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January 31, 2005

Comments

Comforting difference. George Bush wasn't President. If he had been, we would have taken our stunning military victory during the Tet offensive and have consumated the conflict in South Vietnam's favor. Walter Conkrite may have suffered the same fate as Dan Rather and history would have been changed. Freedom and democracy would have a 30 year headstart.

Differences? Sure. Plenty.
Comforting? Doubtful.

Although, Edward, the Vietnam War was not SO far back that those of us who remember that conflict (both the military and political theaters) fall under the rubric of "history buffs". I prefer to think of us as "living witnesses to great events" - you d*nm young whippersnapper, you! ;)

that made my one eyebrow rise

You just have one eyebrow? What happened, bad waxing accident? ;)

You just have one eyebrow? What happened, bad waxing accident? ;)

Botox mishap...we don't talk about it. ;-)

Comforting difference. George Bush wasn't President.

Now that's funny!

Edward: Now that's funny!

Funnier than I think Blogbuds meant it. I am sitting here wondering how much worse the Vietnam war would have been if George W. Bush had been running it instead of just going AWOL from it...

I noted a few generalized distinctions between Iraq and Vietnam in a comment last night on the "possibly ignorant world politics questions open thread"; I could certainly discuss many other differences and similiarities between the two situations.

On the vote, specifically? Well, as I said, we'll see what comes of this vote, and the process of writing a permanent constitution, and the assembly until the December vote for a five-year government; I think what happens happens, and history won't predict it particularly.

But the cited vote in Vietnam was mostly a joke, althought it did bring more political stability than the previous few years' set of coups. However, it mattered little in the long run. Nixon moved to increase bombing of the North, and invading Cambodia, in 1970, and then recognized that there was no military solution short of a full-scale invasion of the North, which was impossible for a considerable number of reasons, with the most important being that the Soviet Union wouldn't stand for it, China wouldn't stand for it, and the American public wouldn't stand for it.

At that point his plan evolved into providing political cover for American withdrawal and Vietnamization, knowing that there was no way to evict the Northern military forces from the south, and that the southern regime, whomever led it, was therefore doomed (which is why Thieu was cut out of the negotiations, no matter how much he understandably screamed about it).

Anyone who is sufficiently read on the diplomatic and military history, or on Richard Nixon, knows he was hardly some sort of pacifist wimp. The notion that somehow or other the war could have been won is pretty much fantasizing, though it can be sadly amusing to read theoretical scenarios, if one can find amusement in such a tragedy that led to so much suffering, and in wich so many died and suffered futilely for.

Re big difference:

Bush would have only put 150,000 troops into Viet Nam, instead of 400,000+, and told us we were winning despite the apparent need for more troops in order to accomplish anything.

Although, Edward, the Vietnam War was not SO far back that those of us who remember that conflict (both the military and political theaters) fall under the rubric of "history buffs".

;-)

I was actually referring to a few folks I know can normally call up a parallel account like this for any situation, Jay C.

I can (somewhat hazily) recall the tail end of Vietnam and remember thinking in Kindergarten my fate would be to go die in the jungle...and thinking that war was a constant in everyone's life (how little I knew I'd live to see that as an adult).

Farber:

Good point re who "lost" Viet Nam. Nixon had four years after 1968 to militarily win the war, and apparently chose not to (despite the opinion of the crowd that thinks wimpiness is why we did not win). The outcome was the diplomatic and military policy of Nixon -- its humorous to see others pretend otherwise.

Edward,

Heh... Not to nitpick, but back on this thread your posed a question to me:

But back to my original comment...why is your first instinct to discredit a message that you should welcome?

Things that make you go "Hmmmm", indeedy!

Nixon moved to increase bombing of the North, and invading Cambodia, in 1970, and then recognized that there was no military solution short of a full-scale invasion of the North, which was impossible for a considerable number of reasons

Great comment Gary, thanks.

So, as long as we avoid painting ourselves into a corner where we're faced with an impossible military solution, we might avoid further parallels, no?

Wouldn't that argue that antagonizing Iran then is a bad idea?

A day late with that, I'm afraid, Stan. My first instinct can be found on Von's thread yesterday.

This is not even my second, third, or fourth instinct.

I'm actually looking forward by trying to learn from history. We've been here before---what can we do differently this time (aside from just assuming George will save the day somehow) to avoid the same outcome?

I don't think anyone has ever said that after the election things were going to be all rosey.

But, any reasonable person has to admit that this is a good first step and that there is still more work to do.

It's interesting how many remember history selectively. How man govt's has the U.S. had? How many has France had? How many has Germany had?

It's a beginning, it's a step in the right direction. It will take Iraq many many years to be stable.

Actually, in my haste, I glossed in a slightly misleading way; de-escalation began in '68 by Johnson. Regular bombing above 19 degrees North was halted in March; and in November, Johnson halted all bombing of the north, although Nixon then had his various spasms of bombing campaigns on and off. But our troop peak was in 1969, and it went down thereafter. Nixon recommenced regular bombing in April of '72, and it lasted through December 30th, with a pause from October 24th to December 18th. The "peace" agreement was signed on Jan. 27, 1973. NVA troops marched into Saigon on Apr. 30, 1975, and the war ended.

Smlook: But, any reasonable person has to admit that this is a good first step and that there is still more work to do.

Pity Bush forced them to delay so long, isn't it?

Edward,

You can't fault me for trying :P
I stand corrected.

The only obvious similarity is that in both cases the American public were eager for encouragement. The most obvious difference is that the only figure in Iraq, who commands anything like the sort of loyalty that Ho Chi Minh did, is Sistani.

If Bush is stupid enough to make an enemy of Sistani then the resemblances could become much more significant.

You can't fault me for trying :P

Not at all.

I actually agree with Bob Herbert (far from a Bush lover) who wrote:

You'd have to be pretty hardhearted not to be moved by the courage of the millions of Iraqis who insisted on turning out to vote yesterday despite the very real threat that they would be walking into mayhem and violent death at the polls.

But, again, (the point of the post is) we've been here before. What are the mistakes we need to avoid now? Antagonizing Iran so that militarily we're over our heads seems like one pitfall to avoid, no?

Jes,

"Pity Bush forced them to delay so long, isn't it?"

I don't think so. Btw, why where so many people calling for delays recently?

My thoughts would be that the issue is certainly debatable. But, you do seem to always know everthing so I could be wrong.

Edward:
No snark intended: and thanks for your reminder that concerns over Vietnam did extend past the "boomer" generation - although if your fears about "go[ing] to go die in the jungle" were in play when you were in Kindergarten: imagine having to live with them all through high school and college, like most of my generation did. Indeed, I have always thought that in large part it was the sheer length of the Vietnam War (basically seven years of significant-(American)-casualty war, longer than any other conflict in US history) that contributed mostly to the public's eventual disillusionment with it. That, and the fact that after seven years of bloody fighting, we were only vaguely closer to a "victory" than at the start.

Oh, and Gary:
Again, thanks for expressing more eloquently (and quicker on the comments-post!) than I the sentiments articulated in your last paragraph, especially:

"The notion that somehow or other the war could have been won is pretty much fantasizing..."

