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Iraq: Echoes of Vietnam

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Message Tom Wallace
To paraphrase the great Leonard Cohen in his song "Democracy," America is OK, but the scene is a definite bummer.

While many Americans share Cohen's assessment, unfortunately, that doesn't include the Bush administration. In the minds of W's gang, if you can't stand the scene, you don't love the country. Challenge their policies and you're a cut-and-run coward. Worse still, you are unpatriotic.

As a Vietnam vet, I can't begin to express how angry it makes me to hear men who have never worn the uniform, much less been in combat, tell me I'm not patriotic because I don't believe now, nor did I believe prior to Shock and Awe, that invading Iraq was a wise or necessary act.

Let's see: Osama attacks us, so we take out Saddam. That's like you hit me, so I beat up your mother. Where's the logic?

But logic doesn't walk hand in hand with this administration, does it? Not unless you count twisted logic. In that, the administration gets an A-plus. These guys have mastered what Camus called the "acrobatics of logic," which should come as no surprise, since W claims to have included the marvelous French Algerian writer/thinker on his summer reading list. (If you believe that, well, as the distinguished literary critic Harold Bloom would say, "God bless you.")

Twisted logic and poor decision making may be tolerable in certain circumstances, but not when it results in the spilling of American blood on foreign soil. If young Americans are going to be shipped home in flag-draped coffins, it should be for nothing less than defense of the U.S., not for some high-minded, even if noble, idea of "spreading democracy" in a country that had neither the intent nor the capability of harming us.

Did we not learn anything from Vietnam? Do we not yet understand the implausibility of galloping into countries thousands of miles away and force-feeding with rifles and bayonets our way of life down the throats of those citizens? Apparently, that hard-earned lesson has been forgotten. So, off to Iraq we went. What a colossal miscalculation. What naivette-. What a waste of American lives.

But give W's neo-con crowd credit. The way they framed the debate, saying disagreement equals lack of patriotism, boxed cowardly politicians and unquestioning Americans into a corner, and into an unnecessary war that is proving to be costly, bloody and unpopular, here and worldwide.

Did you happen to catch Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's speech a few weeks ago? Echoes of Robert McNamara 40 years ago, wasn't it? Same threats, same notions, same "acrobatics of logic." Those who disagree are simply wrong. If we leave now, what will the world think of us? We'll be perceived as cowards. We have to stay the course. We can't leave before the job is finished.

Well, we left Vietnam. Just picked up the ball one day and went home. Said enough of this nonsense. Yes, it got bad in Vietnam for awhile, but eventually the folks there settled matters on their own. If we leave Iraq, no doubt things will get even worse. But Iraq's future, whatever it turns out to be, should be left in the hands of the Iraqi people, not in the hands of foreigners. We can't referee every internal struggle.

As all this unfolds, several truths (as I perceive them) have solidified in my mind. First, the notion that President Bush is a leader is hilarious. In my lifetime, no president has been more of a follower. This guy has Vice President Dick Cheney on one shoulder and political adviser Karl Rove on the other and they orchestrate every move he makes.

A leader isn't afraid to admit mistakes. Bush never does. A leader isn't afraid to listen to dissenting opinions when weighing information prior to making a decision. Bush wants sycophants; don't believe me, ask Colin Powell. A leader isn't afraid to send heads rolling when he consistently gets poor information, results or intelligence from his underlings. Bush promotes people rather than, say, ax Rumsfeld, who has proved to be inept from the start.

Second, despite our claims to be a peace-loving country, history tells us otherwise. The reality is, we are very much inclined toward war. In truth, war is built into our economy. It's a big part of that economy, maybe the biggest part. We have to be at war, preparing for war or selling military arms and equipment to other countries, many of whom eventually turn against us. Dozens of companies and individuals get extremely wealthy at the expense of American soldiers' lives. Blood money, to be sure, but those who reap it have no qualms about raking it in.

Third, I am in favor of bringing back the draft. I spent three years in the Army, one in Vietnam, and I hated every second of it. But I'm a better person for having had the experience. When Vietnam was happening, I made a sacrifice. I didn't like it. i didn't want to be there, but I went. I put my life on the line. Because of that, I feel I have more of a right to speak out for or against war than does someone who didn't serve. Call it arrogance, I don't care. Every veteran has earned that right.

Remember, it's easy to be patriotic when you aren't asked to make sacrifices, and contrary to what W claims, no one in America today is sacrificing except the soldiers and their families. By reinstating the draft, by putting young people, your sons and daughters and grandkids, into the mix, maybe the next time our leaders contemplate a preemptive war enough voices will ring out to halt the killing before it begins.
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Tom Wallace is the author of five sports-related books and one novel, What Matters Blood. Wallace, a Vietnam veteran, currently lives in Lexington, Ky.
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Iraq: Echoes of Vietnam

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