I am a candidate for Congress from Utah’s 3rd Congressional District. My political philosophy and opinions on the war in Ukraine are heavily influenced by my experience in the Vietnam War where I served two combat tours as an airborne forward air controller (FAC), doing what the drones do today from light aircraft over the battlefield.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has grossly overestimated the capabilities of his armed forces to subjugate Ukraine and grossly underestimated the willingness of the people of Ukraine to fight for their national existence. He has the ability to devastate the country and potentially kill millions and send millions more into exile, but any extended occupation will physically devastate Ukraine, economically devastate Russia and cause economic and social upheaval in Europe.
The analogies from my Vietnam experience are three-fold.
In February and March of 1971, I was part of a contingent of around 30 to 40 FACs supporting the Vietnamese invasion of Laos. The goal was to interdict the Ho Chi Mihn Trail and stop supplies from reaching the south. Over a period of six weeks the Vietnamese Army, with the air support of nearly all tactical air assets in Southeast Asia, attempted that task. They were opposed by North Vietnamese regular army units. In the face of overwhelming fire support, the North Vietnamese repelled the invasion at terrible cost, over 10,000 killed and wounded.
Why were they successful? Better motivation. While from a U.S. standpoint the issue was defeating communism, from their viewpoint it was national identity. This is why our efforts in the Vietnamese War came to naught. This is the advantage the people of Ukraine have in their war against Russia.
In 1973 I served my second tour, flying close air support missions in support of Cambodian Army forces resisting the Khmer Rouge. We were holding back this genocidal organization by supporting the Cambodian Army with airpower. In August 1973 a congressionally ordered bombing halt took effect. As I was departing Cambodian airspace (the second-to-last combat aircraft out of Cambodia) I looked down on the countryside with ambivalence.
I knew that over in Vietnam the war would be lost and I thought that average Cambodians, in their villages, would not be effected by the government in Phnom Penh. As a line pilot, I had no knowledge of the character of the Khmer Rouge and my analysis was completely wrong. Two million dead Cambodians later we saw the ultimate result.
While the bombing halt decision was way above my O-3 pay grade and was very popular in the U.S. at the time, had any of my squadron mates had a crystal ball to look into the future, I am sure that we would have volunteered to press on with the war, even though it was our unit that was primarily taking the U.S. losses.
This gets us to the third factor, U.S. support for war. Vietnam is now considered an unpopular war. It certainly was during its last years, but it did not start that way. It became unpopular when our losses became too high to ignore. Getting the American public on board for any war decision is critically important to its continuing success.
I believe that as a country, if we can take measures that can prevent the human devastation in Ukraine, we must do so. The war in Ukraine will not end until Putin is overthrown or Russian military forces are pushed out of Ukraine. This cannot be just an executive decision. It must be an all of American society decision. We must tell our representatives that this is a decision we support and require them to take action.
Congress should immediately enact an Authorization for Use of Military Force limited in action, space and time. This AUMF should authorize air support to destroy Russian aircraft over Ukraine, air defenses reaching into Ukraine from surrounding countries and surface-launched missiles and artillery targeting civilians. I suggest a time limit of one year, which could be extended by act of Congress.
The dangers of this type of escalation are significant. It will not be loss free and could lead to a wider war, but what are the consequences of inaction? Years of bloody occupation and genocide in Ukraine? A humanitarian refugee crisis in Europe for years?
If elected to Congress, I will vote for such action, but we cannot wait that long for action. The entire Utah Congressional delegation should immediately act on this issue.
Glenn Wright, Park City, is a member of the Summit County Council and a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Utah’s 3rd District. He was a U.S. Air Force pilot from 1969 to 1975.