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.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Wally O'Dell - 9/9/2004

I forgot to tell you... your article was an excellent article and well thought out.

Wally O'Dell - 9/9/2004

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

That is not what you want. You don't want your son to die in a war that we don't or won't win. It is that simple. Quagmire is just a reason for not winning the war in Vietnam.

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

That is not what you want. You don't want your son to die in a war that we don't or won't win. It is that simple. Quagmire is just a reason for not winning the war in Vietnam.

In your own mind you are trying to 'micro manage' the type of war you son will be involved. This is the same thing that Johnson did. You nor Johnson have/had the tools or ability necessary to win the war. It is your thinking and following down that path that creates Quagmires.

You may be an expert in your field and I may be an expert in my field, but when we look at wars, or look at football games, we all of a sudden become experts. We are Monday morning quarterbacks, Generals, or just simply hindsight is 20/20. The truth is that these military leaders are every bit of an expert at their job as you and I are at ours.

The real problem is that "politicians" run the war instead of military leaders. This is not true of all wars, but politicians have to be much more than just "popular." They must have that ability to listen to their military leaders and once they use good judgement and decide to go to war, allow the military leaders to fight the war. What I am saying is that the "quagmire" originate on a political level and not military level.

Let me give you an scenario of why "I Do Not Want My Son To Die In An Unjust Quagmire" isn't what you really want:

Let's say you have two sons. One day in freezing weather your son runs out of gasoline while driving in a remote area. This causes him to freeze to death. This horrible situation caused such an impression on you that you now demand your only living son to have a full gas can in the trunk of his car at all times.

Two years later, your remaining son has the same fate... he freezes to death in a remote area. After investigation, you find that your son's car had a fuel line break causing him to run out of gasoline. He used all the gasoline in the gas can but to no avail since it just ran right out of the fuel line onto the ground.

You are now becoming quiet an "expert" on cars, gasoline and freezing. You are now traveling with a full can of gasoline and an extra fuel line.

This story can go on and on but the Quagmire is not your problem... the problem is that you don't want your son to fight in a war that we don't win. You would be just as unhappy if your son with 300,000 other troops landed in a country and within days they were all destroyed by one single bomb. Clearly that is not a quagmire, but you will still be asking yourself for years what did he die for?

Why I am taking you to task on this 'quagmire' logic is because it leaves thoughts with others and with other generations of something that is not reality. It make you look like a "dove." An anti-war person. If people respect you, they will respect that you are anti-war. You can parse words and be very descriptive and detailed of what you want and don't want, but people will go away with the thought that you are a dove. I believe, although I don't know you, is that you think there might be times that a war is necessary. You could even be a hawk if the conditions were right that was acceptable to you.

Why is it important not to influence others on this quagmire way of thinking? Future generations will believe the solution for the "right" war is ones that meet the conditions of not being a quagmire and that should be decided on the political level. You convey to others that the military experts are somehow less of an expert at war than the politicians.

If it is like past wars that were successful, you must trust your politician to "take" advice from their military leaders. More importantly, if your politician tells you that war is necessary, they must give the war to the "experts," sit back and watch. Only in extreme cases should a politician get involved once the command to go to war is issued.

IOW, what you should have learned from history is to let the experts fight the war and demand that your politician keep their nose out.

michael shanahan - 2/17/2003

How right you are to declare that Saddam Hussein should not be toppled.The degree of instability that would result would only add to any current difficulties. Just look back to the American involvement in Vietnam. Of course Mr Colin Powell would be able to concur here since he was active in that sad area around about the time of the "Pinkeville Masacre". Many in UK are asking as to how and why SH became such a demon. It is accepted that the CIA helped to overthrow the previous leftish regime and thus the Baath party came to prominence. In the conflict with Iran America and other western countries supplied him with the raw material for much of his subsequent barbarity. Will we ever learn?

Dave Livingston - 12/9/2002

This is to take strong exception to Professor Melancon's presumption, the tired old Leftist BIG LIE dogma not open to question, any examination whatsoever to its validity, that fighting in Viet-Nam was an error on the part of the U.S., not in the best interests of the U.S.

What in the heck does some softie who never has been to Viet-Nam know the war fought over there decades ago? It appears he's but mouthing the same old propaganda. Yes,because of having fought in 'Nam, Lieutenant,1st Infantry Division,1966-7; Captain,101st Airborne Division,1969-70 I reckon I know a thing or two about the war.

We fought in Viet-Nam for basically three reasons, sensible ones: to demonstrate to the Communists that we would indeed stand and fight if directly challenged rather than cutting & running, to demonstrate the same thing to ourallies around the world. After all, if we would stand & fight in obscure little Viet-Nam we'd cetainly not abandon our allies in more vital parts of the world, to succor a friendly state, South Viet-Nam, which was being attacked by Communist North Viet-Nam.

Saddam's Iraq is an altogether different story.

It is none of our business how brutal his government shows itself to be internally, against the Kurds & Shities, for instance, but it is our business if Iraq is developing biological weapons with the notion of using them against us or our allies. That is rerason enough to take Saddam out, albeit because he protects the tiny, 1%,Chaldean Catholic community of Iraq from being destroyed by aggressive Islamists I am reluctant to see him toppled from power. Once Saddam is gone will the Moslem fanatics destoy the Chaldean Catholic community?

