Can Win the War in Vietnam (And Other Chestnuts From a Not-So-Bygone
By Daniel Patrick Welch
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
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 Vietnamization. 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 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 country!
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 citizens (and thus ineligible for voting) - what British
MP George Galloway has called America's "Green Card Army."
attacked over green card soldiers].
Back then, this outrage sparked a constitutional amendment
to ensure 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, it has decided
that the real problem is one of management. A well-managed
occupation might succeed just fine: more troops, more electricity…
better slogans? 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, plays 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 comes 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 and 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.
Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, with
his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The
Greenhouse School. A writer, singer, linguist and activist,
he has appeared on radio
[interview available here] and can be available for further
interviews. Past articles, translations are available at danielpwelch.com.