Sunday, May 15, 2005

Vietnam War is still on, in Iraq

The Jakarta Post

Saturday, 14 May 2005

By Thang D. Nguyen

HO CHI MINH CITY—Thirty years have passed since the US left Vietnam in defeat. The image of American GIs and their southern Vietnamese counterparts and their families struggling to get onto the last choppers to get out of the country atop the US embassy in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, on that fateful 30 April, 1975, is still fresh and tragic as ever.

In retrospect, one would think that America has learned a big lesson from its debacle in Vietnam. Unfortunately, Washington has learned, to put it simply, nothing.

In the name of democracy, the US bypassed the United Nations and invaded Iraq against the protest of not only peace-loving nations, but also some of its major allies—namely, Germany and France.

To be sure, Saddam Hussein was no angel. Let’s not forget, however, that until today no weapons of mass destruction have been found, contrary to what Washington had used as a pretext for its war in Iraq.

And after what was billed as a democratic election, Iraq now has a government. But, how long will this government last? Do the people of Iraq really support it? Or is it just another Washington puppet? And is Iraq now a peaceful place?

The fact is that after Baghdad has a government, thousands of US troops are still there. Thus far, about 1,600 US troops have died in the war and 6,000 wounded. Meanwhile, about 100 US troops continue to die in combat with the Iraqi resistance forces every month.

Bombs still go off and bullets are fired in Baghdad almost on a daily basis and kill both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

If this does not sound like a second Vietnam War, what does? And if one wants to predict the end of the Iraq War, just look at the Vietnam War. Let’s get it straight, Washington could not win a war against an enemy that it considered small and was small, indeed, by military size and might.

It is tempting to ask why and how America lost. A look at why and how the Vietnam War happened reveals the answer to this question.

For the most part, the US and the northern Vietnamese fought two different wars with two different causes. Whereas the US waged a conventional war, the northern Vietnamese fought a people’s war, or a revolutionary one.

Most American GIs, young men who were hastily drafted, hardly knew why they were in Vietnam (or Nam, as they would say); they were told that they were fighting something called Communism.

Their northern Vietnamese counterparts, in contrast, knew exactly what they were fighting for: independence. In other words, the northern Vietnamese had the will to fight and win the war, and the Americans did not.

Whereas the US fought the war with a mighty military and weapons, the northern Vietnamese found their strengths in their people’s support and guerilla tactics. In combats, the US forces and there Southern Vietnamese army (or, ARVN) were spotted, and therefore killed, easily. They could hardly see their enemy because it was hiding in tunnels, forests, rivers, hills, and villagers’ homes.

After combats, American and ARVN soldiers would go out and became easy targets for the Northern Vietnamese army, which also included civilians, regardless of age or gender, who served as logistics suppliers, shelter providers, and intelligence sources. Thus, the northern Vietnamese always saw their enemy, but their enemy never saw them.

Moreover, the US backed the wrong horse. After having chosen Ngo Dinh Diem as the president of its South Vietnamese ally, Washington later grew disappointed in him and the ARVN, both of whom were considered corrupt and incompetent.

In 1963, Diem was assassinated. It is believed that the US had a great deal of influence in this assassination. Not only was the US wrong about Diem and the ARVN, it was wrong about the whole war altogether.

Robert McNamara, the defense secretary during the Vietnam War, writes in his book In Retrospect: “The Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation [America]. We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong.”

Thirty years after the Vietnam War, it is hoped that the US will not be wrong again, this time in Iraq. But maybe it will, because it has not learned its lesson from the Vietnam War yet.

The fall of Saigon happened thirty years ago, and it is only a matter of time before the fall of Baghdad does.

The writer is a commentator based in Asia.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have no conception of military endeavours if you seek to link Vietnam with Iraq. Politicians do, for various purposes - valid or not. However, Vietnam and Iraq are very different military situations.

6:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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7:19 PM  

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