We Can Win the War in Vietnam
And Other Chestnuts From a Not-So-Bygone Era
by Daniel Patrick Welch
I love the smell of quagmire in the morning. My, but it takes you back, doesn't it? The only thing left to say is that there is "light at the end of the tunnel." But everything else has already begun to play itself out. We have even seen the resurrection of that Orwellian mantra "winning the peace." If I had been just a few years older in the Vietnam era, the deja-vu might kill me.
As it is, I have to rely on crazy resources, like history, to feel the eerie similarities coming into focus. No real sense carpet-bombing the desert, so that's out-no trees to hide in. Napalm made a surprising rebound, though. They lied about it for months (gasp!) of course, but its comeback was all but assured given the recycled cast of characters. I'm beginning to think the only reason we haven't heard more about "Iraqization (Iraqicization… Iraqation…?) is that it's so much harder to spell than Vietnamizatioon. The hubris of the Best and the Brightest is back with a vengeance, though-recast as The Most Dangerous Men on Earth.
Of course we can win the war in [enter name of hopeless imperial adventure in which the U.S. is currently involved here]. These colors don't run! I wonder if remorse is even a quality even remotely familiar to these Men of War. Having whipped up a war fever among the gullible with a pack of lies wrapped in jingoistic slogans, they are sending other people's children to die in yet another far-off place. Do they care? Has the ice in their veins warmed at all since the days of Civil War impressments, the hireling campaigns of the British Empire, the thousands of boys sacrificed at Gallipoli on the altar of nation building? Ahhh, that's how you work your way up from the stockroom…if your boys get wiped out in a war, now that's how you become a coountry!
Obviously, the relation of rulers to fighters is one thing that hasn't changed since Vietnam, nor for ages before. One of the most troubling aspects of the draft, after deferments and exemptions and the like, was the age. A huge outcry arose over the unseemly fact that young adults qualified to fight and die for the goals of their government were not, alas, eligible to vote to shape those goals. Today still, the number of offspring of members of Congress in the military barely registers. Yet almost 40,000 of America's frontline soldiers are not eligible for citizenship (and thus voting)-what British MP George Galloway has called America's "Green Card Army."
Back then, this outrage sparked a constitutional amendment to insure that never again would America's youth be sent off to die without having a say in the matter. But of course, the ruling elites have ways of dealing with such insolence, and devised an even more ingenious end run: pick from those who can't vote in any event. Great show, guv'nors! The thing about The People having a say was even easier to dispense with. A spineless Congress having been hoodwinked and bullied into ceding its constitutional power, the people were easy dominoes. Actually, the people put up more of a fight than the "opposition," but in the end the Big Lie held sway enough to drown out the voices of reason.
The neocons and their Fellow Travelers will screech about how this or that is completely different. Well, duh! The only true analogies are in math: 2 is to 4 as 3 is to 6, and so on. Every historical period has its social and cultural characteristics. Nobody expects today's Antichrist to be a short, goofy looking character who is adopted by big business because they think they can play him for the buffoon he is…oh, wait a minute. The one thing that is different is the speed and intensity with which the ill-fated project in question seems to be imploding. Unless we start with Reagan's Morning in America, this sunset appears to have come awful quick compared to Vietnam.
True to form, then as now, the Cold War [or enter current global nemesis-of-the-month here] knows no party loyalty. But this, sadly, is indeed a bit different. When things started going this badly in Vietnam, there was a sizeable antiwar bloc within the party claiming to be the Tribune of the People. Now, of course, as we know all too well, the "opposition" which cut its teeth on caving with the 2000 election apparently liked the flavor. Having voted for the war (or having even if was a bad idea, or that it was insufficiently macho, or that the planets weren't aligned quite right, or whatever), it has decided that the real problem is one of management. A well-managed occupation might succeed just fine: more troops, more electricity…better sloogans? Most Democrats, all too like their truly frightening counterparts, are all for continuing the occupation, bless their incorrigible little imperialist hearts.
You see, the right wing has always blamed Democrats for being spineless. Their version of the Vietnam syndrome was akin to a geopolitical Rorschach test: no matter what the little blob looked like, Democrats always saw Vietnam. In their smug, arrogant way, the right has lobbied for another Vietnam since April 1975, and tried to bully the opposition with silly analogies like this one. Little did they know that they simply chose the wrong psychiatrist.
The real bogeyman here is the fictional Dr. Zilkov, the Russian scientist who programmed the killing machine in the classic Manchurian Candidate. Angela Landsbury, in one of her greatest roles, acts as the Russian agent who controls Laurence Harvey's character. Coaxed to "pass the time by playing a little solitaire," the brainwashed Sgt. Raymond Shaw dutifully turns cards until the Queen of Hearts turns up. Once this trigger is revealed, he is doomed to follow the murderous plan of his trainers, in a trance, through to its bloody end.
The Democrats don't seem to realize that the Queen of Hearts has already been turned, and by staying in Iraq we only prolong the time until we are driven out, the treasury looted in the process. The only "obligation" the US can be serious about is to undo the war crimes committed in the name of our people by the Dark Knights in Washington. Arresting them and turning them over to the International Criminal Court would be a start-except that we don't belong to it. The right wing is obviously off its rocker-no sense wasting ink there. The rest of us should be careful not to be deceived into thinking that the Iraqis need us, except to pay damages for ruining their country. Think about it, does the oldest city on earth really need Paul Bremer's "expertise" to get back on its feet? The UN, having allowed itself to be used as an arm of US policy, is unfortunately equally tarnished. Iraqis hate the UN as much as they do the US, in part for their failure to stop the invasion, in part for their obsequious role in the murderous decade-long sanctions regime that throttled the country.
The Republicans, having destroyed an entire country-not including the US (and cutting them some slack here if we concede that Afghanistan was already mostly rubble), are lost. Ironically, they not only seem doomed to see the US commit the same mistakes as in Vietnam, but to play out the rest of the deck by blaming the same people. They have even begun griping about the press-the press (!) who so dutifully jumpstarted their little exercise in imperial lunacy to begin with, is now somehow hindering the flowering of their neocon fantasies. Denial, it seems, another stubborn hallmark of the Vietnam quagmire, has also come back for a second run.
Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School. He has appeared on radio [interview available here]. Past articles and translations are available at www.danielpwelch.com. © 2003 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted.