As the resistance to the US occupation in Iraq is becoming more difficult to contain, some are drawing parallels with Vietnam.
But Iraq is not Vietnam: different terrain, different people, different time …, and yet there is at least one similarity, understanding which could benefit all the parties concerned. — The description by the Americans of the “enemy”.
Who were the US fighting in Vietnam?
Well, of course, the “communists”! — as per the official American version of the time.
But who were those Vietnamese “communists”?
The majority of them were illiterate peasants, whose whole life was confined to the few miles around their village. Most of them could not write their own name, let alone read “Das Kapital” or dream about a “Communist International”. They would not tell a “communist” from a “ventriloquist”, or any other “ist”.
So why were they fighting the Americans?
Because they could easily tell an American from a Vietnamese.
For them the Americans were those people with strange faces, wearing tin cooking pots on their heads.
Not only they were strange people, but they also were burning Vietnamese villages and killing the Vietnamese. And this is why the Vietnamese were fighting the Americans.
Then there were also some Vietnamese, who called themselves “Cong”, “Viet Cong”. They were Vietnamese, just like the Vietnamese peasants, they were not like those “Americans”. And those “Cong” were fighting the Americans. And this is why the Vietnamese helped those “Viet Cong” and joined that “Viet Cong” to fight those Americans who killed the Vietnamese and burned the Vietnamese villages.
But the Americans were not fighting the “Vietnamese People”, they were there to liberate them from “Communism”. But the Vietnamese people could not understand that, so they kept fighting the Americans.
No, Iraq is not Vietnam. There are many differences. And description of the “enemy” as a handful of “insurgents” is understandable. Saying that the Americans are fighting the “Vietnamese” or the “Iraqis” would “send wrong signals” to the Americans at home, to the American soldiers themselves, and to the rest of the world. So, one has to keep saying that one is fighting “remnants of the Saddam regime, a handful of religious fanatics, and foreign infiltrators”, rather than the “Iraqis”.
But as the Americans bomb Iraqi towns and cities and kill Iraqis, more and more Iraqis fight the Americans and join anybody who fights the Americans, no matter how the Americans call them or how they choose to call themselves. — Just as those Vietnamese peasants who were fighting the Americans in Vietnam and joining “Viet Cong”.
The technique of presenting the facts, so as to “send right signals”, rather than those which logically follow from the facts produces 3 effects:
But the most damaging effect of distorting the facts so as to “send right signals” is that eventually the senders of the “right signals” begin to believe their “signals” themselves.
The reason that the Vietnam War lasted so long and cost so many lives is because in their attempts not “to send wrong signals” the American government of the time ended up believing their own propaganda and instead of deceiving the “enemy”, had deceived themselves.
And it is this self‐deception that is common to both the wars.
Iraq is not Vietnam.
The Ameican involvement in Iraq has been just over a year. The American involvement in Vietnam lasted for over 13 years, as follows:
|Year||US Presence (No. of troops) and Control in South Vietnam|
U.S. troops leave South Vietnam passing on control to the trained and created by them South Vietnamese Army.
|1976||South Vietnam is taken over by the “Communist” North — the result that the Americans had fought hard to prevent.|
It is unlikely that the American involvement in Iraq will last that long.
The costs of the Vietnam War were as follows:
|Americans||killed in action||47,000|
|Americans||died of other causes||11,000|
|South Vietnam Army||killed||200,000|
|South Vietnam Army||wounded||500,000|
|North Vietnam Army and Viet Cong||killed||900,000|
|Cost to the US||$200 billion|
It is unlikely that the Iraq War will be just as costly.
Unless, of course, the Americans fall victims of their own propaganda, as it happened in Vietnam.