I Do Not Want My Son To Die In An Unjust Quagmire

News Abroad

Mr. Melancon is Associate Professor of History, Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

Every school child can recite the value of history: those that ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. What lessons can we learn about the present Iraqi crisis from the Vietnam experience?

One of the most frequently heard "lessons" is that politicians should not tie the hands of the military. US forces got bogged down in a quagmire because politicians placed senseless restrictions on how to fight the enemy. If the politicians had stepped aside, the US military could have won the war.

I believe this line of reasoning misses the point. Vietnam was not a "quagmire" because the North Vietnamese Army or Vietcong were a military challenge. Vietnam was a quagmire because the US could not generate enough trust and support among the Vietnamese people. The US was seen as an imperialist power that lacked legitimacy. Does any one really believe the US, or some puppet like Diem, can RULE Iraq? I believe the US will become an "Israel," occupying lands in which the people's anger and hatred toward the occupier will grow day by day. No matter how benevolent US rule in Iraq is, no matter how much better living conditions are, the US will still be the aggressor fighting an unjust war.

How will disgruntle Iraqi's respond to a US invasion? Sit-ins? Marches? Civil disobedience? I think not. They will respond the same way disgruntle Palestinians and Vietnamese responded. The US may win the war versus the Iraqi "army," but in the process it will provide the biggest recruiting boost to the ranks of Al Qaeda, like minded terrorist organizations or simply local "patriots."

Another supposed "lesson" from Vietnam is that the US should not go to war unless the American people are united behind the war effort. The story goes that the US military suffered battlefield losses because the Pentagon lacked the support of all the American people. If the liberal media had not undermined the US war effort, then the troops would have been victorious.

Once again, I believe this is the wrong "lesson." In 1964 Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing President Johnson "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attacks the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." The resolution passed the House with 416 votes in favor and none against. Only 2 of 90 voting Senators dissented. The votes of the legislators reflected the sentiment of the American people, 85% of whom favored the resolution. Public opinion supported the war in Vietnam and did not turn against it until 1968.

Why did it turn? Courageous and patriotic newspaper reporters like David Halberstam questioned the propaganda served to the American people by the Johnson administration. As the American people learned more about the reality of Vietnam, they questioned the legitimacy of US involvement. Can the US afford to wait five years before its people question the Bush administration desire to invade Iraq? The President has provided no PROOF that Iraq IS a threat to the United States. In fact the Gulf War left the Iraqi Army toothless and demoralized. Vice President Cheney has claimed that Iraq is an immediate mortal threat to the US. When pressed, he fell back on the administration's position that Saddam must go because he is "evil." Many leaders around the world are evil, including those who lie to rally support for war, yet they remain in power.

My son will be twelve on September 27. If he had been born in 1964, the year of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, he would have turned eighteen in 1970, the height of US troop strength. My son, unlike the son of George I, would have been drafted to fight in a war that most recognize
as illegitimate. Americans who fought bravely and died in the rice patties of Southeast Asia were betrayed by the President, the Congress and the People of the United States in 1964. All three had a patriotic duty to question the lies of the day, but they sat by and did nothing.

I hope that Americans learn their history. I do not want my son to die in an unjust quagmire without end.