Check out the starboard side of the blogosphere: the fantasy is alive and well!


Edward,

I don't know why you are so keen on this Iran point. Should we go to war with Iran? Nope. Should we go in the alternate universe where we didn't invade Iraq and have spare troops? Nope. But should we pretend the Iranians have not been antagonistic and pretend everything is fine? Nope.

"...instead of 400,000+...."

We peaked at nearly 550,000 in 1969, actually. Naturally, that's on duty at one time, not the total number who rotated through over the years.

Edward asks: "So, as long as we avoid painting ourselves into a corner where we're faced with an impossible military solution, we might avoid further parallels, no?"

We can hope so; as I said on the other thread, there are numerous crucial differences; whether they'll make the difference, I can't say. I hope so. But I said from the start that my opinion was that we won't know if it was a gamble worth making for at least five years (from March '02), or maybe even ten or more. I'm still pretty much of that opinion. We'll have many more clues, of course, a year from now, and two years from now.

"Wouldn't that argue that antagonizing Iran then is a bad idea?"

Eh. Iran can do much mischief in Iraq, but they are in no way comparable to the Soviet Union or China in the Vietnam era. Of course, once they have nukes, they'll certainly be vastly more worrisome, but in a way that is existential for Israel, not directly for the U.S. (for some time to come). And scenarios in which they wind up nuking Iraq seem mostly on the pretty implausible side, he said slightly nervously.

"We've been here before...."

I'll re-emphasize again that drawing too many conclusions from situations with so many differences is unwise and apt to be misleading. History does not precisely repeat.

Smlook says: "But, any reasonable person has to admit that this is a good first step...."

It certainly could have been far worse, and it's nice to have a hopeful moment.

"How man govt's has the U.S. had?"

Post-colonially, I'd say two: Articles of Confederation, and Constitutional. France? Not quite so lucky.

Offhand, I think the only lesson from this that's applicable to Iraq is: sometimes successful elections are not enough. The main (hugely important) difference that leaps to mind is: the government that was elected was not already largely discredited. (Thieu won something like a third of votes cast, unlike the election of 1971 in which he ran unopposed, causing buttons to appear around my home town saying " Vote For Thieu. Consider The Alternative.") Also, the insurgency has nowhere near as much popular support and legitimacy.

I'd also like to echo what Gary said about the idea that we could have won if we had not been hamstrung by the left, or whatever. The first time I ran into this argument I thought it was a joke. (Literally.) We spent a long time trying to win that war, doing whatever the military said it would take until nearly the end of Johnson's presidency and an awful lot thereafter, without coming close to winning. It's very, very hard to win a guerilla war when most of the populace hates you, and most of the populace hated us because they were nationalists, and we too often acted in ways that might have been calculated to alienate them. (It's hard not to when you have to approach the people whose hearts and minds you're trying to win over on the assumption that they might be trying to kill you.)

I remember the war very well. It was awful.

I think when discussing an analogy like this, the burden of proof should be on the one who is suggesting the existence of a parallel. Iraq isn't Vietnam, for a thousand cultural, political and military reasons. Why should we assume that the aftermath of a Vietnamese election have much to tell us about the aftermath of an Iraqi one?

The quote about Vietnam does show that an election isn't a cure-all and that our military and government will sometimes express unwarranted optimism by means of the press-- and those are useful things to keep in mind when thinking about Iraq. But I don't see how much else it really shows.

Smlook: I don't think so.

Why not?

hilzoy: can you clarify?

"The main (hugely important) difference that leaps to mind is: the government that was elected was not already largely discredited."

Which "Government" are you referring to? Thieu's? BTW, the 1/30 Iraqi election has not, AFAIK, produced a "government", that, I thought, was for the next election in December to decide.

Which government? In Vietnam, Thieu's. In this election, whichever party wins. I'm assuming it will be a coalition in which Sistani's list plays a large role. AFAIK, this election was for a government, one of whose jobs is to draft a constitution, but who will also be expected to govern.

I think when discussing an analogy like this, the burden of proof should be on the one who is suggesting the existence of a parallel.

But, but, but...you did that so eloquently for me JakeV

The quote about Vietnam does show that an election isn't a cure-all and that our military and government will sometimes express unwarranted optimism by means of the press-- and those are useful things to keep in mind when thinking about Iraq.

The original question was sincere. What are the differences this time? Others have offered some. You're merely insisting they're there, but not specifying.

I can assume there's no parallel to learn from if it makes those wanting to pop the corks on their champagne bottles happy, but isn't it wiser to stop and think about it a while at least? Doesn't that sort of reflection lead to real rather than unwarranted optimism?

via Atrios, this:
"We now are told, according to my sources, that the administration has been reaching out to Mr. Chalabi, to offer him expressions of cooperation and support and according to one report he was even offered a chance to be an interior minister in the new government."
makes me go hmm.

Jes,

Saddam was a dictator. The country needed a little time for more leaders to emerge from the people.

" Btw, why where so many people calling for delays recently?"

In the future, I would atleast appreciate you answering my quesions before you ask one.

Edward,

"Doesn't that sort of reflection lead to real rather than unwarranted optimism?"

But, if it comes from someone who is so consistently negative towards the administration it does appear to be insincere. I'm not saying it, just what it looks like.

Gary Farber: Post-colonially, I'd say two: Articles of Confederation, and Constitutional.

Although I'd agree with you, I've heard some scholars -- don't remember the context or the source, unfortunately -- argue that the Constitutional period should be split into antebellum and postbellum Constitutions. [I don't recall them making a similar split between pre-civil rights and post-civil rights, although I suppose one could.] Anyone familiar with this theory?

I think the primary lesson of Vietnam, Edward, if it is summarizable, is that ultimately the problem in Iraq to be solved, as it was in Vietnam, is political, not military, and the solution must come primarily, if not overwhelmingly, from the Iraqi people, not us, regardless of how well the ultimately stable solution meets or does not meet with our preferences and desires.

Stepping away from Vietnam, I'll again recommend the very small book, or rather long essay, by Reuel Marc Gerecht, which I linked to, briefly quoted, and briefly commented on at the bottom of this post. The Islamic Paradox: Shiite Clerics, Sunni Fundamentalists, and the Coming of Arab Democracy by Reuel Marc Gerecht. It's well worth the read, and I recommend it -- not as gospel, but as thoughts worth considering.

As I said then: "...the conclusion is that a democratic Shi'ite Islamic-led government in Iraq, even one that is rather anti-American/Israel in the short and medium term, is very likely actually the best forseeable and possible solution for Iraq for all of us, in the long term."

If you're a Bush supporter, consider it as fulfilling George W. Bush's call for democracy, and consider that there is, indeed, a pretty good case for doing our best to see people gain a form of it, in the long term, even if the short-term result is a government that is anti-American and anti-Israel for some time to come. That would accurately reflect the feelings of the polity of more than a few countries, particularly in the Mideast and Islamic world, but it's quite arguable that, given trade and contacts, they'll eventually come round, and may be more apt to do so than if we continue to support strong-arm regimes such as Mubarak's, which tend to be useful in the short-run, but ultimately lead to nothing but increased hatred for the US, and collapse, a la the Shah.

