In 2008 Joe Allen published "Vietnam: The (Last) War the U.S. Lost," which provides a terrific and concise history of the United States' involvement in Vietnam, from beginning to end. Doing this in 200 pages results in a limited history, but the basic points all seem right.
Allen concludes that Vietnam was ended by three forces: the resistance of the Vietnamese, the peace movement in the United States, and the resistance of soldiers in the U.S. military. Because he was writing in 2008 or earlier, Allen compares the Vietnam War only to the Iraq War, not Afghanistan. But many points he makes are, or may prove to be, relevant to both of those current quagmires. He finds the Iraqis, the Americans, and the American soldiers all coming up short in comparison with the three groups that ended the Vietnam War. The same can almost certainly be said with regard to Afghanistan.
Earlier in the book, Allen discusses a moment that has some similarities to our own:
"The antiwar movement had no illusions about Richard Nixon, but the first half of 1969 saw a continuation in the lull of antiwar activity that followed the Democratic convention the year before. While Nixon was escalating the war with the secret bombing of Cambodia and developing plans for an intensified air war against North Vietnam, his administration was engaging in a 'peace offensive,' which included the beginnings of negotiations with the North Vietnamese. This was essentially a public relations campaign to convince the American public that the war was coming to an end. Nixon was helped greatly in this effort by U.S. television and print media. One commentator writing in the New York Times on the eve of Nixon's first inauguration in January 1969 wrote that Vietnam would 'fade from the national agenda' because Nixon pledged to end the war."
In today's terms, the Democratic Convention is the election of Barack Obama, or perhaps the signing of the Bush-Maliki treaty. The secret bombing of Cambodia is the "covert" war on Pakistan. The 'peace offensive' is the rhetoric coming out of the White House with regard to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The plans for an intensified air war is the looming assault on Kandahar and the escalation funding the House is about to vote on. And the New York Times is the New York Times.
A bit further on, Allen writes some words that might give us hope today (if we can stand any more hope at this point):
"However, the illusion of peace soon faded. To placate antiwar sentiment at home and restlessness among the troops, Nixon announced the withdrawal of 25,000 soldiers in June 1969. Despite this token gesture, the antiwar movement, which had been on hiatus for nearly a year, planned nationwide demonstrations on October 15, the first Vietnam Moratorium Day."
The rest of Allen's book is just as useful and relevant. He looks at the propaganda that portrayed the war as a civil war between Vietnamese. He dates the start of antiwar activism to military resistance in 1945. He shows how the war ruined the U.S. economy, much as the current wars have done. He digs into the reasons why organizations compromised and self-censored when a firm stand against the war would have mattered (need I draw parallels? some of the organizations are the very same today).
Allen documents the phony media campaign that pretended working class Americans supported the war, while also illustrating failures and biases within the antiwar movement as it related to working people. He documents the impact mass demonstrations had on the government even as organizers believed their work to be futile. He argues that without the war and its opposition there would have been no Watergate and no impeachment hearings.
Allen also looks at the ugliest of the real motivations behind the killing:
"Colonel George S. Patton III, son of the notorious Second World War general and a combat commander in Vietnam, sent out Christmas cards in 1968 that read, 'From Colonel and Mrs. George S. Patton III -- Peace on Earth.' Printed on the cards were photographs of Viet Cong soldiers dismembered and stacked in a pile."
And, in line with Obama's sending of 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan early last year prior to developing any plan for what they might do, and perhaps in line as well with Bush's "surge" in Iraq, Allen describes Nixon's ferocious bombing of the Vietnamese just prior to agreeing to terms that had already been offered:
"While half the population of Hanoi was evacuated, more than two thousand civilians died. John Negroponte, the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq and then a member of the National Security Council, wryly commented, 'We bombed the North Vietnamese into accepting our concessions.' But the peace treaty signed by the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the NLF's Provisional Revolutionary Government was essentially the same one that Nixon had already agreed to before the Christmas bombing."
Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth.