Sometimes, it simply isn't Vietnam
By Jonah Goldberg
This Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. For a child born today, that war is as ancient as World War II was for someone born in 1975. But for some, Vietnam is still current events, not history.
The cliché is that generals like to fight the last war. The phrase is usually invoked to suggest (often inaccurately) that military types are behind the times. But in America, even if generals were fighting the last war, that would still put them several wars ahead of much of the mainstream media, academia and Hollywood.
The gravitational pull of Vietnam analogies is so powerful in some quarters that it can bend not only light but logic. At The New York Times, especially, there seems to be a hair trigger for such comparisons. It's as if their computers have macros designed to bypass the laborious and go straight to the lugubrious; so that R.W. "Johnny" Apple & Co. needn't even type words such as "quagmire" or phrases such as "echoes of Vietnam" when deadlines loom.
Regardless, Vietnam is part of our cultural DNA now, and it will probably never be fully erased anymore than the Civil War or WWII will be. Right or wrong, silly or legitimate, that's the reality. And that's fine. If people want to argue about the Tet Offensive forever, so be it. But it is history.
But it's not particularly useful history. Ask military experts about the similarities between Vietnam and Iraq (or Afghanistan), and their eyes roll. Vietnam was a state-to-state war and had vastly more support from its Communist benefactors than Iraqi "insurgents" could ever receive from Syria and Iran. Indeed, in Vietnam, the insurgency phase of the war was largely over by 1965.
Comparison doesn't add up
In Iraq, meanwhile, it's nothing but insurgency now. But, unlike the Viet Cong, Iraq's insurgency is ideologically diverse. Some are terrorists seeking to impose a pan-Arab theocracy, some are looking to restore the secular bacchanalia of fear they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein, and others are just gangsters. Vietnam was a jungle war that started against the French in the 1950s. Iraq was a desert war that permanently toppled Saddam's regime in a month. The technologies in play are incomparable. The terrain, the political will and ideologies behind the efforts, the cultures — almost every single point of comparison doesn't add up — save the common bravery of America's military. Perhaps most important: Casualty rates are vastly different.
Now, none of this is to say that the Iraq war was right (though I believe it was). The point is that a war can be completely different from Vietnam in almost every major respect and still be wrong — and hard. We've come to think that any military blunder or challenge must be akin to Vietnam (in much the same way some people think that if a law is bad, it must be unconstitutional). The war on terror and the Cold War are profoundly different enterprises, so it should only follow that the conflicts they generate would be different, too.
Of course, there are some similarities between Iraq and Vietnam — including the press' attitude toward both. But such similarities are inherent to all wars and national struggles in a republic such as ours. The Spanish-American War, for instance, would probably be a far more fruitful point of comparison for critics of the Bush administration, but that would require they read up on it first.
Greg Mitchell of E&P refutes this nonsense, but doesn't go far enough for my tastes.
May 01, 2005) -- The flood of stories in the press marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon is near its end (the anniversary having passed on Saturday). There have been articles lamenting that we ever set foot in Indochina, others claiming that we could and should have won the war, and every view in between.
Then there’s Jonah Goldberg’s Op-Ed in USA Today. He used the occasion not to try to come to grips with that war but denounce those -- mainly, he said, “liberal baby boomers” -- who on a “near-daily” basis link Iraq to Vietnam. He said they are simply filled with "nostalgia" for their glory days of antiwar hedonism.
Attempting to bolster this argument, Goldberg charged the boomers aren’t even in touch with the facts: namely, the Vietnam war wasn’t among the most unpopular in our history. His one piece of evidence: someone named Sol Tax of the University of Chicago who apparently claimed, in a 1968 study, that Vietnam ranked as only "the fourth or seventh least-popular war in American history.”
Goldberg is right.
Iraq is nothing like Vietnam.
The Iraqis are better armed than the Vietnamese were. Every Iraqi platoon goes into combat with automatic rifles and rpg's. They have military training. They control the highways, the have negated the use of airmobile tactics and kept US forces penned up in their bases. Americans can't even go out for a beer and a hooker.
Oh, if Iraq was like Vietnam, the US would have a professional Army to fight besides and control of the cities. Helicopters could be used freely and US units could be stationed all over the countryside. And there would be real Iraqi leadership. No, Vietnam would be a step up. Because we would control the highway to the airport.
But as to the rest of it, mistreating veterans, combat refusals, corruption, well it's 1970 all over again.
posted by Steve @ 10:09:00 AM