« From Hegel To Huh? | Main | Cheney: Respect My Authoritah! Congress: No. »

June 27, 2007


Good god, did this Gerson never learn more about the Cold War than "Domino Effect"? But then again, what else should one expect from the guy responsible for thinking up the phrase "Axis of Evil"?

I sometimes feel as though there were two Indochinas: the one I watched on TV when I was a kid, burning, and hopelessly beyond our control, and another parallel Indochina, in which all the bad things that happened were the result of our failures of will, and just a little bit more tenacity would have solved everything.

In the one I remember, Vietnam's being invaded, and then having a whole bunch of American kids who didn't speak the language and didn't know who the good guys and the bad guys were, and consequently shot up a lot of places, and there was carpet bombing and massive defoliation and napalm, had the fairly repdictable result that people hated our guts. And as far as I could ever tell, once the bulk of the population hates your guts, it's very, very hard for any military on earth to prevail, unless you're willing to turn the whole country into a smoking mass of radioactive glass.

And in the Indochina I remember, Cambodia was a country whose king was trying desperately to figure out some way to keep his country neutral despite enormous pressure from both the Vietnamese and us, until we replaced him with a thug with (iirc) next to no popular support but a greater willingness to let us bomb his country, and guess what? The Khmer Rouge got stronger. What a surprise.

None of which implies that leaving Iraq won't create a whole lot of ghosts. Unfortunately.

true enough. i guess what irks me most about gerson (whose self-righteousness i find insufferable) is his taking the mantle of humanitarianism in light of his past actions and words regarding iraq.

a really good way to keep people from getting killed is to not start wars.

but what's even worse is to start these wars and slap on a facade of humanitarianism and treating them as means for Hegelian "Freedom" to progress, or whatever the 2nd inaugural was about.

In 1974, a weary Congress cut off funds for Cambodia and South Vietnam, leading to the swift fall of both allies...

Anyone who premises an argument on these fictions is deceitful.

And his basic argument is absurd. Withdrawal is bad because it can spiral into irresponsibility. Uh, what has spiraled into irresponsibility is the warmongering logic of Gerson and crew.

true enough. i guess what irks me most about gerson (whose self-righteousness i find insufferable) is his taking the mantle of humanitarianism in light of his past actions and words regarding iraq.

And caring about how many civilians you might have killed or injured would also seem to be a good start Gerson, et al.'s argument. But, alas, humanitarianism only counts when it is not inconvenient to the case for war.

I do love the whole argument that had we not withdrawn our support, South Vietnam would still be around - and we would presumably still be sending them support and air cover, I guess, 30 years later. Endless war.

Ugh: What do you think would have happened if we had withdraw troops and support from South Korea anytime in the last 54 years?

I’m not disagreeing with publius’s main point here, but withdrawing our support was at least one factor in what happened.

The American reactionaries have been trying to sell the story for a while that South Vietnam would have survived if only we had kept sending money. The fact that it was losing the war for two decades and only existed because of French and American support, the fact that Ho was much more popular as a Vietnamese nationalist than the collaborators who ran the South, and the fact that Vietnamization had been a total bust are of no interest to these story-tellers.

They also blame the Democrats for the bipartisan votes that cut off funding. I expect them to blame Democrats for the Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Korea was a different war. The Communists did not have a strong irregular force that was able to fight the South to a standstill, nor were they as popular in the south as they were in Vietnam. It was pretty much a straightout war between armies.

Unlike South Vietnam, we could defend South Korea just by being there. The US has managed to beat North Korean troops, losing only when the Chinese felt imperiled and unleashed their 'volunteers' in defense of North Korea (I wonder if they think that was a good idea today). The South Korean government had sufficient legitimacy among its people to maintain its power.

US troops were more welcome in one other way. We had beaten the oppressor of Korea. We were not coming in at Japan's invitation as we did in Vietnam. Korea had a stalemate and an uneasy truce. We never got that far in Vietnam, nor did it seem likely that we ever would.

I'd be quite happy if the U.S. told the south koreans that on X date we will withdraw all our troops and they should prepare accordingly. Same thing for just about every other overseas U.S. military base. The global U.S. military footprint is staggering.

