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Back in August, Michael wrote a column with the headline "Iraq and Vietnam: Nine Big Differences- And One Crucial Similarity." It's still the most prominent column on his website. Below is his column, in full, plus some comments from me enclosed in these [[ ]].
At the end of August the American Left wallowed joyously in 1960's nostalgia, taking comfort and joy in the alleged parallel between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Grey-haired folksinger Joan Baez, startling millions with the revelation that she is still alive, found her way to Crawford, Texas, where she delivered an impromptu protest concert (including the insufferable "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?") for several hundred supporters. At the same time, Senator (and Vietnam vet) Chuck Hagel curried favor with the mainstream media (cementing his claim to the coveted epithet "maverick") with his appearance on ABC TV's "This Week," in which he shamelessly pushed the Vietnam-Iraq analogy.
With all the misguided attempts to compare our current struggle in Iraq with America's most disastrous prior war, it's crucial for informed citizens to understand the profound contrasts and distinctions between Vietnam and Iraq - and to simultaneously come to terms with the one great and essential similarity.
Herewith, a quick list of the nine essential differences between the two wars - along with the single crucial resemblance.
1.THE ENEMY-In Vietnam, we faced more than a rag-tag guerilla band: we confronted one of the world's most formidable military machines in the nation of North Vietnam, with more than a million men under arms. What's more, these troops and their officers had been hardened by some thirty years of fighting-first against the Japanese, then against the French, and finally against the South Vietnamese and the Americans. Ho Che Minh, dictator of North Vietnam, provided a potent symbol with a clearly articulated Communist agenda. In Iraq, on the other hand, we fight no nation, no organized army, no visible or unifying leader, but a collection of shadowy terrorist bands. These gangs occupy no territory, have announced no coherent program for the future, and command no economic or territorial base to replenish their cadres. They can certainly do damage to Americans and to the troops of democratic Iraq, but they can in no sense suggest a credible alternative-hence their very limited popular support.
[[In Iraq, we fight no nation? US soldiers are fighting against the nation of Iraq. Sixty to eighty percent of Iraqis want us out. And 45 pecent say it's justified to kill Americans. The US State Department's own polls say the same thing. This may have something to do with the tens of thousands of murders we've committed (killing in an illegal war is legally murder). I can picture King George (the third, not the fourth!) describing the American colonists in 1776: " These gangs occupy no territory, have announced no coherent program for the future, and command no economic or territorial base to replenish their cadres, unless you count Valley Forge. They can certainly do damage to patriotic British troops and to the troops of our colonies, but they can in no sense suggest a credible alternative-hence their very limited popular support."]]
2.THE ENEMY'S ALLIES-During the Vietnam struggle, the North Vietnamese and their guerilla allies in the south, the Viet Cong, received virtually unlimited support from two of the three most powerful nations on earth: the Soviet Union and Communist China. The two Communist superpowers disagreed on many issues, but they united in support of their Vietnamese colleagues - providing anti-aircraft surface-to-air (SAM) missile batteries, MIG jet fighters, artillery, ordnance, military vehicles, small arms, cash, food, encouragement and diplomatic support. The Iraqi insurgents, on the other hand, receive support from no government on earth. It's true that radical segments of Arab public opinion may wish for the insurgents to bloody the U.S., but none of the Islamic governments have in any way backed the insurgency; even Syria, which definitely could do more to stop the flow of men and weapons across its border, delivers ritualistic and official condemnation of the bloody, murderous terrorists (many of them non-Iraqis) who slaughter women and children, along with American fighting men.
[[The so-called insurgents are mostly Iraqis, and those who are not will not be tolerated once their usefulness to the Iraqis ends and of course that will be when the occupation ends. But Medved is right. Iraq is not the frontline in a global battle against a massive evil empire of terrorism, as Medved's President would have us believe. It's just a nation of human beings who don't like being occupied by a foreign army. And it's not surprising that such a nation is able to resist such an occupation; General Shinseki, among many others, predicted it (and effectively lost his job as a reward).]]
3.OUR ARMY--Easily the most controversial aspect of the Vietnam war - and the main spur to the anti-war movement - involved the draft of literally millions of young Americans during the '60's and '70's. While a small majority of those who actually fought "in country" in Indochina turned out to be volunteers, the involuntary nature of the draft gave rise to the "Hell No, We Won't Go Slogan," to burned draft cards, flights to Canada, and numberless fantasies of martyrdom. In our current struggle, our highly-professional and expertly trained military includes no draftees whatever. Everyone fighting in Iraq - including National Guardsmen and reservists- at one time or another enlisted voluntarily in the military. Cindy Sheehan notwithstanding, all those who sign up for the U.S. military are clever enough to understand the very real possibility that at one point you might be required to use your expensive training in actual combat.
[[US soldiers and reservists and guardsmen and women don't make a deal to fight in any illegal war for any unknown reason. They agree to fight when called upon to defend the United States. They have been and are being mistreated in this war. A backdoor draft is keeping them over for extended tours. A supplemental army of mercenaries is adding to their numbers. But, despite the hundred of billions of dollars gone from taxpayers' pockets, troops are sent to do jobs they were not trained for with equipment that does not work, and without battle armor. The US military is stretched very thin. It could not currently deploy on a second front. Tens of thousands have been seriously wounded. Untold thousands more will show signs of radiation poisoning, as they did following the Gulf War. And thousands more are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Mandatory counseling for returning troops was written into law, but the military is simply asking soldiers to sign waivers.]]
4.CASUALTY RATES - The human cost of the war in Iraq is genuinely horrifying, with more than 1,800 of our finest young people making the ultimate sacrifice. This carnage can hardly compare, however, to Vietnam - in which 58,000 Americans gave their lives for their country. The Iraq War has been going on for two and a half years - with a killed-in-action rate of approximately 800 per year. In Vietnam, the years of principal American I involvement (1965-72) saw deaths that averaged nearly 8,000 per year - in other words, a casualty rate some 10 TIMES as high. In fact, the differential is even greater in terms of the impact on the nation: in 1970, the census showed the U.S. population at 203 million; today, it stands above 290 million. In terms of a percentage of our total population, the death rate in Vietnam exceeded the death rate in Iraq by a ratio of 14 to 1. Even if the U.S. continued to struggle in Iraq for four more years with the current rate of killing (a worst case scenario our policy makers will move heaven and earth to avoid), the deaths will total some 5,000-less than a single year of Vietnam, and less than 10% of the total losses in that war. To keep casualty figures in perspective, it's important to remember that the combined human cost of Afghanistan and Iraq, after nearly three years of overall struggle, still involves fewer deaths than on a single dark day of recent history: September 11, 2001.
[[Actually, deaths in Iraq (official ones of US soldiers) are higher than they were in Vietnam at this stage in the war, although they later shot up dramatically in Vietnam. See chart: