What has the U.S. learned from Vietnam? Absolutely nothing.  

Ah War.  Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’ (From the protest song “War” by Edwin Starr, 1970) 

The dawn of a new year illuminates the ugly face of military aggression as the U.S. prepares to invade Iraq.   Three decades ago the U.S. invaded Vietnam, supposedly to stop the spread of communism.

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In Vietnam “we believed that because our hearts were pure and we were fighting for noble ideas, democracy and freedom, that we could do anything.  And that we could transform anything.  And we couldn’t,”  says Anthony Lake, former White House national security advisor.

Like the start of the war on terrorism, the Vietnam war was triggered by a specific event.  When the Viet Cong  attacked the warship Maddox in 1964,  U.S. president Lyndon Johnson was given powers to take “all necessary measures to repel attacks . . . and prevent further aggression.”

Since the destroyer Maddox was sitting off the coast of Vietnam,  we might wonder who the aggressor was but war is not about logic.  By the end of 1969, 540,000 U.S. troops were in South Vietnam to “protect” the Vietnamese from communism.

By 1970, as sons and daughters arrived home from Vietnam in body bags, many Americans were wondering what the hell they were doing there.  The communists were winning the war in the jungles despite all the bombs and napalm.  By 1974, the communists chased the once-proud superpower home with its tail between its legs.

Anthony Lake is not the only one haunted by the quagmire of Vietnam and the humiliating images of the final retreat from collapsing Saigon.  Retired Marine General Joseph Hoar thinks of it often.  He was there.  “Our government failed to define correctly the nature of the Vietnam war. And we all know the result,” he said in an interview on CBC TV.

Fast forward to 1990.  Communist Russia has not been defeated, but rather collapses under its own incompetence.   The failure of Vietnam fades from memory as the U.S. crows about the triumph of  American democracy.

When Iraq invades tiny oil-rich Kuwait, the U.S. springs to its defense.  They say that they are stopping the spread of naked aggression.   But everyone knows the real reason.

“We had been deployed to protect oil reserves and the profits and rights of American companies, many which have direct ties to the White House and oblique financial entanglements with secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, and the commander in chief, George Bush, and the commander’s progeny,” says ex-marine Anthony Swofford in Harper’s magazine (December, 2002).  He knows – – he was there.

Now George Bush’s son has found a convenient new boogeyman to replace communism.  It’s terrorism that President George W. Bush claims to fight.  And although Iraq is not a threat, Bush will  invade Iraq to stop terrorism.  But everyone knows the real reason and it is oil.

If Osama bin Laden chuckled over the loss of lives on September 11,  he must be laughing out loud at the prospect of his enemies at war with each other.   Not only has attention been deflected from Al Qaeda but Saddem Hussein will be destroyed, a man bin Laden called “an apostate, an infidel, someone who is not worthy of being a fellow Muslim,” according to Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal, former intelligence chief for Saudi Arabia.

The invasion of Iraq will likely be more like Vietnam than Afghanistan. General Hoar isn’t confident that that the U.S. has a clear exit plan for Iraq.  “Sons and daughters of American people are going to be killed out there because somebody didn’t plan for difficult eventualities.”

The capital of Iraq, Baghdad has a population of 5 million.  Saadem Hussein will use civilians as human shields for his 20,000 special republican guards who will fight to the finish.

And if the U.S. decides not to bomb civilians, the alternative is for ground troops to start fighting in streets of Baghdad.   The U.S. will loose it’s technological advantage when their troops are in open combat, house by house, block by block, rifle squad against rifle squad.  “This could be a real nightmare,” says Janice Stein of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto.

What has this U.S. administration learned from the war in Vietnam?  Absolutely nothing.


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