If we want to talk more about Vietnam, I've tended to say for more than a couple of decades, in response to variants of the question of "what should we have done in Vietnam?" that the answer depends upon what year you're specifying we should consider the alternate timeline, because the situation changed sufficiently from year to year that the best answer is different in most years.

But probably one of the best solutions, imperfect and flawed as it would have been, would have been for, at the crucial 1954 Geneva Conference, for Foster Dulles (our Secretary of State under Eisenhower; his brother Allen was head of CIA) to have spoken to the Chinese, instead of literally pretending they didn't exist and refusing to shake Chou en-Lai's literally extended hand, and we and the French had then cracked down on Diem when he refused to hold the elections in '56 in South Vietnam that everyone else had agreed to. The country would have been unified with the North thereafter, if Diem had no foreign support, and literally millions of lives would have ultimately been saved (though no one would have known, of course).

("Vietnam released figures on April 3, 1995 that a total of one million Vietnamese combatants and four million civilians were killed in the war. The accuracy of these figures has generally not been challenged. 58,226 American soldiers also died in the war or are missing in action. Australia lost almost 500 of the 47,000 troops they had deployed to Vietnam and New Zealand lost 38 soldiers," from here, for example, although this clearly leaves out the South Koreans I remember contributing units.

"I've heard some scholars -- don't remember the context or the source, unfortunately -- argue that the Constitutional period should be split into antebellum and postbellum Constitutions."

Sure, that's a fair argument. We famously went from "the United States are" to "the United States is." (Just don't get me started on the nitwits who argue that the war wasn't "really" about slavery.)

Incidentally, this is as good a place as any for me to note that sometime last year I asserted here, as well as on my blog, specifically to Slartibartfast, I believe, that what would happen would be that the elections would be moved up from the scheduled date in January (that we just past); obviously I was wrong. However, as usual, I was wrong because I underestimated the ability of the Bush administration to make and enforce bad decisions; I'd still contend, for now, that everyone (we care about) would have been better off if the elections had taken place far sooner, as Sistanti desired.

However, that's arguable, and it's inarguable that I was wrong when I firmly predicted that they would be moved up. Bad Gary; no biscuit.

Smlook: Saddam was a dictator. The country needed a little time for more leaders to emerge from the people.

Do you honestly believe that's why the election took place in January 2005 rather than May 2004 - because the additional 8 months allowed "leaders to emerge from the people"? (When candidate names were not appearing on ballots?) Are you honestly claiming to believe that the US elections in November 2004 had nothing to do with Bush's delaying the Iraq elections till January? Do you agree that it's a pity Bush had to be forced into agreeing to have elections at all?

I protest! I posted this in von's election thread this morning! Where's my credit?

:::pouts:::

Is this because I'm a lesbian?

:-)

Law and Order joke.

Are you honestly claiming to believe that the US elections in November 2004 had nothing to do with Bush's delaying the Iraq elections till January?

Two things: you've just offered up a claim as if it were a foregone conclusion, and you've all but outright accused smlook of lying. Try debating in a forthright manner instead of trolling, please.

This discussion of what's to be learned from Vietnam apropos Iraq brings to mind Ellsberg's observation on the former:

"We weren't on the wrong side. We were the wrong side."

It seems to me the only way the US can succeed in Iraq is to keep this from happening again... if it's not already too late.

This is a good topic to thrash out seriously because the analogy can be either helpful or limiting. It's helpful in the sense that the lesson from the vietnam conflict is, as JayV pointed out, that such insurgent struggles need political solutions, and limiting in the sense that there are real differences between the two conflicts.

As Kevin D wrote above, one difference

is that the only figure in Iraq, who commands anything like the sort of loyalty that Ho Chi Minh did, is Sistani.

Wouldn't another key difference be geography? I'm no military tactician, and I wasn't around for Vietnam, but that range of hills up and down North and South Vietnam must have been impossible for the US to control. If someone is better at military tactics than I am (not hard), I'd appreciate some explanation about how urban guerrilla warfare is similar or different to the more rural, Vietnamese one.

One of the many, many mistakes we made in Vietnam was our abysmal efforts at reforming the South Vietnamese government. We should have tried to help strengthen and democratize this country in the early 1960s, giving the people something they could stand behind. Because of the corruption and misrule, the South Vietnamese people responded cynically and skeptically to governmental efforts. Leaders consistently took one step forward and two steps back. Rather than standing behind their government and country, most hung back and ended up supporting whoever had the upper hand at the time.

Iraq, of course, is a different story, different time, different location, different situation, different culture, different neighbors, different government, different religions, different technologies, etc.

Slart says to Jes: "Two things: you've just offered up a claim...."

He did? Could you quote that, please? It doesn't seem to be in the comment you are responding to.

"...you've all but outright accused smlook of lying."

I don't think the formulation "do you honestly believe [fill in the blank]?" is at all fairly described as "all but outright accus[ing] [someone of] lying." It might be fairly said to be a phraseolgy that someone might find annoying, but not, in my view, anything worse. It's also easily answerable with a "yes," if that's the appropriate answer.

Jackmormon says: "Wouldn't another key difference be geography?"

Yes, I mentioned that in my comment of January 30, 2005 09:57 PM in the "naive, possibly ignorant world politics questions open thread" thread, which I've since mentioned in this thread. I'd give the permalink, but ObWings doesn't believe in them for comments for some reason.

BD: For what it's worth, my understanding is that we did try to urge reform in the 1960s; but there's only so much you can do by urging. (we did try other things, of course, most obviously colluding in the coup against Diem, but we were never willing to cut off the aid.)

He did? Could you quote that, please? It doesn't seem to be in the comment you are responding to.

First, Jesurgislac is female. I know, not really relevant, but she's sort of come out in that regard while you were scarce. Second, I'd be happy to explain my objection to Jesurgislac, on the off-chance she doesn't get it.

I know I've been remiss in saying this: welcome back, Gary. You've been missed.

"One of the many, many mistakes we made in Vietnam was our abysmal efforts at reforming the South Vietnamese government. We should have tried to help strengthen and democratize this country in the early 1960s, giving the people something they could stand behind. Because of the corruption and misrule, the South Vietnamese people responded cynically and skeptically to governmental efforts. Leaders consistently took one step forward and two steps back. Rather than standing behind their government and country, most hung back and ended up supporting whoever had the upper hand at the time."

Respectfully, this is so utterly vague that I'm left with absolutely no idea as to precisely what actions you think should have been taken at which time that would have made a significant difference. If you would care to suggest some specifics, I'd be curious to read them, and perhaps discuss them. Do you believe you know a way things could have been done differently that would have led to an existing South Vietnamese government today? If so, by all means, could we hear what, precisely, they were?

"We should have tried to help strengthen and democratize this country in the early 1960s..."

Of course, that was one of the top goals of the U.S. government, it was our policy, and immense efforts directly involving thousands of U.S. personnel were made in that endeavor. Do you believe this is not true? Were there actions that would were not taken that would have made a critical difference? If so, when, and what were they, specifically?

