free under the protection of American forces. The Russians and Chinese saw Asia thrive under a free market system and lost enthusiasm for socialism, helping to bring the Cold War to an end.

The Vietnam War was a gut-wrenching experience for America, but it turned the tide of history against communist expansionism. It stands next to World War II as mankind’s most valiant fight against tyranny and may have prevented World War III.

Will Ken Burns’ documentary give our soldiers the credit due their historic fight for freedom?

Martin Herichs is a Valparaiso resident and former social studies teacher at Gary's Roosevelt High School. The opinions are the writer's.

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