Dave Livingston - 11/27/2002

For those among us who are more interested in the study of history (this is the History news network, isn't it?) than endlessly and fruitlessly repeating stale arguments about current U.S. foreign policy there is from my point-of-view as a Christian good reason not to topple Saddam.

It is Saddam who protects that tiny, 1%, portion of the Iraqi people who are Christian, Chaldean rite Catholic, from being destroyed by militant Islam.

The former Foreign Minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz, is a Chaldean rite Catholic.

How is it that even so much as 1% of the Iraqi people are Catholic?

It is because when after Pentecost Peter & Andrew, & later Paul went evangelizing west into the Roman Empire Thomas, yes, ole Doubting Thomas, Bartholomew, Simon the Zealot & Jude went evangelizing to the east. They were immensely successful in spreading the Gospel.

Thomas himself established three widespread churches that live even today. Thomas evangelized through Syria, Iraq, Iran & on to India. He was especially successful in India, on the Malabar, the west, coast, of India.

Bartholomew was very successful in Armenia. It is because of his evangelizing that the principle faithg of Aemenia even today is represented by the Armenian Apostoic (the Apostle Bartholomew)Church.

When Vasco de Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope & thence east across the Indian Ocean to India he had aboard ship representatives from the Vatican, who expected to discover on the west, the Malabar, coast of India tens of thousands of Christians And they did indeed.

How was it that Vasco de Gama & the Church expected to find on the Malabar Coast the Christians whom they did encounter?

It was because from approximately the mid fourth Century Rome, the Vatican, had been in more or less continual contact with the Malabar Christians. They remained in contact via the land route until the line of communications was cut by militant Islam in the 7th Century.

Although the line of communications was cut, the two, Rome & the Malabarese never forgot one another.

St. Thomas kept on evangelizing in India until he crossed the wrong prince, who hads Thomas murdered. The remains of Doubting Thomas lie today under the high altat of a cathedral near Madras, India.

Alec Lloyd - 9/26/2002

Thank you for proving my point. Far from there being “no debate” on Iraq, there is plenty of it. The fact that the polls conflict (the latest I’ve seen is still 2 to 1 in favor) show that debate is quite robust.

Furthermore, since 9/11, the anti-war movement has gone on a full-fledged tear to raise doubts and fear about military action any and everywhere. The only reason the movement stumbled in Afghanistan was that the country collapsed before they could organize credible sit-ins.

Now on to your other points:

2. It is Germany, not the US, that faces diplomatic isolation at the moment. Furthermore, though this may rattle the cage of the “multilaterism is everything” crowd, Europe has little military support to offer. Denmark and Holland are not likely to contribute appreciable aid. Allies are only necessary when they have something meaningful to offer (and in military/political terms, press releases don’t amount to much).
I would also be very much interested to know if you supported the first Gulf War which boasted a massive coalition.

3. MacArthur was correct: there is no substitute for victory. By refusing to strive for true victory the US military tied its own hands, making it nearly impossible to achieve its goals. Iraq will be a different case entirely.

4. What battlefield do you refer to? The one where badly outnumbered Israeli tanks have crushed the Arabs five times consecutively? Do you expect an Iranian intervention to support Hussein? The operative rule in the Middle East is bend to the prevailing wind. It is once more shifting to the West and the regimes there are trimming their sails accordingly (notice how the Saudi-run Arab News is now outlining the case for invading Iraq).

The despots there know how shallow the loyalty to their regimes truly is. They also know that only superpower restraint kept Israeli tanks out of Damascus, Amman and Baghdad.

5. Ah, so now the conscript armies of Iraq will fight like tigers? It would be a new first. I suggest you read a fascinating little piece called “Why Arab Armies Always Lose,” do shake off this fear.

6. What does Karl Rove have to do with anything? I find it interesting that for all Sen. Tom Daschle’s whining, it is the anti-war crowd who wishes to constantly make the war a political issue.

7. Yes, well it will be interesting to see of the Palestinians will be so keen to blow up their young if the Iraqi checks stop coming. Similarly, with Iraq and Afghanistan as clear object lessons of the thesis “crime doesn’t pay,” it will be difficult to imagine Syria or Iran raising its hand and (in a metaphorical sense, of course) shouting “Me next! Invade me next!”

More likely there will be loud protestations of pro-American sentiment. The phrase “larger regional conflagration” will shortly join other discarded cliches as “fearsome Afghan winter,” “outraged Arab street” and “vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard” in the dustbin of history’s empty threats.

Al Czervikjr - 9/26/2002

Mr. Melancon,

First of all, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to the comments regarding your article. As for your response to my two points...

>>Let me get this straight. You are arguing that invading Iraq will have fewer negative consequences than the current policy?

In the short term, no. In the long term, I certainly think that a post-Saddam government will be better for the US, the Iraqis, and the Middle East region as a whole than having Saddam in power and being "contained" by a large-scale US troop presence in neighboring countries (and the related consequences), expensive and increasingly-dangerous "no-fly" zones, and an increasingly-ineffective sanctions and weapons inspections regimes.

>>On peacekeeper please see above.

