the lessons of vietnam?

the lessons of vietnam?

Last week, George Bush compared the consequences of an immediate withdrawal from Iraq with the results of the withdrawal of American troops from Viet Nam:

One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like boat people, re-education camps and killing fields …

The comparison prompted this reply from one of my college classmates, Rob Watson, currently Chair of the Department of English and Associate Vice-Provost for Educational Innovation at UCLA:

After years of scoffing at warnings that Iraq could turn out to be another Vietnam, the Bush administration is now trumpeting the parallels …

… of course Bush is right: this is mostly like Vietnam. But it’s Vietnam in 1967, not 1973. Again our soldiers have been sent off on a phony basis and stuck for four years in the midst of a civil war, and the enemy seems as strong as ever; yet the president says we just need to send more troops — to secure the towns, you see — and all will be well. Susceptible journalists and congressmen are sent on junkets carefully orchestrated by the military so they’ll come back and say now, at last, the counter-insurgency is really going great. The White House then trumpets the news (as they did in each previous year of the war from the beginning) that victory is just around the corner. Remember the Simon and Garfunkel “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” from 1966, with Nixon condemning the anti-war movement as “the greatest single weapon working against the U.S.”? Those Americans who argue (at great personal risk, especially if they made the mistake of being right early on) that the misguided war is bad for our country are called traitors and cowards; those who make their money and hold their offices by protracting the agony are reflexively depicted as steadfast patriots.

We’re told that if we admit our mistake and withdraw, the world-historical enemy will soon be on our shores murdering our families. We’d been told our soldiers would be greeted as liberators, but on countless streets in countless towns they find ordinary looking citizens willing to die to kill them. We’re told we have to stay because of the soldiers who have already died; therefore many more are dying.

By the start of 1967, we had fewer than ten thousand of our soldiers dead. By the time we stopped believing the annual promises that the enemy was just about to quit, and got out, another fifty thousand had died. And of course many innocent locals died for every one of those deaths. Neither the official treaty nor the practical outcome was any better than what was available had our government been willing to crawl out of the quagmire six years earlier.

May we have the good sense to do the right thing before an even greater price is paid by our sons and daughters and the sons and daughters of Iraq.

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