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August 24, 2005

Iraq Is Not Vietnam

-- by Dave Johnson

MyDD :: A Plea To Older Activists: Stop The Vietnam Comparisons.

I agree. There are more differences than similarities. It's always a mistake to "fight the last war" and that includes looking for ways to end this one -- and things that might happen following the "end" of this one. Don't look at Iraq through a Vietnam filter.

Posted by Dave Johnson at August 24, 2005 1:39 PM

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It's always a mistake to "fight the last war" and that includes looking for ways to end this one -- and things that might happen following the "end" of this one.

I can't understand this. I have no idea what you are trying to say.

Around 1967, some people were calling for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. But because they were ignored, the US stayed there, losing twice as many US troops, killing many millions more southeast asians, spreading the war to neighboring countries, and setting the stage for significantly worse post-war regional bloodbaths.

From the start of the current war sensible people have been insisting that the US withdraw immediately. All evidence indicates that failure to withdraw will produce only more death, possibly spreading on a regional basis (and beyond, given the dynamics of modern terrorist warfare) with no possible positive outcome.

What the fuck is wrong with THAT comparison, Dave?

Posted by: richard [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2005 2:27 PM

I'm with Richard.

Iraq has many strong parallels to Vietnam..especially in the lack of support and homeland sacrifice. These are key elements and absolutely apt comparisons.

Posted by: carla [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2005 2:34 PM

One problem with Viet Nam analogies is that far too many people know nothing about Viet Nam; the analogies aren't effective if the audience doesn't know the original.

But the biggest problem is that the truth of the Viet Nam War has been replaced by legends and myths. The Viet Nam Dolchstoss

America was robbed of victory by the bleeding hearts and artists. John Kerry was disloyal and wrong. War protesters led directly to the torture and death of Americans. Victory was at hand, but the politicians wouldn't let the generals win. Anti-war protestors demonized and spit on soldiers.

The lesson learned from Viet Nam by most Americans? More war is always good, generals are always right. Anyone who says otherwise is a coward and a traitor.

From day one I have had a bad reaction to the hoary old war protesters and all the baggage they bring with them. After the first worldwide demonstrations, I have avoided such things because I think they are useless, at best, and counterproductive, at worst.

Our emphasis should be focused on this war, this president and the truth. That's enough, isn't it?

Posted by: James E. Powell [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2005 4:10 PM

Let me get this right -- because the people who have been on the wrong side of every crucial matter of life and death (and pretty much everything else, but we'll leave that aside) are superb character assassins, we have to find some tortured, triangulated middle ground between those right-wing monsters and the people who've always been right. A position that cowardly deserves to lose.

Posted by: richard [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2005 4:32 PM

Dave is sort of more or less correct about this. There are similarities between this war and the Iraq war, but there are also key differences. For one thing, for most of the time we were in Vietnam this was an undeclared war, supposedly a "police action." In a very real sense, because of this we weren't allowed to win it. Winning would have meant invading N. Vietnam and kicking the shit out of them, which could have well started WW III.

However false the reasons for doing so, nobody was pretending that the Iraq war wasn't a genuine war. In that sense, we did "win" the war. We kicked the shit out of Iraq, captured the country, dissolved the Iraqi army, eventually captured the leader. What we are NOT winning is the rebellion against our being there, and the pending civil war between Iranian factions. So why are we still there? Probably to try to prevent that civil war, and it may not matter whether we stay there for many more years if the Iraqis are determined to slug it out with each other.

Posted by: MJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2005 5:43 PM

It seems to me that there are 2 issues here: is the comparison to Vietnam politically useful? Is the comparison to Vietnam apt from a historical standpoint?

I can't speak to it's political utility, but read McNamara's 12 Lessons on Vietnam and tell me these 2 wars are more differnet than similar.

Then go read former State Dep't East Asia Specialist James Thomson's "How Could Vietnam Happen?" written in 1968:


Rumsfeld and his tranformation clique: It should be added that the increased commitment to Vietnam was also fueled by a new breed of military strategists and academic social scientists... who had developed theories of counterguerrilla warfare and were eager to see them put to the test.

Colin Powell and his UN speech: Another factor must be noted: as the Vietnam controversy escalated at home, there developed a preoccupation with Vietnam public relations as opposed to Vietnam policy-making. And here, ironically, internal doubters and dissenters were heavily employed. For such men, by virtue of their own doubts, were often deemed best able to "massage" the doubting intelligentsia...

Is Iraq a War on Terror? A War for Democracy? Are we fighting Al Qaeda, Iranian Terror Masters, or Iraqis motivated primarily by our occupation? Even among the "architects" of our Vietnam commitment, there has been persistent confusion as to what type of war we were fighting and, as a direct consequence, confusion as to how to end that war. (The "credibility gap" is, in part, a reflection of such internal confusion.) Was it, for instance, a civil war, in which case counterinsurgency might suffice? Or was it a war of international aggression?... Who was the aggressor -- and the "real enemy"? The Viet Cong? Hanoi? Peking? Moscow?

...There is a final result of Vietnam policy I would cite that holds potential danger for the future of American foreign policy: the rise of a new breed of American ideologues who see Vietnam as the ultimate test of their doctrine. I have in mind those men in Washington who have given a new life to the missionary impulse in American foreign relations: who believe that this nation, in this era, has received a threefold endowment that can transform the world. As they see it, that endowment is composed of, first, our unsurpassed military might; second, our clear technological supremacy; and third, our allegedly invincible benevolence (our "altruism," our affluence, our lack of territorial aspirations). Together, it is argued, this threefold endowment provides us with the opportunity and the obligation to ease the nations of the earth toward modernization and stability: toward a fullfledged Pax Americana Technocratica.... Once we have succeeded there, the road ahead is clear. In a sense, these men are our counterpart to the visionaries of Communism's radical left: they are technocracy's own Maoists. They do not govern Washington today. But their doctrine rides high.