To the limited extent that the newspaper citations you list even address the issues I raised, they support my argument.

I don't doubt that the Karzai government would like additional peacekeepers in order to increase its authority and power vis-a-vis regional "warlords." My argument is that the West should be very careful in placing foreign troops in the middle of complex, long-simmering local disputes over which we have little understanding or control. The risks of a backlash and the emergence of a real "quagmire" are simply too great to do otherwise.

To give you but one example, the internatinal peacekeeper force is now being led by Turkey, which had close ties with Uzbek elements of the "Northern Alliance" during the Taliban era. I'm not sure that it would be wise to send Turkish-led peacekeepers into northern Afghanistan to help "keep the peace" between feuding Uzbeks and Tajiks.

Instead, the West should focus on building the Afghan army and police into professional and effective forces, rebuilding the infrastructure of the country, and providing the economic means and incentives to ensure that regional leaders cooperate with the central government.

Alec Lloyd - 9/26/2002

It’s great that you can link to articles which fail to address logistics. Unfortunately, a government asking for aid is lot easier than shipping the troops in there.

Afghanistan does not have a single railroad. This means all supplies must move by truck. Presently, food shipments and support for existing personnel are using up all available resources. Thus increasing the size of the peacekeeping mission will take time.

Those troops need to have a place to stay. This requires shelter, sanitation and of course a secure area so that disgruntled Taliban don’t try to martyr themselves on the wire. Yes, we can put tent cities up overnight, but they are hardly secure (mortar fire goes through canvas) and are notorious uncomfortable. Bagram air base also needs major repairs before it can accommodate more troops.

So your articles, while interesting, fail to address the facts I laid out earlier.

Again, you logic as far as the nuclear threat is amazing. Saddam may opt to test it, he may not. The “test” could well be in NY harbor. In any event, after he tests it, IT IS TOO LATE TO DO ANYTHING. One can surmise that he would build TWO and only test ONE. Or, he might have only one, but how are we to know? You want to take that chance?

Finally, your metaphor is absurd. Iraq is hardly a model citizen, minding his own business and keeping to himself. He is a known criminal, a documented sociopath who tortures his pets and takes pot shots at passing police cruisers. At what point does the neighborhood cop finally take him into custody?

Sending inspectors in is like executing a search warrant while blindfolded and wearing mittens. Even then, no one will have the power to arrest anyone.

You are preaching half-measures and delay out of misguided sense of security and an understandable (but exaggerated) fear of the future. We are at a point where the dangers of inaction exceed those of action. As a reservist, I arguably have a vested interest in doing nothing. However, as scary as the prospect of active duty in the Gulf may be, far worse is the possibility of a terror attack against my family. I know how to use MOPP gear; they don’t.

Given enough time and resources, the terrorists will strike again. That is why preemptive action is necessary.

Glenn Melancon - 9/25/2002

1st The anti-war forces are losing the argument?

In Nov. 2001 Gallup polls showed that 20% of the American people opposed invading Iraq, while an overwhelming majority, 80%, were in favor. The 2022- September Gallup polls showed that the anti-war forces had nearly doubled to 38%, and support for the war had slipped the 57%. For some strange reason, I believe Bush's efforts to bully his way through Congress and the UN has less to do with the Iraqi threat and more to do with his fear that his "historical" moment will be lost. The more the American people learn, the more they call for caution.

for Gallup Poll results see:

2nd OK "only" is too strong, but I will not concede that "much" of Europe is for invasion.

3rd Please remember what got the US into Vietnam: the spread of Communism. The US wanted to prevent another "Korea" in more ways than one. US planners mistakenly believed that by creating a free state in S. Vietman, the North would be forced to accept partition. As the illusion was shattered US official were not about to make the same mistake Gen. MacArthur made when he pressed the US advantage to the Chinese border, hoping to eliminate the evil doers. The Communist Chinese would not have sat and allowed American forces on its southern doorstep.

4th Yes, the terrain in Iraq is much different than Vietnam, but so is the scope of the battle field.

5th Political loyalty is a funny thing. The Iraqi defense of the homeland (certainly not Saddam) may be much different than the defense of the "19th Province."

6th "What is proposed is not a “police action” but a genuine full-force invasion followed by a period of occupation, similar to what we did to Japan and Germany." I sure hope the US goes in with all its might if the Congress decides to declare war. I am not sure, however, that Karl Rove aggrees with us.

7th As far as occupation is concerned, I am not as confident as you are that we can turn Iraqis into builders of "nifty video games." Instead of imitating the Germans and the Japanese, I believe some of them will imitate the Palestians and Al Qadea.

Glenn Melancon - 9/25/2002

Let me get this straight. You are arguing that invading Iraq will have fewer negative consequences than the current policy?

On peacekeeper please see above.

