Tuesday, January 18, 2005

All I Needed To Know I Learned in Vietnam

Michael Cove in a London TimesOnline piece observes: (hat tip: Instapundit)

SCIENTISTS HAVE a phrase for the point at which the known universe ends, and a black hole begins. They call it the event horizon. In recent months it has become clear that a similar phenomenon is at work in media coverage of foreign affairs.
There is a particular point at which knowledge appears to end and a huge black hole begins. It seems to occur somewhere in the 1960s. The specific event beyond which most commentators now find it difficult to see is the Vietnam War.
It has become the dominant reference point for discussion of any current military campaign. The war to liberate Afghanistan had barely begun before sceptics were suggesting that a “Vietnam-style quagmire” loomed. And from the moment plans were laid to topple Saddam’s regime, cynics were certain that the Iraq war would lead, if not to Apocalypse Now, then to the quagmire to end all quagmires.
In the past few weeks the number, and weight, of those concluding that the Iraq war has been a foolish adventure has grown. And many of the weightiest, including John Maples, the former Shadow Foreign Secretary, writing on these pages last week, have invoked the long shadow cast by the Vietnam War Memorial. Can we not learn from history, they ask, and recognise we have made another error to rank with that error-strewn conflict in the jungles of South-East Asia?
The demand that we should learn from history makes sense. But, sadly, none of the comparisons so far drawn with Vietnam display a full sense of the nature of that conflict, or the one we face now.

I have noticed this phenomenon for decades and wondered at the reasons behind such a ridiculous, yet persistent, analogy made on the part of the Left. Here is my explanation: The failure of the U.S. in the Vietnam war, and its humiliation at the hands of the Communists there was the one and only victory that the Left achieved in the latter part of the 20th Century. Look at it from their perspective.

By the end of the millennium the early "victories" of Communism and Socialism were pretty washed up, and the evidence of their underlying ideological bankruptcy was everywhere. The once feated social experiment of the Soviet Union was in a shambles; and its power in world affairs disappeared rapidly. Instead of a perfect society, these systems had created a nightmare of human misery and suffering.

By contrast, the decadent capitalistic society of the U.S. continued its bumpy forward journey to productivity, prosperity, and freedom. Three things that will elude any totalitarian regime. With the evidence unfolding before their eyes, it was not an accident that the Left hold tightly and possessively to the "achievement" of Vietnam.

And what was that achievement? They were able to mobilize the masses to a mini-revolution within the U.S. They were able to alter American foreign policy and change the course of a nation. They were able to completely write-off the sacrifice of thousands of American soldiers and bring down the mighty U.S. military. They were able to defeat America AND humiliate America.

Now, I will admit that I had problems with the Vietnam war--not the least of which was the Selective Service (Draft), which I utterly and completely opposed and continue to oppose under any and all circumstances. Such a program has no place in a free society. Period. I always felt it was incredibly ironic to have a Drafted military for fighting for democracy and freedom vs. communism. But, I never hated America or the Armed Forces of the U.S., like many of those who gloried in the disgrace and humiliation they brought about with their slogans and banners and marches against the war. It was heady stuff to know that you possessed such a power over the strongest country on the globe.

Like the old men who continually reminisce about their glory days, many of the Left have never abandoned those slogans which came to signify their mighty victory. All battles since then must be made to fit in the Procrustean bed of their Vietnam experience.

This all came out into the open and was made obvious in the presidential campaign of John Kerry, who viewed his Vietnam experience as his "glory days". Wasn't the "All I needed to know I learned in Vietnam" meme ultimately the basis of his claim he would make a better war-time president?

The war we are in now is not Vietnam. Neither was Afghanistan (though they said it was after 2 weeks of that war). You need to know MORE than the history of Vietnam to understand either of our most recent wars and to win them. Vietnam was kindergarden as far as a war learning curve is concerned; and you need to know more than you learned in kindergarden to survive in the war on terror, where our enemies make the Viet Cong seem almost banal by comparison.

So, let us get beyond Vietnam and over the event horizon to the here and now. If we learned anything from Vietnam, let us have learned that WE CANNOT BE DEFEATED ON THE BATTLEFIELD, WE CAN ONLY BE DEFEATED FROM WITHIN. Let us have learned that this enemy can only be successful if we as a nation no longer have the will, the energy, or the courage to do what is right.

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