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"Let's Compare Iraq and Vietnam"

Some of us with long memories, especially those of us who were active protestors and organizers of anti-war protests in the 1960's, can't resist making comparisons between the two wars. Donald Rumsfeld and others dismiss the effort with shit-eating grins, saying, "Iraq is not Vietnam."

We are almost surely more aware of geography than Rumsfeld and the acting president. Iraq is indeed not Vietnam. It is a different place, with different climate and flora and fauna. The population is different. The religion of the population is different. Pacifist Buddhists are not the same as revenge-minded Muslims.

In addition, the reasons for the U.S.A. to get involved in a war in each place were different. In Vietnam the root causes were mired in colonialism and ideology. After eighty years the French colonizers were defeated by the natives. The victors were Communists, largely because Ho Chih Mihn had been rebuffed at the Versailles Peace Conference of 1919 -- Woodrow Wilson's idea of "The self-determination of peoples" didn't mean colored people. So Ho found sympathy and help from Lenin and the Soviet Union. But the U.S. didn't want the notion of the public ownership of the means of production to catch on any more than it already had, so we sent our 19-year-olds half way around the world to die in order to prevent that. It seems like a strange thing to die for, from this perspective.

In sharp contrast, the reason the U.S. started the war in Iraq is not ideological. It is a war for oil. Vietnam has no oil, but Iraq has a very great deal of oil, while the world as a whole is running out. The war is not about weapons of mass destruction, or Al Qaeda and 9/11, or democracy. It is about oil, and has been since before it began. Persons who deny that are lying. The location of the permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, right along that major pipeline, is a clear indication. The protection of the Oil Ministry, with all its precious geological survey maps, in 2003, while museums and all their archeological treasures, which Rumsfeld dismissed with that same grin as "so many vases," is another indication of what mattered most to the invaders.

So, Iraq is not Vietnam. Yet the similarities between the two wars are so striking that old war protestors become very frustrated, just thinking about it.

[1] There were lies to get it started. Lyndon Johnson lied about the attack in the Gulf of Tonkin. The acting president, and Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's link to Al Qaeda.

[2] There were lies to keep it going. Johnson and MacNamara used phrases like "the light at the end of the tunnel," and "with more troops we can win and be out by Christmas." The current rulers use identical and very similar phrases, like, "Stay the course," and "we are making excellent progress."

[3] Both wars emphasized the meaning of local elections. Hosea Williams declared at the Hiroshima Day anti-war rally in Atlanta in 1967, "They want free elections in Vietnam, but we ain't yet had a free election in Georgia!" [I spent that summer working for Martin Luther King's SCLC and the Atlanta Alliance for Peace, organizing that protest, the largest to date in Old Dixie.]

Elections in Iraq are referred to time and time again as the evidence of that excellent progress, while stories of attacks and explosions which indicate otherwise are mocked and minimized.

[4] The plan was, and is, "We'll pass the dying on to someone else." In Vietnam it was called "Vietnamization," but the Vietnamese couldn't be recruited in sufficient numbers or with enough enthusiasm to keep their country divided between those who believed in the public ownership of the means of production and those who didn't. The concept was of little interest to most of them; they simply wanted the French, and then the Americans, to go home.

In Iraq the mantra states that the U.S. will stand down as soon as the Iraqis step up. But too many Iraqis are asking, "Why get killed just so these guys can steal our oil? Besides," they add, "we're busy killing one another for reasons that the Americans don't understand at all. They need to go home."

[5] There was and is an easy answer to "how to end it." Here the similarity between the two situations becomes really spooky. In Vietnam it ended when the U.S. quit doing what it had been doing. To be sure, it was a very un-macho thing to do, but we did it, and it ended. George Carlin saw it coming years in advance, and mocked the machos. "'Pull out now? Doesn't sound manly to me, Bill' -- which what we're really doing to that country."

We'll have to do it again, eventually. Pull out, and go home. And kiss the oil goodbye, since it isn't ours.

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Copyright © 2006 Harry Willson

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