I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Vietnam and Iraq

Keith Olbermann made an attempt to educate George W. Bush on the real lessons of Vietnam in his "special comment". [transcript at Crooks and Liars] Of course this is a hopeless cause. Since I am 60 years old and was politically active during the late 60s and early 70s so I am familiar with the real lessons but over at KnoxViews poster Brian A says the following:
I'm post-Vietnam War. For some of you older folks who remember that era, I'm curious to what extent, if any, you see similarities between that period and this. Not necessarily similarities in the fighting of the war, but in how the government sells the war to the public.

Do valid comparisons exist? Or is our view of the current affair being unfairly skewed by the specters of Vietnam?
I would have responded but commenter R. Neal did an excellent job of beating me to it.
In both cases, the first step was to demonize the enemy and gin up a threat that didn't really exist. WMD, 911, Saddam, etc. Gulf of Tonkin, communist aggression, domino theory, etc.

In both cases, the US government propped up corrupt governments. In Iraq, we propped up a corrupt government as a "stabilizing" force in the region and to keep Iran (and Syria?) in check. In Vietnam we propped up the corrupt South Vietnamese government to keep the communist revolution in check. The difference is that in Iraq we did this before the war and then decided the corrupt government was our enemy. In Vietnam we tried to establish and keep a corrupt government in power so we could have a military presence in Southeast Asia to keep communists in check.
Now he notes some differences.
The media was more independent then. Vietnam was the first "televised war". There were daily reports and combat footage from the battle front. These reporters weren't like the "embeds" of today and the Pentagon didn't control their message so much. "Body counts" were the order of the day, and started to wear down American support for the war. The wartime politics of the U.S. and South Vietnam were also under the microscope of reporters who dug for the truth and didn't just transcribe the White House party line. The government had a much harder time controlling the message then.

It's hard to separate the fighting of the war from how all of this played out in public opinion. There were two established countries and their ideological allies on either side (US with the South and Soviet Russia and Communist China with the North) at war. There were conventional battles and military operations. The enemy (at least the NVA regulars) mostly wore a uniform and had a command structure. The Viet Cong guerillas operating in South Vietnam were harder to identify (and put the US forces in too many tough situations with regard to civilian casualties), but they still had a command structure and were fighting for a country with a government. In a sense it was a civil war, but the North and South Vietnamese chose up sides, flew a flag, and fought a mostly conventional war. And we knew who we were trying to defeat -- Ho Chi Min and North Vietnam.

I'm not sure America understands who the "enemy" is we are fighting in Iraq, and there is no government there any more. Who will we work out the terms of surrender with when we win? Who is in command of the enemy forces that will surrender their troops and weapons to us and stop the fighting?
The Charlie Rangel factor.
Then there's the huge fundamental difference, which was the draft. This mobilized an entire generation and prompted organized student activism and protest across America that got huge media coverage and started America thinking and questioning. Then Kent State galvanized American opinion against a corrupt administration and their war. Then came the Pentagon Papers. That's when America realized they were being lied to and manipulated and started saying this is enough.

This, by the way, is what Charlie Rangel is trying to say regarding the draft.
Up to this point there has been nothing to galvanize public opinion against the debacle in Iraq. The result:
America is losing confidence in this war and our goals. But at the same time Americans don't really seem to care so much. We watch the President joke about there being no WMDs, and we forget the Gulf of Tonkin. We watch the President restrict protesters to "free speech zones" and don't remember the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago or Kent State. And how sad is it that those students at Kent State gave their lives for their (and our) First Amendment rights and now we allow ourselves to be herded like sheep into those "free speech zones"? We see the photos from Abu Ghraib and hear about the American soldiers on trial for murdering Iraqi civilians but don't remember My Lai and CIA assassinations of government officials in Vietnam. A few of us might have heard about the Downing Street Memos, but we don't remember the Pentagon Papers. Except for the families directly affected, America doesn't even seem too concerned about the causalities. Some even say outrageous thinks like "it's only 3000" or "more people get murdered in the District of Columbia" or "they are volunteers and they knew what they were signing up for." Which is of course disgraceful. Regardless, the media has not done its job in the Iraq conflict, or people would be aware of all this and see the parallels.
That is one lesson the Bush/Cheney cabal learned from the Vietnam experience, don't make the American people sacrifice, or only a few of them. No draft - tax cuts not increases; we are at war but "stay the course" at home.

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