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January 29, 2005

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Do foreigners have legs?

No fair winning with the first post. You're supposed to provide a heightened tension, for at least a few dozen posts. Get with the program.

But while we're asking, why can't everyone just learn English? I mean, after all, 400 million or so people speak it as their native tongue...

But while we're asking, why can't everyone just learn English?

Because some of them got conquered by different empires and now speak Chinese or Spanish? ;-)

On the topic of English, which is the world langauge (and shouldn't be, in my opinion, the spelling and pronounciation rules are stupid), I highly recommend this book - The Story of English - as an excellent and entertaining history of the English language. It also explains the rasons for the dumb spelling.

And as far as the languages that we all SHOULD be speaking that makes sense, I say Cantonese. No conjugation, no case, no definite articles, no genders, and every word is one syllable. The only difficuly are the damned tones.

Teacher: Okay, the word for "life" is "gau".
Me: Gau.
Teacher: No, you just said "nine" Try again. Gau. Gau.
Me: Gau.
Teacher: No no, that was "dog."

rasons = reasons. Dumb spelling indeed.

Is it wrong to think Haydn C. looks hotter than a hot thing as GoingEevil!Anakin Skywalker?

Yes, it's wrong.

Ok, so on a list I recently claimed that English is an easy language to learn, esp. at the 500-word vocab level needed for simple communication. (Of course Spanish is easier/more consistent.) A lot of people were, well, shocked. I poked around a bit for scholarly articles but didn't find a ranking of absolute difficulty. Any informed opinions out there?

English is extremely difficult to learn. We have sounds that no-one else uses, multiple words that mean the same thing, words tha tsound the same that mean diffeent things, very few regular verbs, bizzare spelling (the "ghoti" example comes to mind), and some oddball phraseology. Things burning up and burning down, for example, or driving on parkways and parking on driveways. Or the fact that flammable and inflammable mean exactly the same thing. I could go on.

I vote for Swedish as the world language. No cases, no declensions, reasonably straightforward pronunciation as long as you can learn to make some of the sounds in the first place, and it has the added bonus of being amusing for English speakers, since it is, of course, related, but perfectly normal Swedish terms are funny if your native language is English.

Examples: To throw something away is 'kasta ut'. Chopped spinach is 'hackad spenat'.

Also, the word for 'cloth' is 'tyger', which means that Blake fans walking through Stockholm can actually see signs that say: 'Tyger! Tyger!'

And my last name means 'book' in Swedish (the name itself is Dutch, where it means 'goat'), so when I walk around I get to see "(Last name)! Special!" (on good days), or "Used Discarded, Unwanted (last name), Cut Rate!" (on a bad day.)

Quit making this the linguistics thread, or I'll use the C-word.

Doesn't Swedish Chef say "Bok Bok Bok" a lot?

Oh, wait. It's "Bork".

Quit making this the linguistics thread...

Okay, here's my ignorant world politics question - why isn't the US using the metric system? It's pretty much the only country left that isn't.

Just kidding...I'd never threadjack my own thread. My name means nothing in particular in French, except for affiliation with some region or other. My first name certainly means something in Hebrew, but it's up for question whether my mother meant it that way or not. Probably it was something suitably Catholic.

There was a fun article in the NYT a couple years ago about some big international finance meeting -- I want to say ASEAN was in talks with the G8 or something like that -- and, in particular, the difficulties of communication. Turns out that all but one of the delegates agreed to speak the same language: English. The holdout? France.

Of course, the article pointed out, the English that they spoke would be near incomprehensible to people in the US or the UK, and wasn't any too easy to understand there either; Bangladeshi English v. Singaporean English v. Beijing English v. Seoul English, a whole motley array of different dialects incorporating different loanwords and the like. But it was at least mutually intelligble, and that's all you can ask of a lingua franca.

This, incidentally, seems wrong to me:

dbu: We have sounds that no-one else uses...

