Iraq and Vietnam

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Jul 20 06:36:47 MDT 2003

(What this comparison leaves out is the amazing outspokenness of US troops 
who openly give their names to the press when complaining about being in 
Iraq. Nothing like this happened in Vietnam until 7 years of bloody 
conflict had elapsed.)

The Independent, July 20, 2003
'God, I hate these people,' says the sergeant. Some utter the V-word: Vietnam
By Scott Wallace in Baghdad

"Up yours, asshole," mutters Sergeant Ronald Black to an Iraqi youth who 
waves from the back of a passing motor scooter. The tedium is palpable as 
the sun beats down on Fallujah, a sweltering city of 200,000 mostly Sunni 
Muslim inhabitants 35 miles west of Baghdad which has become a flashpoint 
of local resistance to the coalition's occupation of Iraq. "God, I hate 
these people," he says.

But the sergeant reserves his most blistering remarks for US commanders, 
who recently announced that his Third Infantry Division will remain in Iraq 
until the autumn, several months beyond its originally scheduled departure. 
"We're being told to stay by commanders who just got here a month ago," he 
complains. "They haven't been here since fucking September like we have."

Even as Tony Blair and President George Bush vow to "stay the course" in 
Iraq, soldiers like Sgt Black betray the difficulty of the task ahead. 
Coalition forces rolled over Saddam Hussein's army in three weeks, but 
winning the peace is proving to be a far more vexing task.

In places like Fallujah, war and the subsequent occupation have brought 
industry to a standstill, leaving the workforce idle, fuelling resentment 
and providing cover among a restive populace for the emergence of an active 
guerrilla resistance.

It is a grim scenario that has some people uttering the dreaded "V-word" ­ 
Vietnam. On Friday, an influential Sunni imam, speaking outside a mosque in 
north-west Baghdad, could not resist the Vietnam comparison.

"Both wars ­ Vietnam and Iraq ­ were illegal under international law," the 
imam said. "And in both, the enemy is the same ­ the United States." He 
predicted that Islam would provide the same sort of ideological 
underpinning for Iraqi resistance that Ho Chi Minh's nationalistic 
Communism did for the Vietnamese four decades ago.

US commanders tend to dismiss the comparison as gratuitous, with some 
reason. The coalition forces scattered across Iraq are facing nothing like 
the organised and dedicated resistance of the National Liberation Front in 
Vietnam, nor, for that matter, of the formidable North Vietnamese army, 
which dispatched men into South Vietnam to die by the tens of thousands in 
the face of relentless pounding by B-52s.

Saddam's corrupt and brutal regime lacked an ideological core that could 
motivate a similar response from Iraqi partisans, say the occupiers. And 
while some trigger-happy GIs have turned their guns on Iraqi civilians with 
tragic results in the weeks since the occupation began, the coalition's 
rules of engagement stress that deadly force may be used only in response 
to a clear and present danger. There have been complaints of heavy-handed 
tactics, especially around Fallujah and other villages in the "Sunni 
Triangle" north and west of Baghdad, where resistance has been strongest. 
But while the ambushes and bombings by the Iraqi resistance remain 
sporadic, they are unlikely to cause the kind of vengeful bloodletting that 
came to be a hallmark of America's misadventure in Indochina.

"Embedded" and largely pliant during the rush to Baghdad, the press has 
become more critical since. While Iraq is still very much a war zone, 
Baghdad does not feel as dangerous as it appears through the prism of the 
daily news reports.

The daily trickle of American deaths is less a military problem than one of 
perceptions: having been assured that coalition forces would be welcomed in 
Iraq as liberators, the fact that there is any resistance at all is an 
unwelcome surprise to the US public.

And therein may lie one of the most salient comparisons of Iraq today with 
Vietnam 40 years ago. US officials voice bitter frustration that reports of 
violent confrontations and grumbling among the ranks may undermine support 
for President Bush's Iraq gamble among constituents and legislators back home.

There still exists a school of thought ­ especially well represented among 
hawks in the Bush administration and the Pentagon ­ that it was the mass 
media, not the failure of US policy, that sapped American resolve and 
ultimately lost the war in Vietnam.

It may be only a matter of time before a similar schism opens over press 
coverage here, as departure dates for homesick troops and deadlines for 
stamping out the resistance ar pushed back indefinitely.

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list