Glenn Melancon - 9/25/2002

1) Wow, did the Clinton folks blow that one or what?


from http://www.cdi.org/terrorism/peacekeeping.cfm
22 Feb. 2002
Peacekeeping in Afghanistan
"Afghans are pleading for a broadening of the peacekeeping mission, but the United States and its allies are not responding. "

from http://www.msnbc.com/news/707467.asp
"What next for Afghanistan? After the war, who fills the power vacuum?" MSNBC
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, April 18
"The new Afghan government has repeatedly called for the 5,000-strong force, so far limited to the capital of Kabul, to be expanded to other major cities.
Although painfully aware of past mistakes in Afghanistan, the United States has refused to commit any troops to the country’s U.N.-backed international peacekeeping operation. Bush has argued that U.S. troops should remain available for other missions directly related to national security and the war on terrorism. . ."

from http://www.hrw.org/editorials/2002/afghan0907.htm
7 September 2002
International Herald Tribune

"Pentagon officials recently signaled a shift in U.S. policy on Afghanistan, admitting that an expansion of international peacekeeping operations beyond Kabul is necessary. The unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Hamid Karzai on Thursday in Kandahar is intensifying calls for such a move. Some in the Bush administration called it a "mid-course correction," but the United States appears to be on the verge of a major U-turn.

For months, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz have resisted calls for an expansion of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, composed of 4,500 troops from 19 states and headed by Turkey. But as insecurity, factional fighting among warlords, and lawlessness have continued, it has become clear that waiting years for the formation of a credible national Afghan army and police force is not the answer."

from http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/258/oped/In_Afghanistan_a_job_half_done+.shtml
In Afghanistan, a job half done
By Michael O' Hanlon and P.W. Singer, 9/15/2002

"A coalition is now building, made up of Taliban remnants, Al Qaeda fighters, and extremist Pashtuns attached to the former warlord and radical Islamist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In a pointed reference to the war against the Soviets, they have entitled themselves ''the Sons of the Mujahideen,'' and are adapting many of the same tactics that eventually wore down the Red Army. . .

"[T]he United States should stop throwing around suggestive rumors about how it would condone an expansion of the International Security Assistance Force, and actually lead the effort"


a) Why does everything short of military action equate to doing nothing?

b) How said anything about perfecting a doomsday weapon? Simply having a "blue print" is not enogh. Before Saddam could use any such weapon he would have to test it. We are not talking about a clock here. The US knew when USSR, South Africa, Isreal, India and Pakistan developed their nuclear capability.

Side Answer: Your analogy, while provoking, misses the point. If I suspected a threat to my wifey, the first thing I would do is gather a coalition by contacting the proper authority, the police. I would have no right, morally or legally, to invade the suspect's home and kill them. The police, however, acting upon judges orders might get the authority for a search warrent or wire tap. If evidence exist, then the person would face justice.

Tristan Traviolia - 9/25/2002

Chamberlin thought Hitler would instigate World War II if he received the Sudetenland. If we give Saddam freedom from inspections we are gambling that he will not using NBC weapons on any nation except Iran (we accept the fact he can gas Kurds and other ethnicities inside Iraq as well as Iranians in Iran), and will not supply NBC weapons to any group willing to use them in a surprise attack on a civilian population outsdie Iraq. History will pass final judgment, but we should recognize the stakes we wager by not taking unilateral action to destroy Saddam. Neither option, unilateralism or passivity, is without dramatic risks.

Al Czervikjr - 9/25/2002

Well said as always, Mr. Lloyd.

I've been getting whiplash from those who demanded that we rely only on economic sanctions before the Gulf War, who then turned around to blame the US for the civilian deaths caused by (UN-mandated) sanctions over the past decade, and who now support...containment of Iraq through continued sanctions!

Al Czervikjr - 9/25/2002

>>Yes, I prefer sanctions to war; sanctions are the "better" evil at this point

Of course, the effects of "containment" through sanctions is not limited to the effects on the Iraqi people, however significant those may be.

If you prefer sanctions, I presume you also approve of the maintenance of the no-fly zones and the large American military presence in the region, both of which impose significant financial and political costs on US interests in the region.

>>The United States has not even lived up to its promise to "rebuild" Afghanistan. In fact the US has kept UN peacekeepers from moving into the countryside?

Has Afghanistan become the Switzerland of Central Asia overnight? Of course not. However, Afghanistan is certainly better off today than it was under the Taliban, as evidenced by the unprecedented (and largely unreported) VOLUNTARY return of refugees from Pakistan and Iran.

As far as moving foreign troops into the countryside to impose the will of the central government in Kabul, that would very likely be counterproductive, as the Soviet Union found out in the 1980's.

Alec Lloyd - 9/25/2002

I will answer your points in order:

1. McVeigh could well have had a state sponsor, possibly Iraq or al-Qaeda. Certainly Nichols and McVeigh went to the Philippines and made contact with terror cells there. And what ever happened to “John Doe #2?” He bears more than a passing resemblance to Jose Padilla. Why the government decide he doesn’t exist? The witness remain adamant that they saw this man, yet the search for him was dropped.

While I am not a conspiracy nut, there are salient questions as to whether the FBI and other agencies simply declined to pursue the matter once McVeigh was in custody. Everyone on this site who fears an “Ashcroft Putsch” should be clamoring for answers on this case as well.

The point is that state sponsors have a vested interest in NOT being identified. If you think Saddam will provide a receipt and paper trail for his suitcase nukes, your naivete defies description.

