Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Repeating History

I'm rushed this morning, but in the aftermath of another five soldiers being killed in Iraq, felt moved to write something quickly. As the American death toll in Iraq quickly approaches 600, over the past couple of days, I've either heard or read a couple of reports in which the hawkish side of Washingtoon claims that the insurgency is "in it's death throes". The same jingoistic voices opine that stateside protests and anit-war sentiment is demoralizing to our armed forces in Iraq, and contributes to encouraging the enemy (whoever that is; I don't feel the "enemy" has ever been clearly defined).

After watching the Robert McNamara biopic, "Fog of War", I'm reminded of the spew from Lyndon Johnson's propaganda machine prior to the Tet Offensive in 1968:
The environment was much different, too. In the early 60s comedian Bill Cosby wrote and performed a wonderful comedy routine called "The Flip of the Coin." Describing the rules of engagement for the Revolutionary War, he said, "OK, you rebels (those who wanted independence from England), you can go anywhere you want, wear anything you want, and fight with anything you want. You British, you have to wear bright red uniforms and march in a straight line."

In a very rough sense, that's what fighting in Vietnam was like. You had no idea who or where the enemy might be. We were fighting in their territory, and they made the most of it. A 10 year-old boy walking toward you might just want something to eat. Or he might be carrying a hand grenade.

In 1968, U.S. General William Westmoreland, the U.S. commander in Vietnam, claimed that "the enemy has been defeated at every turn." In a strict sense, he was perhaps right. The Americans never lost a major battle of the war.
I guess we've learned little in the intervening 30 years. Hawks still blame the doves for "encouraging the enemy" and "demoralilzing the troops". They haven't learned one of the primary lessons from the Vietnam debacle - that those commanding in wartime are sometimes too close to individual trees to see the forest. When dissenting opinion is essentially squashed in the policy making process (as happened in the Johnson administration, and is now apparently happening in the Bush administration), the generals will march lockstep to the edge of the precipice, and beyond if so ordered.

As a nation, we've allowed an ardent group of civilian chickenhawks to wrap themselves in a post-9/11 flag, and drive the generals dangerously close to that precipice. And I refuse to subscribe to the notion that because I do not (and have not) supported Monkey Boy and Uncle Dick's excellent adventure, that I am giving aid and comfort to the enemy or don't support the troops "in country".

By the way, I'm a Vietnam era vet.