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Enough With Vietnam


Look, I’m fine with folks who want to make the case that Iraq is this, that or another thing. If you want to argue it’s a disaster, argue it’s a disaster. If you want to make the case it’s going swimmingly, that’s cool too.

But can we please just drop the Vietnam analogies? It was a jungle war. It was a proxy conflict in the Cold War. It was a war in a country with a wildly different culture. We had a different politics. We had a draft and draftee army. The Civil Rights movement was in full flower. The domestic Left was more powerful, more radicalized and more listened to. Al Jazeera did not exist. Our media was controlled by a monopoly symbolized by Walter Cronkite’s “the war is unwinnable” statememt. We had different weapons in Vietnam. Nor did satellite television and 24 hour cable news. Islam wasn’t an issue. We didn’t occupy the whole country. Some of these factors could easily be argued against our presence in Iraq. That’s not the point. The point is that Vietnam is different. Our experience there illuminates, at best dimly, and often not at all what is happening today. Get over it.

What also drives me nuts about the Vietnam analogies is that there are obviously better examples in one sense or another from our own military history (the Phillipines perhaps?) and certainly from the British experience (everywhere). But either because the authors of op-eds don’t want to do that sort of homework or because editors think Vietnam moves copy for the historically illiterate like stories about dogs and Britney Spears do for everone else, they don’t want to run that stuff. There is of course the larger cultural background radiation of babyboomer obsession with Vietnam as if no obsession with it is unjustified.

I don’t know where these guys from
Slate fall into that picture, they seem like smart and decent enough folks. And others can take apart what seems to me just so much statistical legerdemain. But personally, I have just stopped taking seriously any argument which hinges on Vietnam analogies.

I mean even if Iraq was like Vietnam in one sense or another, what exactly does that mean? Are the lessons from Vietnam so clear-cut that given everything else that has changed — technology, the demise of the Soviet Union, military strategy — we must still follow the liberal anti-Vietnam protestor’s advice and cut and run? There is no nostalgia more myopic and infuriating than liberal nostalgia.


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