Is Iraq like Vietnam? Dubious history.

Is Iraq like Vietnam? Dubious history.


Nixon and Kissinger in the Oval Office
This is the second of three posts examining the question “Is Iraq like Vietnam?” In our last post we concluded this is the wrong question for Americans to ask about our involvement in Iraq now. In this post we look at the President’s historical reference in the speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention, where he made this comparison of Iraq to Vietnam:

” … one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens, whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps’ and ‘killing fields'”

Contrary to the President’s assertion, it is indeed a “mistakable” legacy, dubious history, and a poor analogy. Particularly if this assertion is meant to communicate, as has been asserted by many bloggers and columnists, that the 1975 Congressional vote to cutoff funding for Vietnam was the primary cause of the death of millions of Cambodians at the hands of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime. The first step in deconstructing the President’s version of history, is to separate the Vietnamese and Cambodian horrors that followed our withdrawal.

For the purposes of this post, we will stipulate that a direct consequence of the 1975 vote was hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese displaced, killed, and imprisoned after Saigon fell. These were the ‘boat people’ and victims of ‘re-education’ camps’ that the President references. It happened, but it did not have to happen the way it did. We could have planned better to support those who supported us in the withdrawal and evacuation. But as bad as it was, it still must be seen in the context of a fifteen year war, where two to three million Vietnamese and 52,000 Americans lost their lives. Such is the grisly calculus of war. Continuing American involvement after 1973 or 1975 does not mean that fewer Vietnamese lives or even that fewer lives of our Vietnamese supporters would have been lost. After 15 years of American involvement in the fighting in Vietnam, it is hard to imagine how a better outcome would have resulted from an additional two or five or ten or fifteen more years of American intervention, as implied by the President’s speech.

Nevertheless, what happened in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon happened to our shame. But the blame does not fall exclusively on the shoulder of the Democratic Congress that voted to cut off funds. That guilt must also be shared by the Republican Commander-in-Chief, Secretary of State, and the administration that set the wheels in motion for that vote and its consequences.

Consider this transcript of a taped conversation between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office in August 1972:

Kissinger: If a year or two years from now North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam, we can have a viable foreign policy if it looks as if it’s the result of South Vietnamese incompetence. If we now sell out in such a way that, say, within a three- to four-month period, we have pushed [South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van] Thieu over the brink… even the Chinese won’t like that. I mean, they’ll pay verbal– verbally, they’ll like it–

Nixon: But it’ll worry them.

Kissinger: But it will worry everybody. And domestically in the long run it won’t help us all that much because our opponents will say we should’ve done it three years ago.

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: So we’ve got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which– after a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater. If we settle it, say, this October, by January ’74 no one will give a damn.

Actual events did not stay precisely on Kissinger’s schedule. This conversation took place in August, 1972. The Paris Peace Accord was signed five months later in January, 1973. Saigon fell a little over two years later, in April, 1975. Duplicity and domestic political gamesmanship by a Republican President and his Secretary of State set the timetable for the fall of Saigon. The Democratic Congress was an accessory to the crime. There is plenty of blame to go around.

However, the use of the words ‘killing fields‘ by the President in this same context (Congressional vote for withdrawal equates to bloodbath and massacre) is simply an historical bridge too far…

Continued at Divided We Stand United We Fall.

  • Jeremy

    Let’s be frank, Kissinger is evil. Any president that is going to call on Kissinger’s “expertise” is a moron, thus have you, Bush. I don’t know if it was Kissinger’s involvement in the last pathetic war (Vietnam) or this one, but can someone tell me why exactly Kissinger has anything to impart about conducting a successful war? Unless, of course, he’s supposed to have sage advice because he’s learned from all of his mistakes, how many only God knows. Isn’t this the same soulless individual that helped Nixon pretend that Vietnam was a war worth fighting? Life really is stranger than fiction.

  • mw

    “Life really is stranger than fiction.”