I don't think that's quite right. The closest example I can think of would be the English 'r', but it depends on what dialect you're talking about. I can't think of anything like the Welsh 'll', the Czech 'r^' (that should be upside-down, like in Dvorak, but I'm too lazy to find the Unicode), the Caucasian "ram every consonant in the language into one syllable", or the subtle differentiation of consonants found in Hindi.

Doesn't Swedish Chef say "Bok Bok Bok" a lot?

If you can find a copy, listen to either El Hambo or Pseudo-Yoik by Jaakko Mantyjarvi. El Hambo, in particular, is to be sung a la Swedish Chef...

Ok, so given that the dominant successful Western countries are democracies, and the Middle East (mod Israel) has tried everything else, why isn't there more energy there for giving it a try?

why isn't the US using the metric system?

Again, preaching to the choir. Choice of names aside (the English system is, as far as I'm aware, no longer in use by those inhabiting the British Isles), I believe the English (also known, inaccurately as "Standard") system of measurements was invented by Satan to prevent us from landing probes on Uranus. With Mars as validation phase, of course.

Kurdish has the oddest sound I've ever run across: a consonant, written 'x', that basically sounds like h-kh-w, said as one consonant. And then there's the Arabic 'ain', which sounds like you're trying to jumpstart a motorcycle in your throat.

Turns out that all but one of the delegates agreed to speak the same language: English. The holdout? France.

Every other country in Europe that IBM sells to has a Read Me file called readme.txt.

France insists on a Read Me file called laissez.moi.

The French and the English have centuries of hostility behind them: at this point, it's no more likely that they'll ever agree to use each other's language in conference than it is for the Scots to support the English football team.

Kurdish has the oddest sound I've ever run across: a consonant, written 'x', that basically sounds like h-kh-w, said as one consonant. And then there's the Arabic 'ain', which sounds like you're trying to jumpstart a motorcycle in your throat.

Oh, I forgot: Xhosa. [Or N!osa, depending on who you ask, unless that's different.] Sang a piece called "Missa Zuliana" (I think) a while back that used all three clicks; very, very strange.

"English doesn't borrow from other languages - English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."
-- Anonymous.

The French and the English have centuries of hostility behind them: at this point, it's no more likely that they'll ever agree to use each other's language in conference than it is for the Scots to support the English football team.

We have a similar situation here in Quebec, with defence-of-French laws in the province. However, I lived in Quebec for a while and had a Quebec nationalist girlfriend (une PQiste) who was inflexible on the issue of use of French in the Province de Quebec. But one time when ordering a hot dog one time, I made the mistake of ordering "un chien chaud."

"Don't say that," she said, "it makes you sound like a tourist. Ask for un 'ot dog."

I've heard the "English is easier to learn" thing before, and wondered if it might mean that mangled, ungrammatical English is more comprehensible to an English speaker than equivalently mangled versions of other languages. English is hardly inflected, so you can get your meaning across fairly well without, necessarily, any idea how the grammar works. I bet someone with a 500 word vocabulary, and pretty much no other knowledge of the language, can do much more communicating in English than in most European languages. (This all comes straight from www.pulledoutofmyass.com).

I don't think that's quite right. The closest example I can think of would be the English 'r', but it depends on what dialect you're talking about.

"th". Most difficult part of learning English, I'm told.

Problem with the metric system is that everything is natural and intuitive. With the English system you actually have to learn about units and understand them.

++!good, my family descends from France out of Quebec. Damn, small world.

Ooh look! Thanks!!

Ok, here's my naive, possibly ignorant, world politics question. Let me preface it by saying that I love my country, am thankful I live here, and recognize the myriad ways in which living here is preferable to living in many other places. This is not a Noam Chomsky post.

America has nuclear power. We have nuclear weapons. We have used nuclear weapons and have killed innocent people doing so (yes, while stopping a war, I get it). And we have invaded another country, removed its ruler, and occupied it.

So...why does everyone agree that Iran or South Korea shouldn't have nuclear capabilities? I agree that they shouldn't, but sitting here, I'm not sure I can articulate why they should be held to a different standard than we are. (And yes, I often wish no one had the capability, but that's a moot point.)

