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Let's remember the lessons of the Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War, which foreshadowed so much of what was to come, ended 35 years ago yesterday with the fall of Saigon to the nationalist Vietcong.

The United States Department of Defense marks Nov. 1, 1955, as the beginning of that war, which killed from 4.5 to 6 million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians as well as 58,159 American, 4,960 South Korean, 1,446 Chinese, 1,351 Thai, 520 Australian, 37 New Zealand and 16 Soviet soldiers.

It is a measure of our era that this landmark passed unremarked by most of the major news sites of the World Wide Web today.

There were many calls by Canadians of a certain political persuasion for our country's armed forces to take part in that pointless and tragic conflict between 1965 and 1975, when it was at its height. We can be profoundly grateful to prime ministers Lester B. Pearson and Pierre E. Trudeau that they did not heed this advice.

Above all, this lesson is clear from the Vietnam War: regardless of the international ideological construct in which such conflicts are played out and ultimately resolved, all wars are local, once started wars are difficult to end, and all insurgencies with deep roots in the local population are extremely difficult, usually impossible, to extinguish.

That other countries should absorb such a lesson in another time in no way diminishes the courage or sacrifice of their servicemen and women caught in such a conflict. Indeed, it raises them up!

As the greatest American president said of a battle in another tragic war that took place on the hallowed ground at Gettysburg, Pa., "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

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