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Vietnam Comparisons

by Peter Muhlbauer Monday, Jan. 21, 2008 at 6:37 PM

Nixon was elected in 1968 because he loudly broadcast he had a "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam. He knew the war could not be won any more but together with Kissinger delayed the withdrawal for six years to achieve an "honorable" peace.


Before September 2007, comparisons of the Iraq war with the Vietnam War were almost as popular as Nazi comparisons among American conservatives. Now President Bush has broken this taboo

By Peter Muhlbauer

[This article published 9/1/2007 in the German-English cyber journal Telepolis is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.heise.de/bin/tp/issue/r4/dl-artikel2.cgi?artikelnr=26100&zeilenlaenge=72&mode=html]

When the last American troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1975, they left the land devastated and traumatized. Since then the Vietnam War serves as a symbol in the US – in films like Deer Hunter (1) or Rambo (2) and in cartoon shows like the Simpsons (3). While the Vietnam comparison wax often cited in Germany before the Iraq invasion, this was initially avoided in the US by Fox, Ann Coulter, talk radio and even media critical of government.

This changed at the end of August 2007. President George Bush broke the spell. In a desperate attempt to defend his Iraq policy and delay a troop withdrawal, he invoked (4) the “shedding of blood” and the “chaos” that allegedly followed the withdrawal from Vietnam. In particular, he named the “killing fields” and the “boat people.”

However the “killing fields” did not arise in Vietnam but in neighboring Cambodia which (like Laos) was drawn into the war through American bombardment violating international law. A group came to power that wanted to root out intellectuals and malign and discredit the victorious forces in Vietnam. Vietnam was said to have marched into Cambodia and driven the Khmer Rouge into the jungle. This was branded an occupation against international law by the US.

The reference to the “boat people” was similarly problematic. Most of the boat people came in 1979, not directly after the 1975 withdrawal. They were ethnic Chinese who were exposed to reprisals and therefore fled the country on account of the “training war” waged by Vietnam with China in 1979, not freedom-loving Vietnamese who had worked for the Americans. This was hardly known in the West. The well-integrated refugees soon opened up more Chinese than Vietnamese restaurants.

The US began the Vietnam War on account of the so-called “Domino theory” in case of a communist assumption of power. Like lined-up dominos, neighboring countries would “fall down” and soon all Asia would be under Moscow’s influence. The theory proved false in two regards. The expansion of war to destabilize Laos and Cambodia occurred, not the assumption of power in Vietnam. Secondly, the unity of communist countries was a chimera that was believed in Washington in a way that was blind to reality.

The Iraq war recalls Vietnam in other areas not mentioned by Bush. Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 because he loudly trumpeted he had a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam. He actually knew the war could not be won any more but together with his Secretary of State Kissinger delayed the withdrawal for six years to achieve an “honorable” peace.

It almost seems Bush with his Vietnam comparison wants to operate in German history. Hitler used the stab-in-the-back-legend after the First World War to present a certain – but not total – military defeat as a “stab-in-the-back” of his government (5). In November 1918 there were just as few allied troops on German territory as North Vietnamese troops were in Hawaii or on American soil in 1975.

With his wayward comparison, Bush bewildered historians and literary scholars. He referred to the Graham Greene story “The Quiet American” (6) from which he quoted the sentence “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.” The narrative hinted at the American Indo-China policy in the early 1950s.

However the hero is not the neocon described with Bush’s quoted sentence. The one “constantly willing the good and constantly doing the good character” praised by Bush does the exact opposite. Perhaps Bush’s stab-in-the-back legend is true in the opposite sense.


(1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sRHd5pngWE

(2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2z7wmtALSY

(3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIoQiFgPu0o

(4) http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2154355,00.html

(5) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novemberverbrecher

(6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Quiet_American

Telepolis Artikel-URL: http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/26/26100/1.html

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