Is it because we are a democracy? Is that what qualifies one, in the world's eyes, for a nuclear club card?

NORTH Korea. NORTH Korea.

I'll go hide now.

my family descends from France out of Quebec. Damn, small world.

Funny, you don't sound French.

Actually, I only lived there (Hull and Montreal) for about eight months in 1983, and have mostly lived in Vancouver since coming to Canada, with an exception of three years in the Yukon.

And yes, it's raining right now. As usual.

Problem with the metric system is that everything is natural and intuitive. With the English system you actually have to learn about units and understand them.

"The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets 80 furlongs to the hogshead, and that's the way I likes it!" - Abe Simpson

10 miles to the 63 gallons? That's probably worse than a tank.

Opus: Just a stab at your question: I think the unstated, impolitic, yet probably real answer to your question is: the original 5 nuclear powers were all, for all their flaws (in some cases), basically reasonable enough that they were not going to go dropping nuclear weapons willy-nilly or anything; and they were all stable enough that there wasn't, well, much danger that their nuclear weapons would fall into the hands of lunatics. (Even when the USSR imploded, lunatics didn't take over.) -- I'm thinking of the claim I'm making as using a fairly weak sense of 'reasonable' -- one that lets in, say, the PRC solely on the grounds that it is stable in the sense I mentioned (if taken over, then not likely to be taken over by madmen), and unlikely to use nuclear weapons; and despite its other flaws, which are many. Whereas Pakistan is not stable (it could easily be taken over by people I would really, really rather not see having control of nuclear weapons) and might use them (if war broke out with India), and North Korea is already governed by a lunatic who might do more or less anything, and Iran is both unstable and run by a government whose motives are quite opaque.

Now: of course it can't be the official stated position of a government that we really don't want countries run by lunatics to have nuclear weapons. If, say, Canada was trying to get nuclear weapons, we might very well be less concerned about that prospect (though still opposed to it) than by the prospect of a nuclear North Korea, and yet I can't exactly see anyone saying, flat-out: look, Kim Jong Il, the reason we're much more worried by your nuclear program is because you are insane. But I think that's what a lot of people feel. I do.

And I don't think it's a Western thing. I really don't want anyone who doesn't currently have nuclear weapons to get them, and I hope that some countries who have them (Pakistan and India are at the top of my list). But there are some non-European countries that would worry me a lot less: Singapore, Costa Rica; the only reason I don't add Botswana to that list is that that generally stable country might yet be made unstable by its horrible AIDS rate.

Ok - why don't the Brits get rid of their nuclear arsenal? Ditto the French? (Well, there the answer is a tautology.)

I don't mind switching to metric, but what happens to our idioms when we do?

"Give her a centimeter and she'll take a kilometer" just doesn't...scan, somehow. Maybe "Give her a cent and she'll take a klick"?

"I wouldn't touch him with a 3-meter pole"...actually, that one works okay, once you're used to the sound of it.

But "Centimeter worm, centimeter worm, measuring the marigold" doesn't work no matter what you do to it :)

IIRC, a more reasonable protest of going metric was the expense and difficulty of having to retool everything from engineering specs to cookbooks. But that was when going metric was first proposed. As is usually the case, though, if we'd bitten the bullet way back then, we'd've gone through the change and be used to it by now.

But that was when going metric was first proposed.

In the interest of pedantry, "going metric" in the U.S. was first proposed back during the French Revolutionary period, when France was doing all their One Country, One Measurement, One Language, etc. stuff. For various reasons both diplomatic and undiplomatic (heh), we didn't jump on board. There's a great book called The Measure of All Things which details the French project to accurately measure a meridian for basing the meter, and it goes into a lot of America's reasons for not being a part of the whole metric thing.

"English doesn't borrow from other languages - English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."
-- Anonymous.

Ha! I've seen that quote attributed to Mark Twain before, but never Anonymous.

