Vietnam deja vu

Print More

(Host) For many people, events in Iraq have brought back memories of America’s entry into Vietnam 40 years ago. Among them is commentator Nick Boke:

(Boke) Remember what President Bush said a year ago, when asked what would happen if resistance continued after we defeated the Iraqi army? Remember his challenge to resisters? “Bring it on!” he said.

This was back in the days when we were told the only people who’d fight us were a few “dead-enders.” Back when we paid scant attention to the fact that it was American machinery toppling that statue of Saddam Hussein in the public square, not bare-handed Iraqis.

Well, they’ve brought it on all right. And it seems likely they’ll continue to bring it on, since now we’re engaging with both the Sunni in Fallujah, and the Shia in Najaf. We’ve announced these undertakings with all the bravado and grit of a year ago.

As a teenager I lived in Beirut, where my mother had her first posting in the foreign service. I’ve been back to the region several times recently, both before and after our invasion of Iraq, and have been reminded of how complicated and dramatically different things are in that part of the world. And all I can wonder is how we’ve made the same mistake twice in my adult lifetime.

Once again, we’ve sent American troops into a region we don’t really understand. We didn’t understand the close bonds between nationalism and communism in Vietnam forty years ago. So we kept sending more troops, adding new technology, figuring that eventually the Vietnamese would understand our good intentions, and we’d win their hearts and minds.

In the dusty streets of Iraq we’re making the same mistakes. Forgetting Vietnam, we assume that because we’ve decided to do something, it must be right. Further, we seem think that if we just keep at it, everybody else will see its rightness.

My mother’s foreign aid work took her to Vietnam in 1966. I had just finished college when she resigned from her job – she could no longer stand the pain of helping get a school built, and then hearing it was blown up the next day.

How could they do that? How could the Vietnamese destroy something we had built to help them make a brighter future?

Today we ask, how can the Iraqis do what they’re doing? How can they destroy oil pipelines, shoot their own policemen, attack the consultants we’ve sent to help them rebuild their own country?

The lack of easy answers fuels our anger at the apparent insensitivity and short-sightedness of these people we’re trying to help.

But our questions ignore the fact that in Iraq there are indigenous realities prompting actions that seem counterintuitive and counterproductive to us – but not to those who engage in them – just as there were in Vietnam. That we don’t understand them is the whole problem.

Once again, our organizational abilities, our technology, and, sadly, America’s boundless good will, just may not be enough.

We may not win these hearts and minds either.

This is Nick Boke in Weathersfield.

Nick Boke is a reading consultant and freelance writer living in weathersfield. he spoke from our studio in Norwich.

Comments are closed.