This weekend, an administration official tried to explain in an interview what exactly we are now doing in Iraq and Syria. It was like a ghost or the walking dead, sounding eerily and unhappily exactly like the rhetoric that was rolled out in the middle days of the Vietnam War.
There are roughly three groups about Vietnam: those who lived through it on the home front, those who lived through it (or not) in battle, and a generation or more that is so tired of hearing about a war that ended forty years ago. So tired of it. Can’t you all ever get over it?
Too bad. No, we should never “get over” Vietnam, no matter how many generations pass, and no matter how tired those generations are about the lessons we might learn. Vietnam was the first truly modern war of the media age and of the post-national era.
In media terms, it offered the best possibility up to that time to say positive stuff about a complex war policy, have it widely broadcast (though not as widely as digital today), and have the media endorse it and people believe it. Okay, that does sound like a description of what happened in Iraq, but that just proves the point.
As far as post-national warfare, Vietnam was technically a civil war, but it was obviously something else too. There was an army of North Vietnam, but there were also indigenous forces and a people’s movement trying to upset an unacceptable status quo, which we supported and ultimately defended. For a while. Until there was no more government of South Vietnam. And then it became a matter of just not losing. Which we did.
Another parallel is not paying attention to history, our own and that of others. The French abandoned Indochina, but that was supposedly just because they were, well, French. Americans know and are better than that. Just as in Afghanistan, where the Soviets abandoned their war, but that was supposedly because, well, they were Commies. Freedom loving Americans know and are better.
Which brings us back round to Iraq and Syria today. If you make the effort, you could go back to the LBJ days of Vietnam and hear exactly the same words that were spoken this weekend. Not just something like it, but exactly. Such as: it’s their fight, not ours.
There are things worth fighting for on the world stage, even when it is not on our homeland. But it is hard enough to figure out what those things are, and even harder to commit ourselves and our loved ones to the fight, when we are swimming in a sea of official stuff and nonsense. We want the brutal truth, if our leaders can tell it, especially when it is bound to be a brutal and long fight.