Would this have been under Diem? Should we have supported him remaining in power? Should we have done what we did to see him removed? Please explain?

"First, Jesurgislac is female."

Ah. My sexism revealed! What are you wearing while posting, Jes? (Kidding! Kidding!)

don't think the formulation "do you honestly believe [fill in the blank]?" is at all fairly described as "all but outright accus[ing] [someone of] lying."

I agree. But that wasn't what was said.

Jes,

Do you honestly believe that's why the election took place in January 2005 rather than May 2004 - because the additional 8 months allowed "leaders to emerge from the people"?

Hah! It's time to play your favorite game.

So.. What evidence do you have that Bush caused the election to take place in January 2005, instead of May 2004?

Oops, that should read:


So.. What evidence do you have that Bush caused the election to take place in January 2005, instead of May 2004 due to US elections taking place in November 2004?

Thanks, Gary, I knew someone had said something about jungle vs. desert. What I'm still figuring out, however, is what exactly the geographic difference means for the counter-insurgency efforts. My understanding is that the Iraqi population is more concentrated, more urban, more, well, modern, than was the Vietnamese people.

It's a big difference, but I'm not sure how it plays out in terms of tactics. The basic insurgent tactic is to strike and retreat (again, if I understand all this correctly). How much of a real difference is there if this strike and retreat tactic is happening in an urbanized area vs. a rural area?

I'm trying to think like a military strategist, and so my first guess is that the key problem would be supply lines. The Iraqi insurgency, concentrated as it is in urban centers, depends on roads to transport munitions from one place to another. The US has demonstrated that it can shut down roads, although, of course, that recourse would have a significant political impact. In Vietnam, the US was unable to shut down Vietcong supply lines. However, since there are so MANY munitions floating around Iraq following the invasion, resupply lines might not be as important for the insurgency, at least in the short-term.

The Iraqis, I'm guessing, aren't following the tactical manual of Mao or Ho Chi Minh. Maybe the strategic lesson of Ho: wearing down the US public's willingness to support the effort. Still, the tactical models of urban warfare seem to have been developed elsewhere: Algeria, Ireland, Israel/Palestine...

Can anyone point me to a reference guide about the difference between rural vs. urban guerilla warfare?

"What evidence do you have that Bush caused the election to take place in January 2005, instead of May 2004 due to US elections taking place in November 2004?"

That would be thousands of news articles detailing the back and forth between Sistanti and Bush for over a year. Or did you simply intend your question to reflect your last clause, "due to US elections taking place in November 2004," which is likely not provable on the presently available public record, I'd agree. That Bush caused the elections to be delayed until now, rather than the earlier date desired by Sistanti, on the other hand, is simply incontrovertible.


Thanks, Gary, I knew someone had said something about jungle vs. desert. What I'm still figuring out, however, is what exactly the geographic difference means for the counter-insurgency efforts. My understanding is that the Iraqi population is more concentrated, more urban, more, well, modern, than was the Vietnamese people.

It's a big difference, but I'm not sure how it plays out in terms of tactics. The basic insurgent tactic is to strike and retreat (again, if I understand all this correctly). How much of a real difference is there if this strike and retreat tactic is happening in an urbanized area vs. a rural area?

I'm trying to think like a military strategist, and so my first guess is that the key problem would be supply lines. The Iraqi insurgency, concentrated as it is in urban centers, depends on roads to transport munitions from one place to another. The US has demonstrated that it can shut down roads, although, of course, that recourse would have a significant political impact. In Vietnam, the US was unable to shut down Vietcong supply lines. However, since there are so MANY munitions floating around Iraq following the invasion, resupply lines might not be as important for the insurgency, at least in the short-term.

The Iraqis, I'm guessing, aren't following the tactical manual of Mao or Ho Chi Minh. Maybe the strategic lesson of Ho: wearing down the US public's willingness to support the effort. Still, the tactical models of urban warfare seem to have been developed elsewhere: Algeria, Ireland, Israel/Palestine...

Can anyone point me to a reference guide about the difference between rural vs. urban guerilla warfare?

Ah. So there's no evidence. Gotcha.

Differences between Vietnam and Iraq? Let's see… Vietnam -- more water, more rain, more trees to defoliate. Iraq? -- more sand, more sand, …

"How much of a real difference is there if this strike and retreat tactic is happening in an urbanized area vs. a rural area?"

I'm just a guy who has read a lot; the closest I've come to direct military experience is having been Assistant Patrol Leader of my Boy Scout troop. (I did work as the assistant editor for a couple of years on Avon Book's Vietnam War line, though, have read something over two hundred books and manuscripts on the subject, minimum (and skimmed through many more manuscripts and accounts), and edited a variety of other nonfiction books on war, for whatever that's worth.)

I think the key element isn't actually geography, though it's important, nor urban vs. jungle, though they're rather different ways to fight, but simply the classic Maoist dictum that the guerilla will swim in the sea of the people. In other words, if Iraqi "insurgents" have sufficient popular support that weapons can be hidden all over, and even more importantly, at most given moments they can drop their weapons and disappear into the mass of civilians, they have the potential to win so long as that level of popularity and support can be maintained. If they don't have enough popular support, they won't be able to do that sufficiently, and will eventually be stamped out.

And that is, as I've said, ultimately a political question requiring a political solution, not a military question that has a military solution. Perhaps yesterday was the start; it remains, of course, just a first step for now. But to succeed, Iraqis who think along the lines of, for instance, Riverbend and Raed will have to be persuaded to change their minds.

Oops. Didn't mean to link in any way to that specific post of Raed's. Pay no attention to that. I mean to link to his blog generically, though with particular attention to recent posts.

One of the many, many mistakes we made in Vietnam was our abysmal efforts at reforming the South Vietnamese government. We should have tried to help strengthen and democratize this country in the early 1960s, giving the people something they could stand behind.

In other words, the whole Vietnam war was a mistake, as the US even before its involvement on the ground in Vietnam advocated that the Vietnamese people not hold a referendum to decide on unification. The likely result of the referendum, were it to have been held in the 1950s, would have been the same as the end result of 20 years of war, minus the millions of dead and the destabilization of the region.

Then again, perhaps I misread you, and by "democratize" you meant provide the trappings of democracy while making sure that no decisions harmful to US interests take place. That is what has passed for democratization in all too many cases.

"Ah. So there's no evidence. Gotcha."

Not being a mind-reader, I can only guess that this otherwise obscure comment from StanLS is a response to my response to him.

Assuming so, is it so that you believe that "...that's why the election took place in January 2005 rather than May 2004 - because the additional 8 months allowed 'leaders to emerge from the people'?," then, StanLS?

Hmm, incidentally, I see Juan Cole just popped up on the PBS Newshour, along with Adeed... whoops, his name disappeared from the screen before I could type it.

Cole's first words were "this is a triumph of the Iraqi spirit." The entirety of the rest of his opening comment was on the same point. How awful!

"...as the US even before its involvement on the ground in Vietnam advocated that the Vietnamese people not hold a referendum to decide on unification."

