Iraq Vs. Vietnam

As most of you have probably noticed, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the Vietnam and Iraq “wars.” I’ve increasingly noticed this as I’m taking a history class on “Modern American Politics and Diplomacy” and we’re currently discussing Vietnam.I thought I’d just open this topic up for debate, as it has many implications. Specifically one passage from my text that I really felt could be applied to the Iraq conflict is that, “Distrust of the government rose sharply in 1967, as observers noted a yawning ‘credibility gap’ between the optimism of the president and his advisers and the continuing violence shown on TV every evening” — just take out the part up to and including “1967.” This reminded me all too much of Bush and how he, and Cheeney, have been talking at the debates.

The other passage: “Although no agreement existed about what to do next, the consensus on American foreign policy had shattered. A significant number of people began to question its very basis. Did the principle of containment mean that the United States should take part in any Third World conflict in which one side identified with socialism or communism? Were the communists in places like Vietnam any worse than the regimes that the United States chose to support? Would a triumph by such communists truly weaken the U.S. position with respect to its principal Cold War opponent, the Soviet Union? Did it make sense, in any event, for the United States to fight a war with little chance of victory?” Just substitute “terrorism” for “communism” or “socialism” and “war on terror” for “containment.” (All Bush needs to do is think of a professional sounding term like “containment” instead of “war on terror.”) Anyway, it’s just something that really struck me. Thoughts, comments?

7 Responses to “Iraq Vs. Vietnam”

I’ve heard this comparison a few times before, and I think it’s pretty strikingly apt, but not because the situations are identical.

Rather, I think it reflects a general tendency of a democratized country, one that (I can’t believe I’m mentioning this in a pseudo-serious context, but what the heck) has been noticed by even the makers of Civilization the computer game.

Namely, democracies only support widescale miltary actions until they personally feel the consequences of them. When a war, or military action, or containment action, or whatever happy euphamism we’re using today is over swiftly and decisively, the cries of outrage in a democracy will never be heard– Democracies move to the force of trends and grassroots changes of opinion, and they move slowly.

So the US toppling 3rd world dictators (such as in Latin America) normally meets with nominal resistance in our country– it’s effectively over before the people of the democracy can react.

But any time that such an action takes a long time, the negative consequences of the action start to be felt, trends start forming, and opinion spreads via grassroots campaigns and word of mouth. And, in a slight extension of NIMBY(Not In My Back Yard) , the opinion of democratic citizens is always “not at the expense of my prosperity”. Democracy is a lot like capitalism- guided by self-interest. So the military action gradually gets a strong resistance built up against it, as citizens die for the action and the economy is stretched.

If the Iraq campaign had been swift and decisive, a small percentage of americans would have complained, but the criticisms would largely have been forgotten in a few years. But as the troubles there continue, resistance to the idea of our involvement there will only increase… As long as we’re a democracy, at least.

Did that make any sense?

Paradoxdruid - October 13th, 2004 at 3:32 pm

I agree, but I think an obvious thing that you did not mention due to its obviousness is that a conflict is “effectively over” only when _we win_ — how often is it “effectively over” and it’s the opposing team that beats the U.S.? We like to struggle long and hard to maintain our top dog status, if need be. So, that said, putting democracy aside, thus we have the clear resistance to Vietnam 30 years ago and now Iraq — We didn’t win then, and we’re not really winning now. (And one can think of many other instances… )

Teisha - October 13th, 2004 at 5:08 pm

I don’t think we can really talk in terms of “winning” or “losing” in any sort of modern conflict. We “won” WWII…but that’s becuase it ended with a decisive, huge-scale bombing of Japan (admittedly, my knowledge of history is somewhat lacking and I’m sure I’m leaving out other important factors). But even then, can you really “win” a war by loosing nuclear warfare abilities on the world?

Today, it’s even less clear. Especially when you’re dealing with a group like terrorists. They have no public leader or well-defined structure. You can’t chop off the head of the snake and watch the rest of the body die. It just sprouts more heads. (appropriate conversation for Halloween, huh? :-P) AND, you piss off everyone and their mothers, becuase in order to track down all these little snake heads, you need their help; assuming of course they aren’t in it and agree with you in the first place.

My point, (yes, I do have a point!) is that there really isn’t any such thing as a “war” anymore. We fight against *insert threat here* until said threat is no longer a threat. There are no history-making battles, no victories and no losses either.

As far as this Iraq/Terrorist thing (as well as the Vietnam War), we CAN’T win. To eliminate the terrorist threat, we’d have to wipe out half the population on the planet! But at the same time, we can’t stop trying. I certainly don’t want some pissed-off guy flying an airplane into the cash-register building in Denver (for example).

Okay, since I’m rambling a bit and should really get back to work: This “war” and any future “wars” won’t have ANY conclusion..unless someone bombs the planet. I guess that would be pretty definitive. 😛

mallorn - October 15th, 2004 at 10:58 am

Mallorn, I think you have a good point about conflicts being less clear cut then they used to be.
Also, you touch on a big point, that against terrorists, swift and overwhelming retaliation doesn’t work– they just sprout more heads. That’s why we need diplomatic solutions, too. Too bad American statesmanship seems to neglect that option these days.

I don’t, however, quite get your point that to eliminate the terrorist threat, we’d have to “wipe out half the population of the planet”… You think the Chinese are all terrorists? (they are like half the world population, aren’t they?) But seriously, what did you mean by that?

Paradoxdruid - October 15th, 2004 at 11:11 am

I think Michael Moore stated it well when he said you can’t declare war on a noun. That’s not a real _war_ in the traditional sense — for example: war on communism, war on terrorism, war on cancer, war on AIDs, war on crime, etc. No, you can’t really win a war like that. The only time a war can really be won (correct me if I’m wrong, please!) is if you actually declare it on a _defined_ country (or entity), and then, after winning, draw up some treaty or compromise that states how affairs are now different because one side _won_. We might be able to control the people of Iraq, install a puppet government, and control it from afar, and in effect technically win the war against _Iraq_, but that has little (just about nothing) to do with the “war on terrorism.”

I’m going to re-quote my quote from above because I think it states this fairly well: “Did the principle of containment mean that the United States should take part in any Third World conflict in which one side identified with socialism or communism? Were the communists in places like Vietnam any worse than the regimes that the United States chose to support? … Did it make sense, in any event, for the United States to fight a war with little chance of victory?”
There is no victory when you’re fighting against something as ambiguious and ill-defined as “communism,” or when that is your sole reason for fighting. (We “won” the Cold War because the Soviet Union fell, not because communism disappeared.) I thought we all learned that lesson, yet somehow we’re repeating it now with a “war on terroism.” There will be no end to fighting, no true victory, against an opponent that we can specifically discern.

Teisha - October 15th, 2004 at 11:21 am

PD: I’m allowed a little hyperbole, aren’t i? 😉

mallorn - October 15th, 2004 at 6:39 pm

Nope, not at all. Not one single little bit. Can’t have any of that at all…

Teisha - October 17th, 2004 at 6:07 pm

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