    Not sure about “evil” but yeah and then it gets even stranger. While researching this post, I came across this May, 1975 draft of a memo to President Ford from Henry Kissinger, the month after Saigon fell, apparently never sent:

    “…When we consider the impact of what is now happening, it is worth remembering how much greater the impact would have been ten years ago when the Communist movement was still widely regarded as a monolyth destined to engluf us all. Therefore, in our public statements. I believe we can honorably avoid self-flagellation and that we should not characterize our role in the conflict as a disgraceful disaster. I believe our efforts, militarily, diplomatically and politicallyh were notin vain. We paid a hight price but we gained ten years of time and we changed what then appeared to be an overwhelming momentum. I do not believe our solders or our people need to be ashamed.

    So there you have it. In another 6 years, maybe we’ll have another Secretary of State writing a memo to the President saying “..When we consider the impact of what is now happening, it is worth remembering how much greater the impact would have been ten years ago when the islamofascist movement was still widely regarded as a monolyth destined to engluf us all… “

  • Jeremy

    “Not sure about “evil” but yeah”

    Any man that can call killing 2 million Vietnamese and causing the the death of 50,000 Americans meets my definition of evil, especially when this inhuman piece of garbage continues to pretend that that policy was “honorable.” It this simple, Vietnam wasn’t our G’damn country, it wasn’t in danger of a “Communist” takeover. The North Vietnamese sought the help of the west to gain their rightful independence from the Japanese and then the French colonizers. No western power listened. Then North Vietnam turned to the only power that would listen, the newly Communist lead China.

    So America can rushing in on the side of colonial France which was trying to hold on to everything it possibly could after the Second World War. France was occupying and colonizing a country that had for the last century been occupied or colonized by one form of government or another. But most specifically the Japanese during the course of the Second World War. They wanted to govern their own country, to be their own masters. Of all people, Americans should understand this desire perfectly!

    But America, instead, lead by a young John F. Kennedy administration got embroiled in a slow and unforeseeable quagmire. Which had a great deal to do with the poor advice he had received from his Joint Chiefs of Staff and military advisers at that time. Remember that it was these same advisers that “advised” him to invade Cuba. Effectively what we had was a military brass that was invasion happy, bolstered by the “successes” of containing the communist U.S.S.R they felt it made sense to apply this “containment theory” across the globe. They failed to take one small fact in to account. China didn’t want S.E. Asia.

    But since an western power such as France was looking to capitalize on the
    defeat of the Japanese and their subsequent withdraw from their S.E. Asia war time possessions, France thought they could establish another foothold in Vietnam, taking it back as a post-WW2 colony. And America leda by Kennedy got sucked into this meddling. Instead of supporting Vietnams right to be a free and sovereign country we bolstered and upheld Frances illegal occupation of that country.

    So? With all this “domino theory” bullshit being waved around by these pro war, pro colonizer, pro industrial war complex people like Kissinger, I don’t find it at all surprising that his version of history is warped. Kissinger is evil, as evil and calculatingly callus as a human being can get. At least in this country anyway. This idea that we were somehow “saving” or “helping” or brothers in arms (the South Vietnamese) is garbage. Their is but one Vietnamese people, and we killed 2 million of them. And the most ironically sick and twisted bit of reality is that these same people we called “animals” and the enemy, we are now trading happily with. We’ve got a trade agreement with these animals now. What a crock of shit! What a sack of lies. What happened to Vietnam after we left it? Did it fall to the evil Communists? Well they ARE communist alright, but they are good enough to trade with lol!

    50,000 American men lost their lives for this sick war. Men that could have had families and futures. Instead they became casualties of everything that
    is wrong about or government, mainly corruption. Free market? yes! Occupation and murder of sovereign countries under bullshit pretexts and lies? NO!!!!

  • Caleb Cambee

    You bring up interesting points and I would like to add a comparison that seems to be left out, which is the soldier’s reporting on the war. In Vietnam the G.I.’s were creating underground newspapers. Now in Iraq there are soldiers blogging about the war. There’s one aspect about war that will always remain and that is soldiers wanting to write about their experiences. I didn’t even really know about the whole G.I. movement, but I just saw this documentary on it called, Sir! No sir! It’s pretty interesting.