This is a not very accurate summary; we agreed to the elections in 1954, and signed the Final Accord of the Geneva Conference. However, we didn't particularly do anything to enforce the part about the elections, but, then, in 1956 we weren't the dominant force in South Vietnam, either. If you have some evidence of the U.S. government "advocating" against the accords and elections, though, do please provide a cite as to what, specifically, you are talking about. Here's mine in contradiction. See also here, for example, with particular attention to the links to the rest of the "Pentagon Papers" at the bottom of the page.

This, by the way, is a useful site if anyone would like to discuss facts about the Vietnam War, rather than, um, less grounded thoughts. Not that there is a shortage of other fine sites, and innumerable good books. (And hallucinatory notions.)

Gary -- you know more about this than I do, but my sense was that we could have pressured the S. Vietnamese government to hold the elections and did not, and also that the eisenhower administration had decided that it was not in their interest to do anything to promote elections that would probably result in the unification of the country under Ho Chi Minh. I obviously didn't reread all the Pentagon Papers links, but I did find this here:

"France and Britain urged Diem to hold consultations with Hanoi for all-Vietnam elections, as stipulated in the Geneva Accords. The U.S. suggested consultations but also suggested Diem request firm guarantees (for secret ballot, UN or international supervision) which the DRV was expected to reject. But Diem refused to meet with the North Vietnamese. He had not signed the Geneva Accords and denied being bound by them in any way."

Which would imply that we favored, and took steps to promote, not having the elections. (Which I've always thought was arguably the biggest of all the big mistakes we made about Vietnam.)

For 'elections', read 'referendum'.

do please provide a cite as to what, specifically, you are talking about

The reference I am using is Langguth's Our Vietnam which states that Washington supported Diem's decision not to hold the referendum, and includes a quote from (then Senator) JFK justifying this by accusing Hanoi of not keeping its part of the deal.

Then again, perhaps Langguth suffered from less than well-grounded thoughts, too.

felixrayman:
In your post of 8:29 you made a comment:

"...by "democratize" you meant provide the trappings of democracy while making sure that no decisions harmful to US interests take place."

I'm not sure at all that that is what "Bird Dog" (NOT Our Charles, I am assuming[?]) meant: since your formulation is exactly what the Republic of Vietnam was meant be - a nominally "pro-Western" (i.e., officially anti-Communist) state as a counterweight to the officially Communist North Vietnam: a state, though, in which "democracy" (at least in the US/European sense) was always far far more of a concept than a practice.
But I am not sure, though, what, if anything the US could have done to "strengthen and democratize" South Vietnam beyond what it already did. Fundamentally, the forces of native Vietnamese nationalism were stronger than, and eventually overcame the artificial (to them, anyway) Communist/Anti-Communist dichotomy through which the US persistently viewed the Vietnam conflict.

One other difference between Vietnam and Iraq was the cultural consequence of being mostly an agrarian society, as South Vietnam was.

IIRC, most South Vietnamese didn't think of themselves as 'Citizens of Vietnam.' Their culture and society were rural, village-based. So, to them, US forces were completely alien people wreaking havoc upon them in the name of a political structure that was incomprehensible, alien, and unwanted.

Saying 'we should have democratized earlier' sounds very nice, but misses the point. Democratizing an agrarian society means more than holding elections. First, you have to show them there's any benefit to the concept of elections; real benefits, in terms of improving their lives. And that means figuring out what would actually benefit them. And 'capitalism,' as the US defines it, ain't it.

Iraq is more urbanized. Iraqis do consider themselves to be part of a nation. The economy is more amenable to capitalism, and the people certainly have more understanding of how a confederated country and centralized government should work.

Sorry about the double post--I swear I tried to avoid it. Could someone delete the repeat, please?

Diem was, from what I've read, a corrupt, cruel, and in the final analysis, rather silly man. The current Iraqi leadership, for all their faults, don't seem silly, but maybe the blinders of the present are interfering with my ability to judge them clearly. The Iraqi population seems more sophisticated and skeptical as well.

Media scrutiny seems to be another big difference between Vietnam and Iraq, and not just US media but regional media. That terroristic tactics gamble on media representations is a given I'm hoping. In the Vietnamese conflict, what were the media outlets? I know that the North Vietnamese ran a pretty tightly controlled radio station. I assume that the US had a few pro-US newspapers and radio stations. Was there anything like Al-Jazerah or Al-Arabiyah, media that while sympathetic to insurgent concerns still represented broader regional concerns?

CaseyL,
From what I've read, even the Vietnamese peasantry had more of a national identity than the US had counted on: resentment about French intrusion into Vietnamese territory had been percolating in the elites for a long while, and the insurgency against the French stirred national feelings in the peasantry even before Americans arrived. According to Neil Sheehan (I'm sorry that I can't locate the exact passage right now), the Vietnamese had a sense of distinct cultural identity before the arrival of the French. Here again the geography would make a difference: the Vietnamese were those eastern coastal inhabits, as opposed to those people from across the hills.

We should have tried to help strengthen and democratize this country in the early 1960s

Glad Gary's here with lots of info, but I personally think the die was cast in the immediate post WWII period. The Viet Minh (along with our OSS) fought the Japanese and when the war was over, because of manpower problems, the allies, rather than demobilizing Japanese troops in SEAsia, employed them to prevent uprisings. I think Ho was an OSS agent during the war.

Here's an interesting analysis of Ho Chi Minh's rhetoric. I think some of the same points need to be taken into account for the north korea post.

I also recommend Fall's _Street without Joy_. Fall writes as a fervent anti-communist, but I find the information illuminating. Here is an excerpt (it's a google cache, and it's half way down the page)

Sometimes, there occurs an almost irrelevant incident which, in the light of later developments, seems to have been a sign of the gods, a dreamlike warning which, if heeded, could have changed fate—or so it seems.

I remember the war very well. It was awful.

hilzoy, all wars are awful. I don't believe there has ever been a war that wasn't. Small wars tend to be less so whereas larger wars are much more so.

I'm thinking of August 1864, when Lincoln wrote a letter to his cabinet that his reelection was unlikely and the Republic (Union) was in jeapordy. By September of that same year, after the fall of Atlanta, Lincoln's election was a cetainty as was the survival of the Union.

Thus, my question to you all is simply this, was January 30, 2005 closer to the Nam elections or the anihilation of Atlanta?

Historical moments brought to you by Timmy the Woder Dog.

Thus, my question to you all is simply this, was January 30, 2005 closer to the Nam elections or the anihilation of Atlanta?

Isn't the operative question here "for whom"? The civil war and Lincoln's reelection were questions internal to the US, whereas both the Vietnamese elections and the Iraqi elections are, no matter how identified US interests are to their outcomes, external to the US. I don't quite understand what you're saying here, Timmy.

My understanding is that the Iraqi population is more concentrated, more urban, more, well, modern, than was the Vietnamese people.

It's a big difference, but I'm not sure how it plays out in terms of tactics. The basic insurgent tactic is to strike and retreat (again, if I understand all this correctly). How much of a real difference is there if this strike and retreat tactic is happening in an urbanized area vs. a rural area?