But it's not Mark Twain *or* Anonymous; it's James Nicoll, who first uttered it here.

I poked around a bit for scholarly articles but didn't find a ranking of absolute difficulty. Any informed opinions out there?

Go find a copy of Language Myths, which covers this one and a bunch of others (like the notion that one language is more "beautiful" than another, or that slang is "slovenly"). Basically, there is not and can be no absolute ranking of the difficulty of learning a language, because language difficulty depends on what languages you already know. Think about it: children learn to speak every language known to mankind (excluding the artificial ones like Esperanto and Klingon), even the ones that Americans look at and find fiendishly complex. (If you think English looks bad from outside, check out some of the Native American ones.)

Josh, an easy test that comes to mind in comparing languages A and B is to measure competency in A of B-native learners and in B of A-native learners. Ditto rates of mastery in bilingual A-B children.

Woo, a linguistics thread.

Language with most unique sounds: I vote for Nama.

Is English hard: Yes. Languages are easier to learn when the rules are consistently applied. English is grossly inconsistent, due to its whorish borrowing over the centuries and status as an ungodly Germano-Romance language. Quick, what's the past tense of 'buy'. Now 'fly'. Now 'try'. I'm not even counting the spelling, which is the worst I've ever seen.

Hardest english sound: R. The retroflex r kills people.

Determining a world language based on ease would likely leave you with Esperanto, and look how that went. You have to take into account beauty, too. I pick Mandarin or any Bantu language.

Josh, an easy test that comes to mind in comparing languages A and B is to measure competency in A of B-native learners and in B of A-native learners. Ditto rates of mastery in bilingual A-B children.

How does that get you around the where-you're-coming-from problem, though? German's a piece of cake for a native English speaker, Cantonese not so much. The bilingual children test looks more sound to me, but even then I suspect that one language may be socially preferred over the other, which then biases your test.

Another very interesting book that gets into the history of measurement systems is Measuring America. It also provides an interesting perspective on how the vast middle of the US got settled.

Oh, let's see. How can I make this an ignorant world politics question. .

Why isn't Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania more excited, since I just found out that there's a Mark Ryden retrospective exhibit on display in Seattle right now? I get to see the Meat Show live. I'm giggling like a schoolgirl.

Take a set of English-native speakers and teach them Cantonese, and take a set of C-n speakers and teach them E. If E is easier the Cantonese will do better.

Take a set of English-native speakers and teach them Cantonese, and take a set of C-n speakers and teach them E. If E is easier the Cantonese will do better.

Well, sure, you can do that for pairs of languages, but that's not what you were talking about before. Which is why I said you cannot make an *absolute* ranking of language difficulty.

Actually, there is the Foreign Service ranking of language difficulties (Here is a copy though I'm not sure if it exactly the same)

Of course, this is relative to English. There probably is some upper and lower boundary on complexity (the earlier thread were someone suggested a language with only one vowel sound, that's suggested for Abkhaz dialects, but most people don't believe it, and argue that 3 is the minimum, while just under 20 is getting towards the upper boundary (though Sedang is supposed to have 50+) but I would imagine that languages have some complexity mean that they hover around, so that difficult parts are counter balanced by easy parts.

Note that this does not include 'cultural' aspects of the language, which include reading and writing. I have a bad feeling that English has become a world language not in spite of its notable orthography problems but because of them, because it allows native speakers to maintain a power differential and a language that was truly egalitarian would have a snowball's chance. However, that's just me being cynical rather than basing it on any research.

"you can do that for pairs of languages, but that's not what you were talking about before. Which is why I said you cannot make an *absolute* ranking of language difficulty."

Well, you take all pairs of languages and rank them. With some luck one will be able to extract a general ranking.

And speaking of the French:

``The feeling we had in France was that, as usual, the Americans were rushing in force to Indonesia and boasting about it,'' said flotilla spokeswoman Cmdr. Anne Cullerre. ``For some people, it seemed outrageous.

``How can you really boast of doing something from this tragedy? People were saying, 'They are doing it again. They are showing off.'''