2. Bush isn’t “keeping peacekeepers from the countryside,” as you put it. The fact is, there aren’t enough peacekeepers to police it. Nor can more be brought in due to logistics constraints. The first priority right now is to rebuild roads and air links, after which more forces can be brought it. It is utterly irrational to expect a nation as backward as Afghanistan to instantly reform within the space of 10 months.

3. You are mistaken. Your earlier post argued that you wanted positive proof that Iraq has nuclear weapons before you invade. Waiting until the enemy has perfected his Doomsday Weapon is NOT the path to security. Generally, one strikes BEFORE he has completed his master plan. If you think it will be a safer world with a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein, we must have different definitions of “safety.”

Since you put this in personal terms, would you rather your son be drafted to fight against a nuclear-armed enemy or a conventional-armed one?

Of course, our action won’t be unilateral, so we can ignore that “concern.” (Side question: if someone tried to rape your wife, would you wait to “build a coalition” or “unilaterally” intervene?)

Alec Lloyd - 9/25/2002

Mr. Karr , I will answer your questions:

“--His systematic extermination of millions of persons outside of Germany who posed no threat to him”

While he hasn’t established death camps per se, Saddam has used poison gas against his own people and has a powerful authoritarian security apparatus.

“--His orders to his generals to halt at Dunkirk, allowing the British army to escape”

This is a little more complex than you make it out to be. Hitler received front-line reports from field commanders asking for a halt, which he then granted. The speed of the breakthrough and lack of infantry support worried some of the generals. It appears the reason the halt order was not rescinded sooner was more bureaucratic infighting than madness on Hitler’s part. I recommend “Miracle at Dunkirk” by Walter Lord for a fuller examination.

However, Saddam’s moronic stand in Kuwait with a wide-open flank does come to mind as a parallel example of military stupidity.

“--His sudden declaration of war on the U.S., after months of doing everything possible to avoid it, despite FDR's best efforts to provoke him”

How many times has Saddam “declared war” on the US? Why do we keep ignoring him?

“--Attacking Stalingrad because it bore Stalin's name”

Arguably it was just as insane for Stalin to insist on holding it. However, “Enemy at the Gates” (the book, not the movie) by William Craig points out that clearing Stalingrad was necessary to secure the left flank of the thrust into the Caucasus. As often happens (Gettysburg, for example) once the armies began to grapple, the engagement grew in size and scope.

“Can you draw up a similar list for Saddam, who has been in power twice as long as Hitler?”

Certainly, but first we must clarify what “madness” actually entails.

Few leaders run around with a rubber glove stretched over their heads screaming “Help! Help! I’m a squid!” or similar theatrics. Rather, they indulge in actions which can serve a practical purpose. For example, Hitler’s genocide seemed insane to us (as moral thinking people) but to him, it was a necessary measure for internal security (which would include “racial purity”).

There is clear and compelling evidence that Saddam is a sociopath. Certainly he shows no remorse for taking human life, indeed he reportedly takes personal satisfaction in watching torture, a depravity Hitler never indulged in.

Furthermore, his single-minded drive to build an Iraqi empire has cost his people dearly. He has taken a once productive nation and bankrupted it. The Fertile Crescent is now wracked with famine and disease while he squanders precious aid on more weapons of terror. Is that rational? Why do some in the West take if for granted that heartless despots who beggar and abuse their own people can be reasoned with?

He clearly knows his people hate him, else he would not use body doubles and other elaborate security measures.

Of course, there are some overt oddities. His painted visage appears everywhere in a variety of costumes, suggesting a certain level of megalomania. I haven’t read his book, but apparently he now fancies himself a serious author. It is reported that he has a copy of the Koran written in his own blood. Again, most normal people don’t write books in their own bodily fluids (names in the snow, yes; books, no).

Finally, he invaded two other nations. You attempt to place the blame for this on the West, much like a rapist will argue that his victim “wanted it” by dressing in a provocative manner. By saying we wouldn’t forcibly intervene, the argument goes, we encouraged his aggression.

Curiously, the flip side of this reasoning is ignored: that we cannot threaten force to compel good behavior. If he invaded because we failed to sufficiently deter him, what possible good will inspectors (for example) do without the threat of military force to back them up? Furthermore, since he has defied the inspection program for YEARS, at what point should the threat of force finally be carried out?

The logic here is one of appeasement, that is finding reasons to do nothing. While it seems safer, it is ultimately far more dangerous.

Alec Lloyd - 9/25/2002

Again, we see distortions.

First off, the anti-war movement is alive and well, since at least half of the articles on this site spout their rhetoric. There IS a debate professor, but your side is losing it. Saying we need a “real” debate is in effect arguing that your present thrashing doesn’t count.

Secondly, Britain is not our “only” ally. Much of western Europe has already signed on, as have Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. As usual, the world is waiting to see if we are serious before commiting themselves. Once that is clear, they will flock to our banner as they did before.

I will remind the professor that it was only AFTER the 82nd Airborne was on the ground in Saudi Arabia that the famed “coaltion” came together. So it will be again.

And we already are in a quagmire. We have partitioned the country and established safe areas for Saddam to build his doomsday weapons. Almost daily our pilots come under hostile fire. Though far less bloody (for us at least) there already is a war going on.