This particular difference cuts both ways. With a very helpful (to the insurgents) population this makes supply and hiding relatively easy. With a non helpful (to the insurgents) population it makes supply and hiding almost impossible. In most Iraqi cities we seem to have something in the middle. In the worst cities we have a cowed population which is too afraid to help even if they want to. That is one of the reasons you can't allow the insurgents to inhabit one city for very long--if you do they become impossible to find because they have frightened too many people. My general thought on insurgency is that it is better to fight bloody and short rather than pick away for a long period of time because the longer you wait to act, the more cowed the civilian population becomes. This has to be balanced by the fact that if you aren't careful when attempting to crush the insurgency you may actively alienate nearby population. That is why the propaganda war is so important--keeping the civilian population from actively helping the enemy (whichever side you are) is crucial.

I'd give the permalink, but ObWings doesn't believe in them for comments for some reason.

It does, actually, but you have to be somewhat clever about it. It's too much of a PITA to do on a regular basis, IMO, but for this special occasion I'll make an exception.

Which reminds me, ObWi HiveMind: since the code for permalinking individual comments is actually embedded in the page, might there be some way of enabling that little twiddle to allow such linkages without opening up the source and mucking around?

"...but my sense was that we could have pressured the S. Vietnamese government to hold the elections and did not..."

That's somewhat less clear than the second part of your sentence. For one thing, the French were still essentially in de facto charge, though no longer in de jure charge; but we'd have had to go through the French, essentially, to pressure South Vietnam. We certainly had plenty of leverage, since after the Geneva Conference we started paying most of France's costs in Indochina, but it still would have had complications. On the other hand, I'm not outright disagreeing, either. As I said, we -- the Eisenhower Administration -- didn't do anything to push for elections, so far as I recall, and then:

"...and also that the eisenhower administration had decided that it was not in their interest to do anything to promote elections that would probably result in the unification of the country under Ho Chi Minh."

Yes, that's essentially correct. Note this particularly idiotic and out-of-touch-with-reality distortion of the facts by Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Walter S. Robertson, on June 1st, 1956, for example.

"...not having the elections. (Which I've always thought was arguably the biggest of all the big mistakes we made about Vietnam.)"

I thought I said that in my message above at 5:33 p.m.

Jay C says: "Fundamentally, the forces of native Vietnamese nationalism were stronger than, and eventually overcame the artificial (to them, anyway) Communist/Anti-Communist dichotomy through which the US persistently viewed the Vietnam conflict."

That's also essentially correct. Ho Chi Minh was an authentic nationalist hero. Bao Dai was a pig, and everyone knew it. Diem, and his family, were members of the Catholic minority, and tolerated immense corruption, as well as being an authoritarian who massacred Buddhists. His wife, Madame Nhu, famously spoke of letting more Buddhist monks burn. There's no wonder involved in JFK's administration deciding that Diem was a "cure" who could never bring stability to South Vietnam and had to go. And then we had a whirlpool of successive coups and Big Minhs, little Minhs, and on to Thieu, who was all in all the least bad of somewhat ludicrous lot, but who still was also never remotely able to create a regime that wasn't overwhelmingly, heroically, corrupt and incompetent.

You can't beat something with nothing, and we never were able, despite all our money, zillions of people, and hi-tech military, to create a successful regime in South Vietnam. And as I said when I entered this conversation, that was one of the key reasons we couldn't win. No matter that we could win any and every battle we cared to make the effort to (at horrific cost; ask anyone who fought on Hamburger Hill if we "didn't try" hard enough to win).

CaseyL says: "One other difference between Vietnam and Iraq was the cultural consequence of being mostly an agrarian society, as South Vietnam was."

They're different, sure.

"IIRC, most South Vietnamese didn't think of themselves as 'Citizens of Vietnam.'"

True up to a point; we can get into all sorts of complications here, starting with the earlier three kingdoms, and the differences between Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China, but I won't, for now.

"Their culture and society were rural, village-based."

Largely, though a significant number of people did live in cities such as Hanoi, Hue, Saigon, and so forth.

"So, to them, US forces were completely alien people wreaking havoc upon them in the name of a political structure that was incomprehensible, alien, and unwanted."

To a large degree, yes. And to some degree that is also true for some in Iraq; I won't debate percentages, though I'd agree that it almost surely describes a larger percentage of Vietnamese during the Fifties, and even the Sixties, than of contemporary Iraqis.

"Saying 'we should have democratized earlier' sounds very nice, but misses the point."

Yup. But I'll wait a bit for explanations from someone as to what specifically we should have done that would have made All The Difference.

Jackmormon says: "Diem was, from what I've read, a corrupt, cruel, and in the final analysis, rather silly man."

I wouldn't argue.

"I assume that the US had a few pro-US newspapers and radio stations."

Yes.

"Was there anything like Al-Jazerah or Al-Arabiyah, media that while sympathetic to insurgent concerns still represented broader regional concerns?"

When newspapers in South Vietnam got out of line, they were shut down. But there weren't many newspaper readers, let alone TVs, in the villages and jungle. "Media" wasn't a significant factor in either half of Vietnam, in the larger senses of having a major effect on the war one way or another, though both sides attempted indoctrination; the North was better at it because of their nationalistic credentials. Both sides tortured a lot, and assasinated their own citizens endlessly as well.

LJ says: "I think Ho was an OSS agent during the war."

I think it's misleading to call him an "OSS agent." OSS agents did make contact with him, though not, in my recollection, until July of 1945, just before the war ended. In August Ho proclaimed the "August Revolution," and that he was President of Vietnam. You can read some background, and a bit of argument with Bernard Fall in this summary from the P Papers. There are assertions by some that Ho's Declaration of Independence, which took a number of passages from the U.S. version, was drafted with the aid of an OSS agent, but I don't recall off the top of my head how verified
or unverified that is.

I don't quite understand what you're saying here, Timmy.

Welcome to the party Jack, simply put the elections in Nam changed nothing (the North wasn't going to be swayed by them) whereas the fall of Atlanta changed the tide of the Civil War and directly lead to its ultimate end.

The question then is, is 30 January 2005 a footnote or a historical event? I have pretty good idea where GT and Kevin Drum stand, how about you Jack. BTW I get a kick out of Jackmormon, you must be from the west.

True up to a point; we can get into all sorts of complications here, starting with the earlier three kingdoms, and the differences between Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China, but I won't, for now.

Sounds like another perfect opportunity to pimp my dad's book. Buy it! You'll love it! Every copy will contribute almost a penny to my inheritance! How can you possibly go wrong?

"hilzoy, all wars are awful. I don't believe there has ever been a war that wasn't."

Taking Cuba from Spain wasn't particularly awful for anyone, in a major way, that I recall. (Although the resulting fights in the Phillipines against the Phillipine insurgents who -- wackily -- thought they were getting independence -- surely were.)

The Mexican-American War was pretty painless for America and Americans, aside from a relative few. (Not so great for Mexico, but not a mass slaughter, either.)

Invading Grenada wasn't very terrible. Neither was invading Panama on any of several occasions, for Americans, though rather unpleasant for a number of innocent Panamanians. The Falklands' War devastated few. The Spanish Conquests in the Western hemisphere was entirely painless for the Spanish.