Heh, you just can't win...

About that inch-metric retooling thing; I challenge you to work on your late-model American car without metric tools.

The fact that our language is full of idioms using Imperial measurements doesn't have any great bearing on the difficulty of making the switch--English is full of idioms with obsolete terminology.

Perhaps I'm biased, but I actually tend to regard Japanese as an extremely logical, sensible language. There are only a handful of irregular verbs in the entire language; the rest fall into one of two categories of conjugation, which are easy and easier to learn, respectively. It's economical, too; you can communicate an amazing amount of information in a very short time to someone with whom you share context.

Its main shortcomings are the limitations of only being able to pronounce syllables instead of consonant-elements, and the fact that the thought patterns necessary to master it are completely at right angles to most Western languages.

The other main shortcoming was described by Sansom's quote

"One hesitates for an epithet to describe a system of writing which is so complex that it needs the aid of another system to explain it. There is no doubt that it provides for some a fascinating field of study, but as a practical instrument it is surely without inferiors"

In fairness, he was describing the pre-war system. Post-war simplification has made a bit easier.

Well, you take all pairs of languages and rank them. With some luck one will be able to extract a general ranking.

I wonder. The paired comparisons would have to be transitive (A easier than B, B easier than C, implies A easier than C). That doesn't seem likely.

Sure, there's only . . what. . 2000 kanji to memorize?

"'English doesn't borrow from other languages - English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar.'
-- Anonymous."

This is in no way "anonymous." I well remember when James Nicoll wrote the original, which you and innumerable others have paraphrased, for the first time. See also his comment at the bottom of the comments here. Credit where due, please.

In a complete non-sequitur, since it's a vaguely "open" thread, might I point out to the current blog owners that there is no way for any reader not already possessing the knowledge to know from the blog template who the blog owners/posters are? The sidebar simply suggests that people named "Edward," "Hilzoy," and "Von" are the posters. Who anyone else posting is is left as a mystery.

Perhaps I'm missing some piece of the template that otherwise offers e-mail addresses, handles, or some other clue as to who is a poster and who is not, though. Or perhaps this is a clever design notion I am slow to fathom.

Sure, there's only . . what. . 2000 kanji to memorize?

For basic adult fluency, yes, just a little less than 2000. There are significantly more that are nonstandard, obscure, obsolete, or simply not considered "essential".

It can be helpful to think of kanji not as letters, but as "root word-concepts" in and of themselves. A native has no more difficulty learning or distinguishing the difference, in written context, between kaeru (to change) and kaeru (to return home) than an English speaker does between "read" and "reed".

Ah, I belatedly see Josh already made my point regarding James Nicoll. Oh, well, I confirm it.

Turning to another comment, it is most rare for me to disagree with the elegantly perceptive and thoughtful Hilzoy, but I must question this: "...I'm thinking of the claim I'm making as using a fairly weak sense of 'reasonable' -- one that lets in, say, the PRC solely on the grounds that it is stable in the sense I mentioned (if taken over, then not likely to be taken over by madmen)...."

This seems to quite strongly imply that Mao Tse-Tung was, in his later years, quite "reasonable," and not in the least "mad" or worth worrying about. It's obviously true that he never ordered the dropping of a nuke on anyone, but this seems a very weak sense of "reasonable," indeed.

If anyone here, however, has done much smelting of steel from scrap iron in their backyard, however, I shall withdraw my suggestion in their favor.

Hi Gary -- I thought about that, and decided that the present tense would cover it, since the insanity you mention -- well, I was going to say it was in the mid 70s, but if we're talking backyard smelters, we're back around the Great Leap Forward, and I was sort of hoping my little 'is' wouldn't have to cover all that territory. About Mao, though, I agree completely.

OT, but the best pun ever: B. Kliban's illustration of two cats wearing instantly recognizable starred hats, one of whom is staring at a little black doodle on the ground.

Cat 1: Mao.

Cat 2: Mousie dung.