Of course, had our forces had the freedom of action they required, North Vietnam would have gone down to swift defeat. I suggest the good professor read up on operations Linebacker and Linebacker II for an idea of what American air power was capable of in the way of destroying the ability of North Vietnam to wage war.

Then again, this is a difference. Iraq has no rice paddies. The people are not loyal to a “cause,” and certainly don’t care for their tyrant.

What is proposed is not a “police action” but a genuine full-force invasion followed by a period of occupation, similar to what we did to Japan and Germany. I’m sorry, but the Republican Guard is nothing compared to the SS. By the same token, the Japanese trained their women to fight with bamboo sticks in the event of an American invasion. Now they build nifty video games.

Relax, professor. The situation is serious, but there is still hope for a swift and safe resolution, PROVIDED WE ACT NOW. Delay will only increase the dangers.

Glenn Melancon - 9/24/2002

1) Why do terrorists have to be state sponsored? Which state sponsored Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols? As far as I can tell Osama Bin Laden is financed by private funds, and I believe he has been pretty capable of fighting a guerilla war.

2) Yes, GWB could argue his case based upon the moral bankruptcy of sanctions. (Yes, I prefer sanctions to war; sanctions are the "better" evil at this point). Alas, he has not. The United States has not even lived up to its promise to "rebuild" Afghanistan. In fact the US has kept UN peacekeepers from moving into the countryside? Should we expect to act differently in post-war Iraq? The Powell doctrine, which most conservatives used to hail as the cure for Vietnam, argued for a clear "exit strategy." The reconstruction of Iraq could be one such strategy. Where, however, is "Gen. Marshall"? Where is the vision for a post-war Iraq? Where are the Four Freedoms of the Atlantic Charter?

3) The goal is US foreign policy should be to protect the country from outside threats. The question then is "Will a US invasion of Iraq deminish or increase outside threats?" I believe a unilateral US invasion of Iraq at this point will create more problems than it will solve.

Glenn Melancon - 9/24/2002

If Hamz offered such "damn good evidence", why didn't Tony Blair cite it? Why didn't Blair come right out and say "Iraq has nuclear weapons."


Instead, he said Iraq has "persistently tried to develop a nuclear bomb." Why such caution? Do you really believe that he is holding back? Blair, Bush's only ally, took his best shot and came up short.

I see no reason to rush into a war with Iraq; nothing in the Blair report indicates that Saddam is an immediate threat to the US.

Bill Heuisler - 9/24/2002

So, Mr. Associate Professor,
You want a "real reason" for taking out Saddam?
Ignore an immediate nuclear threat and you jeapordize many more children than would die in a pre-emptive invasion.
Before you gainsay, more history is appropriate:
1) Just prior to the Gulf War both the UN and US Nuclear regulatory/monitoring agencies predicted Saddam could have a nuclear bomb in three to five years. The ex-Director of Saddam's nuclear weapons program testified 9/19/02 in congress, "We were six months to a nuclear weapon."
2) The US bombed three uranium-enrichment sites during the Gulf War. No more were thought to exist (per: satellite surveillance, informants and expert analysis). After Iraq capitulated, FOUR MORE sites for producing weapons-grade uranium were found.

When the recently defected Director of the Iraq Nuclear Program (Khidir Hamza)said last week Saddam could have a bomb "in as little as six weeks" that sounded like damn good evidence to me.

Answers: Hitler was about a year away from nuclear when we bombed his "heavy water" facility in Scandinavia. Visualize London as a vast crater and ask if Adolf would've used it.
If a bomb were detonated in New York harbor, who would we blame? Nuclear - or biological or chemical - leaves no return address;
Mutual Assured Destruction will not deter anonymous terror.
Reason enough?
"Advocates of war have silenced..." Really, professor, hyperbole should at least be humorous.
Bill Heuisler

Byron Quick - 9/24/2002

Mr. Melancon,

"Please read more carefully. I never stated that Saddam is a good person. In fact I support the US policy of containment, the imprisonment of an entire state"

Therefore, I must assume that you also support the consequences of the morally bankrupt policies of economic sanctions. The ordinary Iraqi citizens living in abject poverty. The children dying from the results of economic deprivation. You are so enlightened, sir, my congratulations.

The war in Vietnam and the "quaqmire" that resulted had several causes. The NVA and the VC had sanctuary that the US would not touch for fear of the Soviet Union. Please inform me of the sanctuary for Iraqi guerillas. The NVA and the VC had the patronage of a superpower for both economic and military aid. Please inform me of the source of economic and military aid in vast quantities for your hypothetical Iraqi guerillas. If you cannot satisfy these requirements for a successful guerilla war (which you cannot) then please point me to a sucessful guerilla war which lacked these prerequisites.

However, your basic premise, in my opinion, is in serious error. The situation in Iraq is better compared to Nazi Germany. The Allies occupied Germany for 10 years after the end of WWII. The result, at least in the west, was a democracy that has been an asset to civilization. The situation in Iraq will require the same committment to be successful.

That is where I become uneasy. Iraq,in 1991, had the best hardware that one could buy from the Soviet Union. It wasn't a match for the US forces. In fact, the casualties sustained in that campaign were less than one would expect from a military exercise utilizing the same number of men. Conventionally, the Iraqi forces are weaker today than they were then. However, I question the US committment to do what is necessary after a successful overthrow of Hussein.