In fact I'm just about at the point where I think the U.S. Army should be disbanded and the other uniformed military services scaled back to the point where they can only be used to defend the country (with the possible exception of aircraft carrier goups). We don't need to spend more on our military than the next 14 or so countries combined. It's ridiculous.

In retrospect, it's clear that supporting Lon Nol in the removal of Prince Sihanouk was a mistake. But we shouldn't forget that the NVA/VC were using Cambodia's eastern border areas as staging grounds, and that the Sihanouk government was either unable or unwilling to oppose them. When a neutral party's territory is being used by one belligerent in a war, the other belligerent is under no obligation to respect that neutrality either. The bombing/invasion of Cambodia was, in the end, both unwise and ineffective. But it was not illegal or unjustified.

OCSteve, this is one area where you and I disgress. South Korea, Germany, sheesh, just about anyplace the US has been stationed has been used as a comparison to either Vietnam or Iraq. The comparisons don't hold, not in terms of long term commitment.

It would hold if there had been a negtoiated truce in Vietnam, with the North removing all forces from South Vietnam and agreeing not to support the VC. If we then had a small contiongent of troops, there would be some similarity. However, that didn't happen.

Also in both Iraq and Vietnam we were and are dealing with a homegrown "insurgency", which was not the case in any of the above countries. In all those cases we were there as part of a defense against an external threat, not an internal one.

To hear Bush state that he wants to follow the South Korea model in Iraq shows just how little he really understands either history or the state of Iraq.

Back to your other point, did the withdrawal of funding contribute to the collapse when it occured? Probably, but only in the sense of when not if it would occur.

" The bombing/invasion of Cambodia was, in the end, both unwise and ineffective. But it was not illegal or unjustified."

Agreed about the latter. Disagree about the former. It was not unwise, it was outright stupid. It was not ineffective, it was counterproductive in the extreme.

with the possible exception of aircraft carrier goups

I’m not quite following you, as the entire purpose of a carrier group is to project power somewhere else in the world. It’s not needed for defensive purposes. And an Army is not just something you throw together when you actually need it, which is why they call it a “standing Army”.

I can agree with you about withdrawing our troops from most of the 130 countries now hosting them (especially EU countries) but I’m a little surprised you would throw South Korea to the wolves.

It was not unwise, it was outright stupid. It was not ineffective, it was counterproductive in the extreme.

I can agree with that.

Well, that's why I called carrier groups an exception.

And I realize that you just can't throw together an Army - but that's a feature, not a bug. Standing armies are much more likely to get used, see, e.g., the U.S. military.

If someone could convince me that the only thing keeping NK from invading SK is the presence of US troops on the DMZ, then fine, they can stay.

I think it's really important to be aware of the internal history of South Korea as well as its utilization as an ally in Vietnam before discussing whether US troops should or should not have been withdrawn. South Korean resentment at the US is, by many accounts, deep seated. The upheavals in South Korean society in the late 80's are considered by some to be linked to US support of the regime and the participation of ROK troops in Vietnam is also a continuing sore spot. I don't cite this to claim that we were wrong to not withdraw troops from South Korea, but just to suggest that it shouldn't be reduced to a yes/no question.

Both those links are from Japan Focus, and this third link is about the US bombings of Cambodia points out that the bombing started in 1965 rather than 1969. The article has observations like this:

Years after the war ended, journalist Bruce Palling asked Chhit Do, a former Khmer Rouge officer, if his forces had used the bombing as anti-American propaganda. Chhit Do replied:

“Every time after there had been bombing, they would take the people to see the craters, to see how big and deep the craters were, to see how the earth had been gouged out and scorched . . . . The ordinary people sometimes literally sh*t in their pants when the big bombs and shells came. Their minds just froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told. It was because of their dissatisfaction with the bombing that they kept on co-operating with the Khmer Rouge, joining up with the Khmer Rouge, sending their children off to go with them. . . . Sometimes the bombs fell and hit little children, and their fathers would be all for the Khmer Rouge.”