This is a lot funnier if you've seen it. Better yet if you know that "mao" is Kliban's onomatope for meowing.

But really, just say it out loud and you'll get it.

"...well, I was going to say it was in the mid 70s..."

The Cultural Revolution surely didn't inspire many grounded U.S. analysts to worry less about Mao as a loose cannon; on the other hand, it wasn't all that long after that Kissinger began his secret talks with Chou en-Lai, which obviously soon led to a situation where there seemed comparatively little chance Mao would feel like bombing us unless he simply had some sort of fit (the Soviet Union, on the other hand, was given far more reason to limit border provocations and other tensions with China).

"...but if we're talking backyard smelters, we're back around the Great Leap Forward...."

Yes, quite; it was really as equally out-of-touch with reality as anything engaged in during the Cultural Revolution, and during a time when tensions with the Soviet Union were greatly building, and when the U.S. and China had just come off the Korean War, and Foster Dulles was still refusing to shake Chou En-lai's hand, and in general, China was relatively isolated.

I'd say there were three good reasons China didn't become an overwhelming nuclear worry during the Fifties. The best is that, of course, China didn't have the Bomb until 1964. ;-)

But, even if they had had the bomb during the Korean War, they never particularly needed it; their UnSecret Weapon was, of course, the Population Bomb: their ability to toss literally millions of soldiers into combat as desired, and an indifference to how many died. We're the folks who made nuclear weapons the centerpiece of our military strategy, given the comparative cheapness of it compared to calling up millions of draftees for our military again after WWII.

And the third reason is that our perceived interests in East and Southeast Asia aside, we didn't really have all that many points of friction with China, beyond Taiwan, and Quemoy and Matsu. Vietnam, obviously, was the remaining sticking point and possible flare point, but Johnson and Nixon, having learned from MacArthur's folly in Korea, never pushed too hard against North Vietnam in a way that would have truly threatened bringing either China or the USSR into the war in a major, as opposed to supportive, way. Which is, of course, one of the two largest reasons we couldn't win the Vietnam War, but I digress. If we had engaged in a full-scale invasion of North Vietnam, though, or attacked sites in China, who knows what might have happened?

Anyway, my point was simply that Mao wasn't dreadfully less wacky and worrisome than Kim Il Sung, or Kim Jong Il, in his day. The matter of degree would seem difficult to measure mathematically.

Welcome, Gary - always good to hear from you.
But: re your statement in your 9:54 post:

"would have truly threatened bringing either China or the USSR into the war in a major, as opposed to supportive, way. Which is, of course, one of the two largest reasons we couldn't win the Vietnam War, but I digress."

What, in your opinion is the other one? It's not a digression, really: but relates to topics on another thread.


And by the way:

"The matter of degree would seem difficult to measure mathematically."

If we used the metric system like everybody else, we might not have so much difficulty!

But, even if they had had the bomb during the Korean War, they never particularly needed it...

"Paper tiger".

1) Chinese is probably most difficult, AFAIC. Pictographs not only don't make for decent indicators of phonetic pronunciation (yes, I'm aware of the foibles of English. These are a different order of magnitude entirely), but they don't make for decent typewriter layout.

2) English units are, in point of fact, the tools of the devil. Anyone who's ever had to deal in moments of inertia doesn't have to even think once about it. Not to mention, pounds of mass and slug-ft/sec^2 of force. People who write simulations for a living do the units conversion on input, rather than having to do the nightmare coding that converts in the dynamics models. And yes, units conventions get abused, but the abuse is much more common when dealing with English units, where no one really knows or cares what proper units are.

"What, in your opinion is the other one?"

Inability to establish a government of South Vietnam able to gain sufficient popular legitimacy and non-corrupt competence.

It certainly is beyond tiresome and into alarming how popular the notion is nowadays with so many that a version of the "stab in the back" theory is instead correct. You know: the army wasn't unleashed, the media brought us down with their negativity, the traitor protestors prevented us from continuing the fight and winning, if only we'd kept up air support in 1975, if only we'd not cut back aid, etc., etc., we really could have, should have, and would have won.... It's all the fault of those damn liberals! (Such as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.)

