Home Opinion Our Police Officers' Vietnam War is Underway

Our Police Officers' Vietnam War is Underway


Korea: The Forgotten War

One of the unfortunate outcomes of World War II was the arbitrary division of the Korean Peninsula into north and south. This division was essentially a 'spoils of war' compromise and was put in place without the consultation or consent of the Korean people. We still suffer from this exercise of bad politics to this day. North and South Korea remain technically in a state of war over the issue of reunification.

The effort to forcibly reunify the peninsula began in 1950, when Chinese troops supporting North Korea, with the backing of the Soviet Union, stormed over the border into South Korea in overwhelming numbers. South Korea, backed by the United Nations and with an army provided primarily by the United States, fought the invasion to a standstill after three VERY bloody years that claimed as many as 1.2 million lives from the various factions.

So what do you know about the Korean War? The answer is probably not much. The missing component that would enable us to know more about what happened and how to learn the lessons from the war: media.

The Korean War was the last conflict to be fought without the continuous availability of broadcast video. So we DON'T know what happened. We don't know about the Ganghwa Massacre, the Namyangju Massacre, or the Sinchon Massacre.

Why? Because there were no cameras. And when there are no cameras, bad things can happen. Very bad things.

The Villages of Vietnam

Fast-forward a few years to the Vietnam War. Evolving and escalating over time from 1955 to 1975, the war was an initiative to prevent the spread of communism into Southeast Asia. It was a war like all wars: full of wins, losses, advances, retreats--and atrocities.

Ever heard of the My Lai Massacre? Chances are you have. The reason? There were cameras.

The Vietnam War was the first war broadcast to televisions across America in near real-time. Because of these cameras, war criminals were prosecuted, public outcry rose against the war--which arguably shortened it--and tragically, honorable men and women that served in our armed forces were labeled 'baby killers' when they returned, which placed a disastrous pall over military service that lasted a generation.

But finally, we began to understand war for what it truly is--the lowest and most tragic display of our human condition.

The Streets of Chicago, Charlotte, Tulsa, (pick your city)

Our police are now ensconced in their own Vietnam. If there was the occasional camera or video recorder around in Vietnam, there are now countless body cameras, iPhones, dashboard cams, and even helicopters with instant-feed video buzzing around at any given moment, providing real-time visual access to the public for every action that you take. It's a whole new world out there.

So I plead with you:

  • If there is a Walter Scott running from you, unarmed and of no threat, don't shoot him.
  • If there is a Laquan McDonald being a stupid teenager and wandering arrogantly down the street, don't shoot him.
  • If there is a Philando Castile sitting in his car complying with police instructions, don't shoot him.
  • If there is a Terrence Crutcher standing with his arms against the vehicle in a compliant position, don't shoot him.

Now--I grant that in some of these instances, there may have been mitigating circumstances that lead the officer to believe they were in a dangerous situation that justified the shooting, and that justification may ultimately come to light. But that's not the point.

The point is that 99.9 percent of our police officers are bona fide heroes of the highest caliber, that we trust our lives and safety to every day. That's how it should be. But when an officer is not, and acts in any sort of rogue fashion, that officer needs to understand that his/her actions will somehow appear on video. That's now inescapable.

And that rogue action, now more than ever, will likely destroy the officer's career and family, and in the most extreme cases, result in murder charges. DON'T make light of this--it could happen to you in a heartbeat.

But the most tragic thing outside of the death itself is what these shootings do to the police community. We really WANT you to be heroes. We need heroes. But how can you be our hero if you shoot an unarmed man? If you shoot an unarmed man, what have you done to the reputations of your fellow officers? Or the reputation of the honorable police calling overall? Probably more than you realize.

Protests broke out over our involvement in Vietnam that fairly or unfairly painted our military personnel in broad brush strokes as being dishonorable people in a dishonorable profession. As this is written, protests on the streets of Charlotte are doing the same thing to our honorable servants of that city and across the country.

Only YOU can stop it. People ARE innocent until proven guilty. Your job is to protect the lives and health of criminals as you do non-criminals. Everyone deserves the respect of being allowed to live unless they intend to take a life. These credos are things you know well--but somehow, perfectly understandably, they get lost in the day-to-day business of dealing with difficult people.

I end all of my classes the same way--with the statement and the well-wish to go out there and do our profession proud. That's probably never been more critical than it is right now. So be well, do well, and go out there and do our profession proud. We need you.

Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.