When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

April 21, 2004

What About Vietnam Anyways?

Bravo Romeo Delta

One might note that the Right and Left (do the labels really mean that much anymore?) both have radically different perspectives on Vietnam.

Moreover, every time there's been a military intervention of virtually any sort, the ghosts of Vietnam rise from the left and point accusing bony fingers.

But why? Why not Korea? Why is Vietnam, in particular, such an incredible bugaboo for the denizens of the Left? How did this get so deeply embedded in the cultural history of the left?

Much of the conventional wisdom might suggest that this is intertwined into the protest movement. This may be true, but it doesn't explain the depth of emotion and the evocative power this conflict has for the left.

Going back to 1968, one must remember that the last four Democratic Presidents, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson, were all wartime Presidents who had defended freedom with the "Arsenal of Democracy." FDR had led us through the Second World War in a fight against totalitarianism and fascism. Truman pulled the trigger on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then contained communism in Korea. Kennedy stared down the bear in Cuba and started the long involvement in Vietnam that peaked under Johnson.

Vietnam was a poster child for armed Wilsonian thought - the idea that the US could go forward, with the best of all intentions, and make the world a safer place for the US. This war was the high water mark for a lot of political thought on the spread of democracy and strategic thought about the prosecution of war.

And it all went straight to hell.

The Presidents who presided over the birth of the Apollo Effort and the Great Society - these iconic leaders, stuck the nation's collective schwanz into a meat grinder. Arguing over the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the loss is, at this point, academic. But when a party is living up to not only their greatest ideals, but also what they perceive to be the highest American ideals gets knocked back in the only loss this country has ever faced on the battlefield, that leaves a bitter taste.

The great American idealists discovered that ideals alone couldn’t carry the day.

This blow to the body of the Democratic Party was coupled with the 1968 realignment, in which the Democrats effectively lost all credibility on issues of national security, and effectively (save 1 term) gave the Presidency to the Republican Party for the remainder of the Cold War - even despite Watergate.

This group of people who saw, first hand, that their highest ideals and the force of the American spirit wouldn't always prevail against the real world.

Personally, I don't happen to feel that the case of Vietnam represents any such thing, nor are we doomed to repeat it. But one thing that has exacerbated this was the merger of the anti-war left with the Democratic Party.

As a result, any military action conducted for the remainder of the Cold War automatically generated a reaction from the anti-war elements of the Democratic Party. Even in those cases where the "right" thing to do was obvious, the remainder of the Left was haunted by visions of good intentions turning sour in Vietnam.

So, in a very real way, the anti-war faction has gained supremacy through right of "I told you so." while the remainder of the Party has a notion of dread arising from the first hand failure of the best of intentions.

So when we hear that El Salvador, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, and Somalia are all other Vietnams, it may not really be that they are other Vietnams, but rather that they stir ghosts that cannot easily be laid to rest.

Conversely, another factor may be the lingering doubt in some minds that the anti-war protests, well intentioned as they may have been, may have been quite counterproductive on any one of a number of levels. What to say to the Vietnamese boat people who came to this country as refugees? If the war was doomed to failure anyways, did the protests exacerbate the problem? Or on an even darker level, despite their best intentions, did they really contribute indirectly to the loss of American lives?

Who knows? At this point, I think we've seen an entire catalogue of demons from both the anti-war and militaristic idealists of the party have been resurrected in this conflict. Just in time for the baby-boomers to relive their teenage years.

Interesting counterpart here.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at April 21, 2004 05:41 PM

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