It's almost forgotten that the universal consensus by 1970-1 by just about everyone in the U.S. military and the political-military establishment was that the war was flatly unwinnable by U.S. military means. Which is why Nixon began troop withdrawals and "Vietnamization."

Gary: It's almost forgotten that the universal consensus by 1970-1 by just about everyone in the U.S. military and the political-military establishment was that the war was flatly unwinnable by U.S. military means.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana

Well, Jes, on the one hand, when I said this: "Inability to establish a government of South Vietnam able to gain sufficient popular legitimacy and non-corrupt competence," it certainly is in my mind to hold similar worries in regard to Iraq. (It would be nice to think today marks the beginning of a turning point, but really, who knows? I'd certainly like to hope so, but that's as strong as I feel comfortable saying; I'll be more optimistic after the real government is elected in December, if that goes well, and more so if another year passes with things improving, and so on.)

On the other hand, there are as many differences between Iraq and Vietnam as there are similarities. Desert is not jungle, Iran and Syria are neither the Soviet Union nor China, and ultimately the borders are relatively sealable. South Vietnam was not fighting a "simple" internal civil war, but outright invasion from the other half of their country (albeit the half, the North, with the considerably more valid, and accepted even by many in the South, nationalistic credentials; Ho Chi Minh truly was the modern father of his country, and the Vietminh the historic nationalists who resisted first the Japanese, and then the French; they were also dedicated, ruthless, and relatively uncorrupt).

So when remembering history, it would be an entirely incorrect remembrance to make a too simple Iraq-is-Vietnam equivalent, and presume or assert that as one went, so inevitably shall the other. But, of course, there are surely relevant cautionary lessons to be learned from the Vietnam experience, including those of hubris, and the limits of our ability to install a thriving democracy in another culture.

However, pace Santayana, history rarely actually repeats, and one of the other lessons of history is how frequently people draw the wrong lesson in thinking that it does. (I still don't feel remotely safe in predicting how Iraq will turn out, myself.)

The Israelis are turning over security to the PA in "Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, along with Jericho, Tulkarm, Qalqilya and possibly Bethlehem." I'm hopeful this is going to lead to a fairish two-state solution, though I expect continued ups/downs and the necessity of the investment of a lot of political capital in 5-6 years from President Clark.

Gary: Well, Jes, on the one hand, when I said this: "Inability to establish a government of South Vietnam able to gain sufficient popular legitimacy and non-corrupt competence," it certainly is in my mind to hold similar worries in regard to Iraq.

That wasn't the part of your comment I was referring to, though. I was replying to the part of your comment that I quoted in italics. Oddly enough.

Gary:
Thanks for the response (it's always good - and impressive - to hear the answer you thought you would hear!) - moreover, it has been a nagging thought at the back of my mind for quite a while now that while, as you so rightly point out, the differences in the Iraq and Vietnam conflicts are great (not the least factor being the vastly high level of military technology the US now possesses) - it is the (IMO) fundamental similarity in the two situations that is most worrisome. That is, that the US has committed itself diplomatically and militarily as the primary security guarantor for a foriegn government whose authority and legitimacy among its own people is shaky, at best, and whose enemies (and thus, our enemies) are committed to its destruction. One can hope that the recent elections in Iraq can at least be a first step towards the creation of a real Iraq "government" that will not be viewed simply as a US puppet, and will have some unforced legitimacy with the Iraqi populace: but, like, you, I think it is too early to tell.

"...(not the least factor being the vastly high level of military technology the US now possesses)...."

Actually, I think that is the least factor. Hi-tech has yet to be proven a clincher in aysmmetric warfare, or per se in partisan/guerilla warfare. More to the point, the situation in Iraq, just as in Vietnam, is ultimately a political struggle, and it really matters not at all in the end if we win every single military battle if we can't win the political battle. And hi-tech is pretty much useless in winning hearts and minds.

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