For someone who was a teenager during the last seven years of the Vietnam War, excuse me “Police Action,” the news from Iraq has an eerie resonance. Especially the pronouncements from U.S. military officers in the field who reassure the American public that with just a little more effort, the corner will be turned and there is, “light at the end of the tunnel.” With only a few more troops, some more money and one last big push; we’ll have a final victory. Been there, heard that.
The similarities are striking. We have two countries whose national narrative is based on heroic accounts of national resistance fighters throwing the invaders from the land at a terrible but glorious cost. In the case of Vietnam it was Chinese, Lao, Cambodian, Khmer, French and finally U.S. invaders. In Iraq the nation was founded in the fight to eject the British in the nineteen-thirties through the early nineteen-fifties. In both cases the resistance was/is branded by American pundits as bandits, despots, criminals, international terrorists, haters of all that is right and good.
In both places sham elections were/will be held and comprador classes were maintained in power. People from these classes became the targets of the resistance. (Comprador: look it up, it means “bought” or “for sale” in Spanish and has a particular colonial significance.)
Abuse of prisoners occurred. Remember the “tiger cages” of South Vietnam? Abu Ghraib has become universally synonymous with abuse and torture. How is it that the side that claims to stand for democracy, due process and justice became identified with their extreme opposites?
Ho Chi Min was a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who did not hesitate to use totalitarian means to crush his opposition. He is also the national hero of Vietnam. Saddam Hussein is a mass murderer and despot. But it took him thirty years to kill three hundred thousand Iraqis. It has only taken a year and three-quarters for the “Coalition of the Willing” to wipe out one hundred thousand. Who will the history books call the biggest murderers? At the rate we’re going it won’t be Saddam.
The contradiction between official pronouncements of progress and success, and the daily reality reported in the news becomes surreal. In time more and more people become disillusioned with the cause and the anti-war movement incrementally grows. Much has been said about the waning of the anti-Iraq War movement. What isn’t mentioned much are the shocked, appalled and stunned reactions as everything we warned against comes to pass.
In each war the tactics were/are of overwhelming technical and munitions preponderance by the United States, and a guerilla movement of locals embraced by the civilian populace. The worse it got, the more horrific the violence from all sides, the more tenacious the locals became in their fight to rid themselves of the foreign forces. “We” won every battle, but the war dragged on, casualties mounted, civilian casualties skyrocketed.
Disturbing images, documented atrocities from both sides became rampant, and eventually sufficient disgust, horror and domestic opposition cut the funding and there was a plan to end the war by pulling out and arming corrupt proxies who eventually folded in the face of massive domestic opposition. Then America gets a new wave of immigrants. Then comes the blame game, who “lost” Vietnam? Who is losing Iraq? Perhaps those who started it in the first place?
Miles Mendenhall is a substitute teacher in the North Bay of San
Francisco, a political activist and a writer. He hopes articles like this
one won't prevent him from getting a full time teaching job in the public