In my view, the contentious debate over the possible Iraqi possession of WMD's is irrelevant. It could be more strongly argued simply from basic humanitarianism.

Glenn Melancon - 9/24/2002

Thank you for pointing out my sloppy mistake; I meant to say "turn ed twelve in 1964". (btw, I am an Associate Professor) Yes, I did write rather quickly because I had no idea the US would rush so foolishly to war as it did in 1964. My point still stands, if the US is going to risk the lives of our children we better have a real reason and not some fabrication like the Gulf of Tonkin.

I can think of few who would argue against military intervention in Afghanistan. The United States had clear right to self defense. Even if the nation-building fails, no when will ask "We did we go?" The same cannot be said for Iraq.

I believed, and I still hope, the United States can have a true debate about the benefits and negative consequences of any policy action. It is not, however, happening now. As in 1964 advocates of war have silenced other voices by crying that the sky is (dominos are?) falling.

As to the comparison between Hitler and Saddam, I would like to point out that the British, French and American sat by and did nothing to stop Hitler in 1936, 1938 or 1939 (the year of the phoney war). The same can not be said about Saddam. The United Nations (US troops fought under UN authority) reversed his aggression. Since then he has been effectively contained through the use of military force (the No-Fly Zones) and economic sanctions. Does he try to get out of the box? Yes. And the United States and its allies continuely slap his hands. Did this happen to Hitler or Tojo? No. The comparison between 2002 and 1936(38?)(39?) falls apart. No one who is against invading Iraq is arguing for appeasemnt. Quit the contrary.

In regard to being stuck in a "Cold War mentality," maybe I am, but to dismiss Saddam as irrational is inaccurate. He, like Stalin, has been extremely rational. He looked at the Great Powers through out history and decided they all had one thing in common: the military might to bully their neighbors. To say he is irrational is to say that the US nuclear weapons program was irrational. The difference is that the US has (for the most part) constrained itself and only resorted to force as a last resort.
Finally, why would Saddam give a nuclear device to terrorists? Does he have a death wish? 1) The terrorists may just use it against him. 2) If it were used against the US, he would surely die.

Bill Heuisler - 9/24/2002

Mr. Melancon, a boy born in 1964 would be six in 1970 - the stinking rice paddies of the Mekong Delta twelve years away. Fundamental mistakes give a rather disorderly snapshot of the mind of an Assistant professor. Comparing Viet Nam and Ho Chi Minh to the Iraq of Saddam Hussein is also disorderly - and comparable to drafting a six-year-old.
Quickly: Ho Chi Minh, a soldier and scholar, wanted to unite his country. Saddam, murderer and racialist, treats his subjects as cannon-fodder and says Iraq needs Liebensraum.
Sound familiar?
Would a disorderly mind have waited for Hitler?
How much evidence do Saddam-apologists and procrastinators need?
UNSCOM reported before UN inspectors left Iraq they had ascertained:
1) Iraq had developed a blueprint for a nuclear bomb - a sphere measuring 32 to 35 inches in diameter with 32 detonators. This prototype would weigh less than a ton and would fit on a Scud missile.
2) Iraq had already tested a nuclear bomb dummy with a non-nuclear core.
3) Iraq was running 30 nuclear research and production facilities, had a lab-scale plutonium separation program and was working on a radiological weapon that scatters nuclear radiation without an explosion.
4) In May 1998 Iraq had ordered six lithotripter machines saying they would be used to treat kidney stones. Each machine contains a high-precision electronic switch which can trigger atomic bombs; six extra switches were ordered.
In order to make fissionable material uranium ore must be refined. The fastest way to process radioactive material to weapons-grade is by centrifuge. In 1989 German scientist, Karl Schaab showed Iraqis how to build and operate a centrifuge. He later helped them build a second centrifuge. Evidently this was not enough. In May of 2000 the International Atomic Energy Agency discovered and destroyed an Iraqi nuclear centrifuge which had been imported from Belarus and stored in Jordan.
Dr. Khidir Hamza helped start and directed Iraq's nuclear bomb program before he defected in 1994. He testified to the Senate Foreign Relations committee last July that Iraq will have three nuclear bombs in just a few months. "The beauty of the present system is that the units are each very small and, in the four years since the inspectors left, they will have been concealed underground or in basements or buildings that outwardly seem normal." Dr. Hamza also testified that radioactive material is already in Iraq and being processed to weapons grade using the centrifuge method. Unless he's stopped soon, Saddam will have set up a whole nuclear bomb industry, not just have made a couple of bombs."
Defected Iraqi Nuclear Scientist, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri said (NY Times interview, 20 December 2000) that Iraq has reactivated 300 secret weapons labs since UN inspectors left; that weapons are being stored underground in lead-lined water-well-look-alikes and that nuclear production and storage facilities are hidden in hospitals, schools and private villas in residential areas.
Viet Nam is convenient delusion - an excuse not to think.
We must learn the hard lesson of history. Benefit of the doubt is suicidal with a man who has invaded two countries without provocation, gassed 100,00 Kurdish civilians and murdered his son in law with his own hands.
Saddam's evil purpose is as obvious as Hitler's.
Bill Heuisler

Ronald Dale Karr - 9/24/2002

According to Mr. Kates, "Saddam is not just 'not a nice person,' a tinpot despot like Franco or Pinochet, but rather the 21st Century's closest analogue to Hitler, an expansionist sociopath whose rule so far has resulted in more than 1 million dead" and is a "lunatic."

