First, in Iraq, like Vietnam, the original rationale for going to war has been discredited. Second, in both cases the new justification became building stable societies. In both cases, according to John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion, the public gave substantial support to the effort as troops were sent in, but that support evaporated as the war dragged on.
By less than half of the American people supported the war in Vietnam, and that remained the high-water mark for the remaining seven years of war. In April , during a period of particularly heavy American and Iraqi casualties, U. Senator Edward Kennedy D-Mass. We had misrepresentations about what we were able to do militarily in Vietnam. I think we are finding that out in Iraq as well. Senator Harold Ford Jr.
Surely I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam. Indeed he was not. American troops mostly stay in heavily fortified barracks.
Militants and young men of fighting age are long gone by the time American bombardments start. Murtha, one of the top House Democrats on military spending, said U. Another Vietnam veteran, William Nash, a retired U. Army major general who also served in the Persian Gulf and Bosnia and is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has found Iraq and Vietnam eerily similar.
In his view, the United States is once again fighting a protracted war with the wrong tactics.
And our ability to influence political decisions is finite. We did it with the Gulf of Tonkin situation Even supporters of the war in Iraq are drawn to the Vietnam analogy. Early in the war when Secretary Rumsfeld claimed that , U.
Between and , the military was deployed on more than 30 operations of bewildering variety—peacekeeping, peace enforcement, humanitarian relief, and traditional combat missions. Her posture, the way she blends in the tall grass, holding the rifle as if it were a camera and aiming at the American enemy who is firing back, mirrors her position and work as a photographer but also recalls the fact that before becoming a refugee in the US, she was once a civilian living in a country devastated by war. Cambridge, UK: Polity, It was one of the first massive war protests in the United States and the first in Los Angeles. To take advantage of all LARB has to offer, please create an account or log in before joining
As public support for the nation-building effort in Iraq dwindles, the Bush administration can expect Congress to pressure it to announce plans for a troop withdrawal. And just as Johnson did before him, President Bush also faces opposition to withdrawal from some conservatives, many of whom form the core of his support base. They contend a premature U. In their view, the president must establish more of a military presence in Iraq, not less. And in another parallel to Vietnam, the middle ground in Iraq is shrinking and perhaps even becoming an untenable position to maintain.
If the Vietnam War is any guide, fear of the consequences of withdrawal is perhaps the most paralyzing factor facing the Bush administration today. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, talk of a U. The Bush administration rightfully worries that premature withdrawal from Iraq will precipitate a chaotic and bloody civil war there. The president seems determined to stay the course to avoid such a fate, even if this means extending the U.
On the one hand, if the Bush administration stays too long in Iraq, American citizens will grow weary and press their representatives to alter U. Throughout and , Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, made it clear to Hanoi and its allies in Moscow and Beijing that the United States was willing to strike a deal to end the war following the November U. Kissinger told Zhou the United States would exchange its complete withdrawal of U.
If the North Vietnamese, on the other hand, engage in a serious negotiation with the South Vietnamese, and if after a longer period it starts again after we are all disengaged The president liked the plan, as long as it coalesced after the U. The Nixon administration would eventually ask South Vietnam to sign an agreement that forced a U. South Vietnam was being forced to commit suicide.
get link However, Nixon and Kissinger had done their homework. They recognized there was little support in the United States for prolonging the war after the election the Saigon government called for in In that election, President Thieu won by a landslide, primarily by disqualifying his political opponents. The Nixon administration learned it could not count on democratic elections in South Vietnam to bring peace or to precipitate a U. More important, after that the Saigon government lost the faith of a majority of the American people. But putting everyone in the same units is very different than having them work together as a unit.
Our national memory of integration is mostly about the brave people of the civil rights movement. Imagine arming all those high school students from Birmingham, Ala. During the war there were over fraggings in the American military — murders carried out by fragmentation grenades, which made it impossible to identify the killer. Almost all fraggings, at least when the perpetrator was caught, were found to be racially motivated.
And yet the more common experience in combat was cooperation and respect. White guys had to listen to soul music and black guys had to listen to country music. And the experience stuck with us. Hundreds of thousands of young men came home from Vietnam with different ideas about race — some for the worse, but most for the better. I was at a reading recently in Fayetteville, N.
He was standing straight and tall in Army fatigues. She was holding a baby in one arm and hauling a toddler with the other. They both looked to be about two years out of high school. The woman started to cry. I call it the all-recruited military. Volunteers are people who rush down to the post office to sign up after Pearl Harbor or the World Trade Center gets bombed. All the women in town knew that a destroyer was smaller than a cruiser and a platoon was smaller than a company, because their husbands had all been on destroyers or in platoons.
That shift in language indicates a profound shift in the attitudes of the republic toward its armed forces. The draft was unfair.
Only males got drafted. And men who could afford to go to college did not get drafted until late in the war, when the fighting had fallen off. Thirty-five died in Vietnam, and none since. Instead, the American working class has increasingly borne the burden of death and casualties since World War II.
In a study in The University of Memphis Law Review, Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen looked at the income casualty gap, the difference between the median household incomes in constant dollars of communities with the highest casualties the top 25 percent and all the other communities.
Put another way, the lowest three income deciles have suffered 50 percent more casualties than the highest three. If these inequities continue to grow, resentment will grow with it. With growing resentment, the already wide divide between the military and civilians will also widen.
This is how republics fall, with armies and parts of the country more loyal to their commander than their country. We need to return to the spirit of the military draft, and how people felt about service to their country. The military draft was viewed by most of us the same way we view income tax. But as a responsible citizen, I also see that paying taxes is necessary to fund the government — my government.
People would still grumble. We grumble about taxes. People would still try to pull strings to get more pleasant assignments. But everyone would serve. Let the armed services be just one of many ways young people can serve their country. With universal service, some boy from Seattle could find himself sharing a tamale with some Hispanic girl from El Paso. Conservatives and liberals would learn to work together for a common cause. We could return to the spirit of people of different races learning to work together in combat during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War continues to define us, even if we have forgotten how.
An opinion article last Sunday about the effects of the Vietnam War on the United States misstated the number of Yale graduates who died in the war. The number is 35, not three. Log In. From my mother.