Posted by: strangelove [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2005 9:46 PM

It feels like the movie Ground Hog Day!

Posted by: phastphil [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2005 6:48 AM

Richard,

I don't think that avoiding Viet Nam analogies requires finding some tortured, triangulated middle ground. I think this war has its own facts and the arguments against can be grounded in those facts.

The Viet Nam War analogies ARE apt for purposes of analysis, to gain an understanding of how such a thing could happen, but that is because most every modern war shares features with other wars.

On the other hand, the political rhetoric of the Viet Nam war is not useful to opposition to this war.

Posted by: James E. Powell [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2005 7:34 AM

On the other hand, the political rhetoric of the Viet Nam war is not useful to opposition to this war.

"Out now! Out now! Out now!"

"Hey, hey, Gee Doubya Bee, how many kids did you kill today?"

With the sole exception that there is no way to refer to Bush that scans and rhymes properly, I don't see it. Applies PEFECTLY!

Posted by: richard [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2005 11:00 AM

Comparisons with Vietnam had the highest value before the invasion -- and if heeded would have stopped this country from starting the war. They are also very valuable to point out that the war is lost. What they aren't good for is pointing out how to get out.

Posted by: Marie [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2005 11:47 AM

I would agree with you except that so many parallels keep coming up even when we're not looking for them. Just as I was reading about how we shouldn't keep bringing up Vietnam, the American Legion denounced people opposing the Iraq War as traitors or whatever. Well, that was certainly deja vu all over again!

Folks, I'll be 57 in a week. I was in college and the military during Vietnam, so I followed it pretty goddamned closely. My lottery number was 82, which meant that I would have been drafted very quickly had I not already been in ROTC and went into the Air Force anyway.

Vietnam taught me to be very skeptical about war and what the government says about war. Obviously, not every situation can be compared. The Gulf War, for example, bore no relationship to Vietnam. But I'm here to tell you the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam are there.

Various people have called Iraq "Vietnam on crack" or "Vietnam on steriods," but none other than Daniel Ellsberg said it best. I think we can all agree he knows a thing or three about Vietnam. He said people are always asking him, isn't Iraq different from Vietnam? His answer? Yes, it's very different: In Iraq, they don't speak Vietnamese and the weather is much less humid.

You call a spade a spade. And while obviously Vietnam and Iraq aren't identical situations, there's plenty about the two to compare.

However, I have to say I think this war is even more fucked up than Vietnam was. I could argue that Vietnam was a mistake brought on by stupidity and arrogance. The Iraq War was brought on by lies pure and simple.

In Vietnam, some people actually believed in the domino theory, as wrongheaded as that was. In Iraq, we now know that the entire war was built on lies and deception.

So, yes, let's don't drive over the cliff in our comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. But, they're still there nonetheless, and it is instructive to learn that the people of my generation now running the government learned nothing from Vietnam. Maybe that was because they had "other priorities" and the Vietnam War wasn't important to them. After all, defending the Texas coast as a jet pilot was so mentally exhausting.

Posted by: Phil from New York [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2005 3:42 PM

Phil,

I think the parallels between Viet Nam and Iraq are closer than mere analogies. It is the exact same behavior by the exact same institutions, and some of the same people. Iraq, too, is a bright, shining lie: attacking Iraq as a response to 9/11, Al Qaeda and anti-American Islamic fundamentalists.

What is more, this Iraq war, like the Viet Nam War, is primarily a function of domestic politics; warring factions within the American ruling class are using it to acquire and consolidate power, to get paid handsomely and to attack their political opponents.

But that doesn't mean that talking about Viet Nam, or drawing those comparisons is useful politically. To the extent that the Viet Nam analogies are useful, they have already persuaded those who can be persuaded by them. For most of us, this persuasion happened before the congress voted on the war resolution.

But for the rest of Americans who might be persuaded toward the truth about the Iraq War, comparisons with Viet Nam, especially when made by persons associated with opposition to the Viet Nam War (e.g., Kerry, Ellsberg & Fonda, protestors who chant their criticisms in rhymes, folk musicians, etc.), alienating an audience that would be more receptive to a straightforward look at the facts of this war.

For most Americans, Viet Nam has passed into legend, and that legend does not show the anti-war movement or its proponents in a good light. They are regarded as disloyal and have been branded, by many, as the cause for America's humiliation.

Near the beginning of this Iraq war, I read a poll of Americans concerning Viet Nam. The demo under 40 was revealing. About half knew that the US backed South Viet Nam, about a quarter thought our ally was North Viet Nam, another quarter didn't know one way or the other. Nevertheless, just over 70% believed that the US was justified in prosecuting the war.

If people don't know the truth about the source of the analogy, what good is the analogy? It's not like Americans who haven't already done so are going to read any books about it. They learned all they need to know from Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris movies. Their teachers are not the people who were involved in that war, but people who have been working very hard to rehabilitate that war in American minds. Their work has paid off. If it hadn't, there is no way that Bush could have sold the lies he sold.

Note for the hell of it: I am 50, just young enough to have had no exposure to the draft. But I was alive and paying attention, especially when my older brother was drafted.

Posted by: James E. Powell [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2005 4:50 PM

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