Really, there are quite a few of these sorts of not very terrible wars thoughout history, Timmy, as well as the more common terrible ones.

This blog might benefit from one of those amazon buy-books-through-me deals...

For one thing, the French were still essentially in de facto charge, though no longer in de jure charge; but we'd have had to go through the French, essentially, to pressure South Vietnam.

This is not true. Looking at the facts rather than, um, less grounded thoughts, we note that...

Almost at once, however, U.S. policy began to respond to military urgency, and this in turn caused the U.S. to move beyond partnership to primacy. In September of 1954, SEATO was brought into being, its protection extended to Vietnam by a protocol to the Manila Pact. The U.S. resolved through SEATO to balk further expansion of communist dominion, and looked to transforming Vietnam into a key redoubt in the line of containment. The U.S. was determined that Vietnam would become politically sound, economically self-sufficient, and militarily capable of providing for its own internal security, coping with invasion from North Vietnam, and contributing to the deterrent strength of the SEATO coalition. France, then beset with internal political divisions, and plagued with Algeria, evidenced doubt, indecision, and occasional reluctance in aiding Vietnam toward the foregoing objectives. The U.S. was not prepared to wait. In late September 1954, the U.S. cut out the French as middle-men in all its assistance for Vietnam, and began to deal directly with Diem, his government, and his armed forces.

France at first resisted the growing US control in Vietnam, but, quite quickly relented:

General Collins struck an agreement with General Ely in Vietnam by which, despite serious misgivings in Paris, France agreed to turn over the training of the Vietnamese army to the U.S. and to withdraw French cadres. On February 12, 1955, the U.S. assumed responsibility for training Vietnamese forces, and the French disassociation began.

After elections in France, the final withdrawal came:

On March 22, 1956, France agreed with Diem to withdraw the FEC altogether. On April 26, 1956, the French High Command in Saigon was disestablished. On the due date for the general elections agreed to at Geneva, France possessed no military forces in Vietnam.
-All quotes from hilzoy's Pentagon Papers link.

The facts are that the by the time the referendum was scheduled to be held, France was not "in charge" in Vietnam in any way shape or form. Given that the US was prepared to lose tens of thousands of US soldiers and cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, it seems that demanding that the referendum be held would have been an obvious first step if democracy was any consideration at all. The conclusion is obvious.

Historically, Darius' conquest of the Medean empire would probably qualify. I'd be tempted to include Alexander's conquest of the Persian Empire too, but only on the grounds that the awfulness was small compared to the vastness of the lands and numbers of people affected.

I'm thinking some of the Chinese wars from the 9th-11th centuries would probably qualify, but I can't think of a specific example; my knowledge of Asian military history is limited. Any takers there?

Er, thanks for the compliment on my handle?

I had simply wanted to point out that the fall of Atlanta was a domestic event in the context of a civil war, whereas the Iraqi elections occurred in a foreign country where US interest was involved. There's quite a difference.

As to whether yesterday's elections will be an historic event, I can only say that I sure hope so.

From Andrew Sullivan, something that didn't so much make me go "hmmm" as "G*d Sully can be idiotic":

These elections have not yielded much. It is necessary to wait and see the results, but I think all this is unreliable and dubious." - former communist apparatchik, Mikhail Gorbachev. Yep. You can understand why he's not too keen on democracy.

I had simply wanted to point out that the fall of Atlanta was a domestic event in the context of a civil war, whereas the Iraqi elections occurred in a foreign country where US interest was involved. There's quite a difference.

I understood your point, and I enjoy your handle. :)

I wonder how Vietnam would have changed if JFK hadn't approved the elimination of the Diem brothers.

"...simply put the elections in Nam changed nothing (the North wasn't going to be swayed by them)"

I have no idea which elections in "Nam" you are referring to, but certainly there were no significant elections in South Vietnam that materially changed the course of the war at any time. The previously mentioned '67 election that Edward posted about to start this thread didn't.

In case there's any question about who would have won an honest election in 1956, as called for by the Geneva Conference, see here and here, please, and let us know if you care to argue with President Eisenhower (the commie!)

"It was generally conceded that had an election been held, Ho Chi Minh would have been elected Premier," said Eisenhower. Disagree?

By the way, Timmy, might I politely inquire as to whether there is any particular reason you might mention that would clear up why you have such considerable trouble with, as a rule, writing coherent sentences, or punctuating? If English is a second language to you, for instance, or you left school at an early age, perhaps, I certainly would not want to unintentionally pick on you about such a reasonable circumstance.

Timmy
While what you say about Atlanta is true as far as it goes, the reason for Sherman's victory in Atlanta was because Jefferson Davis dismissed Johnston and appointed Hood, who tried to attack the Union army and got whupped. At the same time, the union forces under Sheridan won some victories in the Shennandoah Valley that forced Confederate troops threatening Washington to retreat, which was inflated as a great triumph, thus assuring Lincoln's renomination. The lesson I take from this is that if you are really lucky, your enemies will make mistakes...

"On the due date for the general elections agreed to at Geneva, France possessed no military forces in Vietnam."

There also wasn't any significant fighting going on at the time. This doesn't mean that we wouldn't have had complicated arguments with the French, or that they no longer had any interest in, or influence over, South Vietnam, although I entirely agree it was in the process of rapidly diminishing and ours rapidly rising. The basic point also remains trivial insofar as any arguments made here: the U.S. agreed in 1954 to elections to be held in 1956, and then the U.S. had no interest in holding South Vietnam to the Geneva Agreement, which South Vietnam maintained it was not bound by since they were not signatories. What's the argument?

"-All quotes from hilzoy's Pentagon Papers link."

Um. Whatever.

Timmy says: "I wonder how Vietnam would have changed if JFK hadn't approved the elimination of the Diem brothers."

It's, of course, not provable, but it's hard to see how the U.S. could have maintained domestic support for a regime that was so keen on burning up pacifist Buddhist monks. It's difficult to map out a plausible scenario in which Diem stayed on and South Vietnam didn't collapse far sooner than it did.

Incidentally, JFK certainly didn't approve of the "elimination" of the Diems in the manner in which it happened, which is to say, their being brutally shot to death; he naively thought they would merely be removed from power, and exiled.

A far more interesting question is what would have happened if JFK hadn't been "eliminated." Despite the assertions of many that they "know" -- based upon NSC papers and other notes written at the time, and Kennedy's decisions up to then -- what he would have done -- and many claim they "know" he would have not escalated further -- we, of course, don't know, and can't know, because people actually change their mind according to circumstances, as did JFK many times. We simply don't know what he would have been thinking in 1965 or 1965, and we never will be able to know. Only guess and argue.

The Pentagon Papers link was, of course, from one of Gary's earlier cites ;)

By the way, Timmy, might I politely inquire as to whether there is any particular reason you might mention that would clear up why you have such considerable trouble with, as a rule, writing coherent sentences, or punctuating?

Well you might, and I might even answer. But generally as this effort is simply for pleasure, short and choppy is better and punctuation is unheard of.

