Iraq is not Vietnam. Vietnam is not Iraq.
On the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, we have a chance to look back and question what Vietnam meant. As the post-war generation moves into their 30s, more-and-more of our public officials, intellectuals and artists will have no direct knowledge of this war that so scarred America. What lessons should Vietnam leave those that were not there?
In today’s New York Post, Thomas H. Lipscomb says Vietnam was not a defeat. The fact that America showed it was willing to confront communism in Asia stopped the so-called “domino-effect” from occurring. We may not have saved Vietnam, but our presence there saved most of Asia.
To me, Lipscomb’s theory seems just one more piece in a disturbing trend I’ve noticed—call it the Vietnam-was-a-good war trend. But how could a war that nearly destroyed the home front and that ended in an unconditional withdrawal be considered “good?”
This desire to recast Vietnam is almost certainly more a symptom of the Iraq War than it is of any honest reconsideration. The logic: if Vietnam was good or, as some have claimed, our withdrawal was bad, then clearly we are right to stay in Iraq.
But this logic is flawed. Both the forces on the left and right have tried to make our current war relate to Vietnam. But Iraq is not Bush’s Vietnam as Senator Edward Kennedy has claimed. Nor, as Lipscomb says, does the experience of Vietnam justify Iraq.
Iraq is not Vietnam. The conflicts, goals and conditions are very dissimilar. The home front is generally united. The casualties far fewer. Vietnam, like all wars, should inform our modern conflicts, but it should not supersede all other analysis.
Vietnam was a bad war. And we should remember that. We shouldn’t try to rewrite history for the benefit of modern argument. But nor should we assume Iraq is also bad, just because the last major war ended so poorly. Too much of the Iraq War—indeed too much of the last election, of our national debate in general—too much of modern dialogue relies on Vietnam as the starting point and the touchstone for debate.
If we are to end the divisiveness in this country, if we are to halt the shouting and demonization, the post-Vietnam generation must not fall into the trap of refighting that aging battle. It’s been thirty years. How much longer before we can put the ghosts behind us?