George Bush went to Vietnam. He was asked how that war compared to this war and his answer was, "We'll succeed unless we quit."
It is time to get serious about the history of the war in Vietnam. The failure to do so is part of what permits idiocies like this war.
The great myth, and it's clearly the myth that George Bush believes, is that the US lost the war in Vietnam because liberals, Hollywood actresses, hippies and CBS News subverted our will to fight.
That's not true.
We lost the war in Vietnam because we were fighting for something we could not achieve.
We were fighting to convince the Vietnamese to accept a variety of Western backed dictators, crooks, and cowboy colonels as their leaders. We were opposed by an idealistic, disciplined, organized and relative uncorrupt movement with a charismatic leader.
That was our goal in the conflict. It's not the reason we went to war.
We went to war because of a mythology.
It was a mythology very like the one that George Bush has created as the context for the War in Iraq.
Back then, we saw the world in bi-polar terms. The Free World vs. Communism.
Because the world was bi-polar we had to count anyone who was anti-Communist as good and support them. So dictators and juntas and mini-fascists all over the globe got to be counted as members of the Free World.
It also meant that all Communists had to be the enemy, and, indeed were part of a world that was united against. Any step forward for any one of them was a loss for us in the overall war.
It was clear that Vietnam could never invade the United States. They were no direct threat to us. Indeed, Ho Chi Minh expressed a great deal of admiration for the United States and offered friendship.
But we had to stop South Vietnam from going Communist because if we didn't lots of bad things would happen. All of South East Asia would fall like dominoes. After that, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Australia, India, and soon we would be surrounded and alone.
So we went to war. We fought for ten years. 58,000 Americans died.153,000 were wounded. At least 1,000,000 Vietnamese died.
Then we withdrew.
What happened? Was the vast Communist bloc strengthened?
Not exactly. Within five years, China went to war with Vietnam.
It was fairly short war. Vietnam won.
Meantime, Cambodia had been taken over by the Khmer Rouge. They were communists too, but too extreme for the Vietnamese. So Vietnam invaded Cambodia to get rid of Pol Pot and his madmen. That went on for nine years.
We continued to treat Vietnam as a pariah nation for twenty years.
Finally in 1995 we 'normalized relations.'
When George Bush got there in 2006 he found a Communist country. But a friendly one. Willing to do business. A great tourist destination.
In short, what he found, was what we could have had for the asking back in 1961. Or in 1947 for that matter.
It's easy to say that's 20-20 hindsight.
Could that have been known before we went to war in Vietnam?
The answer is that, yes, it could.
Was that known to the people in power, before we went to war? Or, if not then, early in the course of the war?
The answer to that is also yes.
Not, perhaps, with absolute certainty, but certainly it was known.
So why do we go ahead? Why were we trapped in the myths?
Not fear of communism. The fear on the part of our politicians of being called, "soft on Communism."
Both Kennedy and Johnson, at least at times, knew we couldn't win. Yet said they were afraid to be a president who "lost Vietnam." Then Richard Nixon came into power and lost Vietnam.
Nixon never got blamed for it. That's because he sort of owned the "soft on communism" franchise and he wasn't about to use it on himself.
Is this an argument that somehow we should not have fought Communism then and we should not fight terrorism or Islamo-fascism now or whatever else threatens us in the future?
No, it's not.
Actually, there were many places where we stood up to, subverted, or acted against the communists where we were very successful. And those countries are almost certainly better off for it.
Yet here's a real oddity. There are only five countries that remain Communist today: Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, Cuba and China.
We fought wars in the first three.
We should divide the Korean into two parts, two separate wars even. In the first part the North invaded the South and we entered the war to repel the invasion. That was very successful. In the second part, we invaded the North to make the whole country non-Communist. That was a great failure.
We backed an invasion of Cuba, we attempted numerous assassinations, and we have it embargoed to this day.
As for China, we backed the Nationalists against the Reds. Then we defended Taiwan (a success story) and tried to keep Red China isolated and ostracized.
Roughly speaking, the countries we fought the hardest are the ones that remain Communist today.
People will unite against a common enemy. Left to their own devices, they will, slowly, begin to question what's wrong with themselves.
The next lesson is this. Even if we agree to think of the War on Terror as something like the Cold War, we still have to think of the various battles one at a time. They are separate events and require separate responses.
The threat of force, as a deterrent, is extremely useful.
Actual force, going to war, is extremely good for repelling an invader and restoring a regime. It worked in South Korea. It worked when Saddam invaded Kuwait.
But actual force has it's limits. It's very dangerous to invade a country.
It can be done. But only if there's a viable replacement and we can get in and get out, as we did in Panama and Grenada.
But if we have to stay and put in or prop up a regime and become an occupying power, then it's a disaster.
But if there isn't one, it's Vietnam. Or Iraq.
There, very briefly, are some of the lessons that George Bush should have learned by comparing the two. The strictly practical ones, this does not address moral or legal issues.
Since he failed, the media which surrounds him should have done the job and pointed it out to us. Particularly since he failed. They were skeptical of him. They raised their eyebrows. Some even said quagmire. But they didn't attack the myths, the lies and the ignorance.
There are real threats in the world. But they need real solutions. Our guide to real solutions, is real history. Otherwise, we are led by panic and fear into stupidity.