That is, the comparison of the Iraqi conflict with the Vietnam war is a structurally sloppy or historically weak. This simply reflects that Vietnam War was about containment. One of several undertakings by this country to stop the spread (not the defeat) of Communism. Whereas the Iraqi conflict is an effort not to contain but to destroy a form of Islamic fascism. I hope you understand the difference in the overall parameters of the two different conflicts.

Historically speaking, communists never paid much attention to elections. And if Ho Chi Minh had been elected in 1956, there is little doubt it would have been the last election. I don't believe Ho held any elections in North Vietnam at all.

Gary, may I politely inquire, if you took courses in English Composition instead of history and ethics.

Finally, the issue raised by Kevin Drum and the segue to Iraq is a very poor analogy.

Gary, please feel free to comment or edit, whatever.

Timmy, I'm glad you also enjoy the handle; most people don't understand the comedy (or the reference) of it. While I'm not in the hills as the original jackmormons were, I'm in a similar position.

Okay, back to the topic at hand. You wondered

how Vietnam would have changed if JFK hadn't approved the elimination of the Diem brothers.

With the Magical Vision of Retrospect, which, I admit, is terribly precient, I wonder how it would have mattered. Diem was an awful, incompetent, dictatorial ruler--again, according to what I've read, but the US was in an impossible situation because of its public statements about its goals in the region.


And Timmy: I have no particular allegiance to JFK's foreign policy. I self-identify as a radical-libertarian-puritanical Democrat (parse that!) and am too young to have many sentimental attachment to JFK's presidency. I like what he and his brother did for civil rights, but I also recognize that his belligerant attitude towards Communism embroiled the US even further in Vietnam. I suspect I'm not alone in this analysis.

Replacing Diem, incidentally, hadn't exactly been a new idea. See thus and thus from 1955.

"But generally as this effort is simply for pleasure, short and choppy is better and punctuation is unheard of."

Yes, communicating incoherently, and without punctuation, so people can't figure out what you are trying to say certainly is the better way.

Why haven't more people realized this?

"Gary, may I politely inquire, if you took courses in English Composition instead of history and ethics."

Certainly. I dropped out of college in my first year; I'm primarily an auto-didact. And you? Forgive me if I'm slightly skeptical that you had instructors who instructed you to write papers on history or ethics in such a way that they often couldn't make sense of what you wrote. Do you genuinely find it painful to write coherently, or to use punctuation? If so, why? (You do manage coherent sentences from time to time.)

But I'll wait a bit for explanations from someone as to what specifically we should have done that would have made All The Difference.

Gary, I think the tenor of the conversation proves that nothing would have made All The Difference.

It's, of course, not provable, but it's hard to see how the U.S. could have maintained domestic support for a regime that was so keen on burning up pacifist Buddhist monks.

I don't remember this particular issue being on the front pages of say, the New York Times in 1962. Maybe you can refresh my memory. I believe the pacifist Buddhist monks burned themselves in protest. I do remember that the Diems, we assasinated both of them, were against land reform, had taken on and defeated the gangs (drugs and prostitution) and were prepared to expand the war to the north. Leadership in the south, never recovered after their assasination.

And you

Severly dyslectic and actually I did very well in those classes. Thanks for asking.

All The Difference

The bombing of the Red River dikes would have certainly done the job. Well it certainly would have got their attention.

What's the argument?

Well, since you instigated the argument, you should know, but I would sum up the points of difference as:

1) You think the US merely passively failed to urge/force/whatever Diem to stick to the Geneva agreements. I think the US adopted an active policy of trying to ensure that the referendum did not take place. YOUR (better?) Pentagon Papers link provides some evidence to back this up.

2) You think conflict with France constrained US actions in Vietnam during the time period the referendum was scheduled to take place. I think that by 1955 the US was the primary power (de facto) in Vietnam, and after the French elections in 1956 (well before the scheduled referendum) the US was almost completely unopposed by France as the French had lost interest and had other priorities.

If you would rather agree than argue, we could just agree that the failure of the US to ensure that the Geneva Accords were adhered to was an extremely costly mistake - the worst case scenario would have been the 1975 situation minus a few million dead and a destabilized SE Asia. Sometimes arguing is more fun, though.

There are assertions by some that Ho's Declaration of Independence, which took a number of passages from the U.S. version, was drafted with the aid of an OSS agent, but I don't recall off the top of my head how verified
or unverified that is.

Though not specifically about the speech, this link is interesting as all get out.

One thing Ho Chi Minh wanted at the time was recognition of the Viet Minh as legitimate representatives of the Vietnamese. Instead, in addition to our advisory role and a few weapons, the OSS gave Ho Chi Minh an official appointment as OSS Agent 19 and a code name of "Lucius." Closer examination of this collaboration by several scholars shows that few documents apparently passed among the two sides or between Ho Chi Minh and the OSS headquarters in Kunming.

It goes on to mention that the consensus view is that the OSS-Viet Minh was a 'lost opportunity'.

This is another interesting link. especially the exchange of letters between Johnson and Ho.

One of several undertakings by this country to stop the spread (not the defeat) of Communism. Whereas the Iraqi conflict is an effort not to contain but to destroy a form of Islamic fascism.

Timmy, I must admit that I don't understand this. As I've understood it from history books, Communism was portrayed by US politicians as a form of fascism--and yet they were willing to wait it out, to contain the spread of the ideology to which they were opposed, while hesitating to embroil the full resources of their (our) country in proxy wars.

I agree with you that there is a form of Islamic fascism that, ideologically, runs counter to the US interest. I suspect that that is as far as our ideas are similar, however. I am far from convinced that the united Caliphate (sp?) has the same appeal as the Internationale did. What worries me more than anything is that justifiable (or not) arguments about national interest will be increasingly cast in terms of undebatable religious belief.

For example: as a Mormon, I have received a Priesthood blessing that identified me as a spiritual member of the tribe of Ephraim. As a rational being, I have understood this communication to be largely metaphorical. As an ethical being, I have asked myself how much I really am devoted to Jewish people being in control of the holy land.

I guess my point is that theological differences are not productive. My church doesn't believe in the Trinity, but most Christian churches do; let's get over it. A hundred and fifty years ago this (well, and the whole polygamy thing) was enough to put federal troops on the boder of Utah.

Let's not kid ourselves. The frontier was incredibly diverse. The religion of the great GOP chairperson Orrin Hatch in its earlier, frontier stages was actually commnistic:

In reality, we should have only one mess chest, one place of deposit, and that is the kingdom of God on the earth; it is the only store-house there is for saints, it is the only "pile," the only safe place of deposit, the only place to invest our capital. This is only rational to me; and all who contend for an individual interest, a personal "pile," independant of the kingdom of God will be destroyed.

Source: Arrington, Leonard A. Brigham Young: American Moses (Knopf 1985), citing Brighum Young's "Jounral of Discourses" 1:341ff.

My general point is that the Christian heritage of the USA is incredibly diverse. Constitutional law eventually corralled the experiments that were goin on in the territories, but it's taken a long time. The US has had its communistic periods--the Mormon experiment, by the way, met some disasters--but largely self-corrected.

I guess I'm not entirely convinced of the DANGER that ideology poses, over the longterm.

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