FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from







Spinning The Vietnam War:
What Goes Around Comes Around

by Harold Williamson
September 25, 2004

Send this page to a friend! (click here)


In her Sept. 19 column in the Financial Times, "A new spin on Vietnam," conservative columnist Amity Shlaes observes that the idea is gradually taking hold with many Americans that the U.S. should bring democracy to "troubled places," and that a "moral campaign" (meaning "war") can be a "noble cause."  She notes that,  "The clearest signs that attitudes are changing are coming out  in the presidential campaign.  Everyone expected that the experience of Vietnam would influence the discussion of Iraq policy.  Instead it is turning out to be the other way around."

It seems that the failed policies of the Vietnam War era are being perceived in a different light following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the success of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, and the restoration of democracy in Yugoslavia with the demise of Slobodan Milosevic.  Now the thinking is that perhaps the "fight for freedom" was a worthy cause after all, especially if the U.S. can win.  And the historical fictions that were widely perpetrated by the corporate media during the recent lionization of Ronald Reagan served to spur this "patriotic" fervor in the minds of a new generation of young Americans who weren't yet born when Saigon fell.    

Shlaes correctly observes that wartime yields a new culture and a new set of values.  That is how "civilized" Americans can consider preemptive and indiscriminate murder to be a "moral campaign."  Americans certainly do not consider these very same values inherent in the terrorism of al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups to be moral.  It depends entirely on one's perspective, and the truth is that nobody can claim the moral high ground.

Noam Chomsky's principle of  universality -- to apply to yourself the same standards that you apply to others, if not more stringent ones -- was evoked this past week by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.  Quoted in the Washington Post, Annan said, "Every nation that proclaims a rule of law at home must respect it abroad. And every nation that insists on it abroad, must enforce it at home."  Without mentioning any nation by name, although we know who he was talking about, he said, "Those who seek to restore legitimacy must themselves embody it. And those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it."  Also, in an earlier interview with the BBC, Annan declared that the US-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened the UN charter.

This is reminiscent of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's admonition in his 1961 farewell address: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.  The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."  And Ike may very well have been the last American president to practice what he preached.  His son John put it this way: ". . .Ike's rejection of force as an instrument of national policy applied to everyone - to America, to America's friends, as well as to America's potential enemies."

The principle of universality is a concise form of the general principle of the ethic of reciprocity, or the "Golden Rule," that is found in nearly every religion.  So if you have a Christian friend who feels that killing someone can be justified, remind your friend to think about the following biblical passage: "In everything, do unto others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

Mohandas Gandhi freed the entire subcontinent of India from colonial repression without firing a shot. He was prepared to die for his cause, yet there was no cause for which he would kill.  Gandhi stated, "Victory attained by violence is tantamount to defeat, for it is momentary."  Unfortunately, for every Gandhi there are hundreds of political opportunists who mask their ambitions with populist rhetoric in order to incite the masses to war.  Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."  He observed that if  Christians had practiced what they preached, all of India would have been Christian as a result.

We do not know within millions how many people the U.S. military killed in Southeast Asia, and because of the widespread use of the highly toxic defoliant Agent Orange, 150,000 Vietnamese children have been born with horrible birth defects.  We do not know within tens of thousands how many Iraqis have been slaughtered, but we do know that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children died of disease and malnutrition as a result of U.S./U.N. sanctions.

With the passage of time, their culture has made it possible for the Vietnamese to forgive Americans for their foolishness.  But because of their vengeful tribal customs, that will not be the case for Iraqis.  To this day, the Crusades -- the military campaigns of European Christians against Muslims in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries -- have never been forgotten.

America's democracy is being eroded by its own misguided evangelical foreign policy.  And if we continue along this course in our nuclear age, there won't be anyone left to forgive us --  including ourselves.

Harold Williamson is a Chicago-based independent scholar. He can be reached at:  Copyright 2004, Harold Williamson

Other Articles by Harold Williamson

* None Dare Call It Murder
* It Isn't God Who is Crazy
* Don't Trust Anybody Over Thirty
* Faith in the Postmodern World
* Remember Who The Enemy Is
* Obscenity, A Sign of the Times and the Post
* Thinking Anew: A Do-It-Yourself Project
* America's Blind Faith in Government
* Think Tanks and the Brainwashing of America
* Bully for the Bush Doctrine: A Natural History Perspective