Question: if so, why did three administrations—Carter, Reagan, and Bush I—provide this madman with aid and deal with him as if he was rational? How could he fool them for ten years?

In his previous postings Mr. Kates, cites various examples of Saddam's alleged irrationality: his attack on Iran (without mentioning that he had been encouraged by the U.S.), his invasion of Kuwait (without mentioning that he had cleared this with April Gillespie, the U.S. ambassador), and so on. Some of this was at least as reckless as the policies our present administration seems determined to follow, but they hardly seem to illustrate insanity.

Since you continue to draw comparisons with Hitler, let me ask you this. Historians have identified several actions of Hitler that defy any rational explanation, that clearly illustrate that he was mad. Four examples:
--His systematic extermination of millions of persons outside of Germany who posed no threat to him
--His orders to his generals to halt at Dunkirk, allowing the British army to escape
--His sudden declaration of war on the U.S., after months of doing everything possible to avoid it, despite FDR's best efforts to provoke him
--Attacking Stalingrad because it bore Stalin's name

Can you draw up a similar list for Saddam, who has been in power twice as long as Hitler?

Frank Gilbert - 9/24/2002

Dear Dr. Melancon:

As a former Infantry soldier in Vietnam, who spent one year fighting in the mud for this countries ideologies, I was delighted that you were able to present your point of view in such a near perfect historical as well as bi-partisan point of view. No American wants their son or daughter to die in Iraq.
I believe that the mind-set of this country during the Vietnam war, was quite different than that exemplified by Americans today.
I still would like to comment on several points you made,but Because of a lack of space I will e-mail you later.

don kates - 9/24/2002

I read your article carefully and carefully conceded the only valid point in it: that, even if the U.S. had the right to run around the world knocking over tin-pot dictators so as to impose our form of government everywhere, we do not have the power over the long term to force our ideas on other peoples w/ other traditions. Indeed, you will find that my article on gun control, arms control and Iraq (now archived under last week's articles) makes that point at some length.
Another point it makes, however, whose force you just evade is that Saddam is not just "not a nice person," a tinpot despot like Franco or Pinochet, but rather the 21st Century's closest analogue to Hitler, an expansionist sociopath whose rule so far has resulted in more than 1 million dead. Moreover this lunatic has made energetic attempts to obtain WMD, especially nuclear weapons.
Your discussion of these matters exhibits gargantuan defects of both information and imagination. I can only guess that you are still stuck in the Cold War when nuclear weapons were limited to the relatively sane leaders of relatively responsible major powers. What if, instead of trying to deliver his bomb via ICBM Saddam just sneaks it aboard a tramp freighter and "tests" it for the first time by trying to detonate it in NY harbor?

We are not talking about 9/11 here, but about Hiroshima. I suggest you take a look at the pictures of Hiroshima and then compare your suggestion that we should just wait around 2-3 years to see if a sociopathic mass murderer actually gets nuclear weapons, and, if so, what he does with them. Compared to that, the idea of releasing Charles Manson w/ a machete and a machine- gun is indeed sensible.
Incidentally, while your son is just a child, my nephew is a member of the 82nd Airborne. Nevertheless the risk to his life is more acceptable than of not preventing Saddam from obtaining weapons w/ which he could kill hundreds of thousands of children like your son, not to mention millions of others. The fact that you do not see this suggests that you are unable to rationally evaluate public policy issues.

Glenn Melancon - 9/24/2002

Please read more carefully. I never stated that Saddam is a good person. In fact I support the US policy of containment, the imprisonment of an entire state (Charles Manson is in jail and has not killed anyone since as far as I know). US jets can stike any whereany time in Iraq. The only way for Saddam to launch any attack on his neighbors would be under the watchful eyes of the US.

What kind of proof would I like?

1) Real photos of weapons facilities.

2) Real sources stating Saddam has (NOT MAY HAVE IN TWO to THREE YEARS) nuclear weapons

3) Real ground shaking evidence that prooves Saddam has tested a nuclear weapon.

4) Any evidence that demonstrates that Saddam has an intercontinental billistic missle.

5) Any evidence that demonstrates that Saddam has the technology to build a "suitcase nuke".

donkates - 9/23/2002

On the evidence of this essay, the author's hope that Americans will learn from history is likely to prove fruitless. How can anyone observe the history of Saddam Hussein and not conclude that he is too homicidal, reckless and dangerous to be trusted w/ WMD? Her assertion that no one has PROVED that he is dangerous is as fatuous as asserting that we could safely release Charles Manson w/ a machete and a machine-gun because no one can KNOW that he would misuse them.
The author is correct that we should neither hope nor try to install a decent government in Iraq. Rather we should capture or kill Saddam, try him for his crimes, and most important of all, make sure he never gets a chance to obtain WMD. We would then leave to Iraqis the determination of what kind of government they should have, confident in the knowledge that they can scarcely do worse than Saddam.