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Bringing the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ Back Home


Back in 1990, during the lead-up to the First Gulf War, George H.W. Bush talked about the need for his impending war not to suffer from what pundits called “the Vietnam syndrome.” As the fable went, the media and antiwar movement, in cahoots against the our nation’s noble efforts to exterminate most of the Vietnamese population (tainted as it was by Communism), forced the Pentagon to fight that war “with one hand tied behind its back.” Hence the royal ass-whooping we were dealt. Well, it looks like the syndrome has returned…

For the past year we’ve been inundated with lefitst and liberal critics of the war drawing comparisons — sometimes insightful, often spurious — between the current onslaught against Iraq and the Vietnam war of the 1960s and ’70s. There are major, crucial differences between the two, but some of the mythological aspects of the Vietnam invasion are creeping back up in Iraq.

Where I see a real parallel is somewhere pretty much no one has noted in anything I’ve seen. in this notion of the military fighting the war with one hand behind its back — and what is more curious is who is in control of he knot.

During the initial invasion, there was no pretense of inhibition. The slaughter was open and it was bragged about regularly on CNN, where Fox News-style reporting fawned orgasmically over embedded regurgitations of unilateral successes and prideful commentary from has-been mass murderers with stars on their shoulders.

And given the sheer brutality of the current occupation, it is difficult to consider the US Army and Marines to be particularly inhibited.

But let’s face it, the Marines could resoundingly defeat the Mehdi fighters in Najaf if given a blank check to do so. It wouldn’t be pretty, and probably a few dozen Marines would die, but they would win pretty quickly, killing thousands in the process, and probably destroying the Imam Ali Shrine. Same for Fallujah in April, though that might have been a good clip harder. Hell, if they rooted the Vietcong out of Hue city, Vietnam in 1968, they certainly could do the same to the current Iraqi resistance today.

However, the even more brutal hand of the two fisted crushing machine is indeed tied up. During Vietnam, most of the worst atrocities of the war had to be hidden from the view of the US public. Actions like the bombing and invasion of Cambodia, some of the worst civilian slaughters by US infantry, interrogation tactics employed against Vietnamese captives, and many other examples, were hidden from — and in all too many cases hidden by — the US media, lest the news fuel popular movements in the homeland.

Today, regarding Iraq, that doesn’t seem to be the chief concern. More important, I would wager, in the eyes of the current White House, State Department and Pentagon, are Iraqi public opinion and international sentiment about the war. With the American antiwar movement in such pathetic disarray (and I don’t use those terms lightly), and lacking an antiwar opposition party in the government, the primary pressure being applied to temper the onslaught by US troops is applied by the international community and by the Iraqi resistance itself. Those are the biggest threats to the US war effort in Iraq.

If you want to oppose the war, then, we can either aid those strains in some way (I’m not sure the mujahideen have an above-ground support fund), or we could add a third pillar to the opposition here at home, where virtually nothing of note to the war-drivers is taking place.

So that’s my thesis — I’m leaving it there for now, since this is just a blog post — but if it arouses any interest, I might turn it into an essay…

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