If someone could convince me that the only thing keeping NK from invading SK is the presence of US troops on the DMZ, then fine, they can stay.

They're already leaving.

Korea(s) vs. Vietnam

1) We decided to stay in S. Korea, and now we are left with a ruthless lunatic with a huge military, missles and nukes threatening US allies, the far east and potentially someday the US itself.

2) We decided to leave South Vietnam and now the Vietnames are peaceful trading partners making our sneakers for pennies on the dollar.

I'd take #2

Ugh: If someone could convince me that the only thing keeping NK from invading SK is the presence of US troops on the DMZ, then fine, they can stay.

I’m not sure how that could be proven, but removing that deterrent could only increase the likelihood of something happening. NK is in such shambles that restarting hostilities with the south may be one of their more attractive options.

John: this is one area where you and I disgress

I’m not sure we do actually. I made no comparisons and I only wanted to make the point that withdrawing our support was one factor in what happened. I don’t claim it was the factor, but I don’t think it can be totally discounted either. IMO withdrawing our support for SK would also be a when and not an if factor.

If only historical revisionism amongst the war-mongerers were as easy to correct as citing to people who clearly know more than the war-mongerers do.

OCSteve - "proven" was the wrong word, I just meant convince me that it's the only thinking keeping NK out.

OCSteve, I don't disagree with you about SK. I just think bringing SK or any other country where we have had long term presence into a converstaion about either Vietnam or Iraq is comparing apples to oranges.


I think we are reaching, or have already reached, the point at which SK can end for itself. Whether it should is a complicated question above my pay grade: how deep is the resentment in SK? Would the combination of our leaving and a nut case in charge of NK lead to NK doing something truly suicidal, like invading? How would our leaving be interpreted by others, and would the costs of any misinterpretations outweigh the benefits of leaving? What benefits do we get by just having troops around in the area? Etc. I would probably not actually advocate leaving until we have come to some sort of resolution of the NK nuclear issue, a resolution that seems to have some sticking power.

I don't think we should have pulled the plug on them at any time when a NK invasion seemed like a serious possibility. (My general reason for favoring not supporting tyrants, which SK's government surely was for decades, is that it will only harm us. In this specific case, the fact that the alternative was clearly, obviously worse was visible to everyone, as was the fact that that alternative really might invade. So I also don't think this is comparable to, say, our support of the Shah of Iran.)

But, as others have said, NK and Vietnam/Cambodia are different cases. I normally don't like construing one situation in terms of a previous one all that much, but Vietnam and Iraq seem to me to have this in common: what our troops bought us was a postponement of the eventual denouement, not a change in it. They could have brought about a marginal change of some sort -- more rather than less stability in certain parts of the country when we eventually leave, for instance -- had we really aimed for that goal. In the case of Iraq, no such luck.

Actually, there was a rather bloody guerilla war in South Korea in the late 40's, before the main event began in 1950. Bruce Cumings has written about this. Wikipedia has an account of one part of this


I think that in the US we've prettified the history of Korea, including the Korean War. It probably killed millions of civilians--our own Curtis LeMay went on record claiming that our air force wiped out every town in Korea (he was exaggerating, but only somewhat) and killed a million people. It may have been worse, possibly much worse, than the damage done to Japan in WWII. There were atrocities committed by all sides. And there was a vicious civil war within parts of South Korea before the Korean War started. It's clear now that South Korea is better off, but for a few decades I'm not at all sure that was the case--it was a choice between a vicious rightwing dictatorship and a vicious leftwing one.

I think the justification for the US intervening in the Korean War is simply that North Korea invaded. The fact that South Korea is now a prosperous democracy--well, that took several decades. I suppose the fact that South Korea did ultimately change for the better would be some kind of justification for the role of the US several decades earlier, but that's uncomfortably close to the argument Iraq war defenders give now--that Iraq will be a happy joyous place in 2050 because of Bush.

LK: what else should one expect from the guy responsible for thinking up the phrase "Axis of Evil"?

Michael Gerson gets no defense from me, but this is one dreadful Bushism he's not responsible for. David Frum came up with that one.

The comments to this entry are closed.