recalls another troop surge, another Congress
Philadelphia, January 11, 2007—The president’s proposal to send more troops
to Iraq and the new Congress in Washington have combined to resurrect
memories for the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National
Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC).
The Rev. Edgar was a
brand new member of the 94th Congress in 1975 when the Ford
administration wanted to send more troops to Vietnam .
“My recollection is the administration wanted to send 20,000 more ground
troops to secure Saigon, the capitol of South Vietnam.
It was a proposal that
many members of the House of Representatives, both Republican and
Democrat, would not approve,” wrote the Rev. Edgar is today’s editions
of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. (The complete text follows
“The architects of the waning days of the
Vietnam War are the same planners that pushed our troops into the
current war in Iraq ,” wrote Edgar, referring to Donald Rumsfeld, who
was then the late President Ford’s chief of staff, and Dick Cheney,
Rumsfeld’s deputy. “Apparently history has taught them nothing.”
are hearing the same talk. We are hearing the same reasoning that more
troops will help us get out of a war thousands of miles away,” wrote the
former six-term Congressman from Pennsylvania’s heavily Republican 7th
Edgar was 31 and a United Methodist
pastor at the time he was elected along with 48 other Democrats.
They were called
“Watergate babies,” referring to the series of crimes that brought down
the Nixon presidency and propelled them into office.
“Voters then were tired of being lied to and wanted desperately to get
our troops home from the war in Southeast Asia ,” Edgar wrote in today’s
“History apparently was
not lost on the American voters last November. I suspect it will not be
lost on their representatives in the 110th Congress. I
suspect those elected by the people will not approve spending any more
tax dollars to extend another unpopular, ill planned and short sighted
Philadelphia Inquirer, January 11, 2007
teaches, but not everyone learns
By the Rev. Bob Edgar
Three decades appears
to be long enough to forget a few things, at least for President Bush
and those who've been advising him on waging war in Iraq . However, the
memory of being a freshman member of Congress standing to begin a floor
debate over sending more troops to Vietnam will be forever with me.
It was April 22, 1975. President Gerald R. Ford had proposed a way to
help us get out of Vietnam more quickly. He wanted hundreds of millions
of dollars for something called the Vietnam Humanitarian Assistance and
Evacuation Act of 1975. My recollection is that the administration
wanted to send 20,000 more ground troops to secure Saigon, the capital
of South Vietnam .
It was a proposal many members of the House of Representatives, both
Republicans and Democrats, would not approve. One of my colleagues said
he didn't "want 40,000 or 50,000 American troops going back into Vietnam
to take out 100,000, 500,000, a million South Vietnamese. That can
happen under this bill."
It was all intimidating for me, in my first elected political office, to
rise and speak on the House floor to challenge the president. But that
was what I had been elected to do, and this was a moment when it was the
constitutional duty of the legislative branch to check the executive
branch of our government.
I was 31 and in office just four months. I had just been elected the
previous November, along with 48 other new Democrats, because Americans
didn't like the status quo. They wanted a government they could trust.
They wanted government officials truly to represent them in Washington .
But the responsibility of the office, the widespread opposition to the
war, and the support of Tip O'Neill, Massachusetts Democrat and the
House majority leader, all combined to give me a voice on the House
floor that began nearly 24 hours of very spirited debate.
Occasionally, O'Neill came to the floor to whisper suggestions of
legislative maneuvers about which I had no clue. Before my election to
Congress, my main training had been as a minister, and I must admit the
image of David and Goliath did cross my mind that day.
We lost vote after vote on substitution amendments. But, at last, the
fall of Saigon made Ford's request a lost cause. Many of my colleagues
were committed to exercising the check and balance of the legislative
branch on the executive branch. We were determined not to allow any more
money to be spent on more troops for a war we were not winning.
It is somewhat ironic that, on that same day, April 22, 1975, an
official White House photograph captured the architects of the proposed
troop surge. President Ford is seated behind his desk in the Oval
Office. He is conferring with his chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, and
his deputy, Dick Cheney.
Fast-forward 32 years. We are hearing the same talk. We are hearing the
same reasoning that more troops will help us get out of a war thousands
of miles away.
We have just seen a new Congress sworn in. Many say voters spoke loudly
last November against the status quo. In 1975, the 49 of us were called
"Watergate babies," referring to the crimes that brought down the Nixon
administration. Voters then were tired of being lied to, and wanted
desperately to get our troops home from the war in Southeast Asia .
The architects of the waning days of the Vietnam War are many of the
same planners who pushed our troops into the current war in Iraq .
Apparently history has taught them nothing.
History, however, apparently was not lost on the American voters last
November. I suspect it will likely not be lost on their representatives
in the 110th Congress. I suspect those elected by the people will not
approve spending any more tax dollars to extend another unpopular,
ill-planned and shortsighted war.
The Rev. Bob Edgar
is the general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ
in the USA and author of "Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of
the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right."