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Anna Quindlan: We've Been Here Before (Iraq/Vietnam)

Roundup: Media's Take




The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a tapering wall of black granite cut into the grass of Constitution Gardens. Maya Lin envisioned a scar when she designed it, a scar on this land, which is exactly right. Maybe someday his security detail could drive George W. Bush over to take a look. He'll be able to see himself in the reflective surface.

The list of names etched into the wall begins with a soldier who died in 1959 and ends with one who died in 1975. Nearly 60,000 dead are commemorated here. It is the most personal of war memorials. You can touch the cold names with your warm fingers.

The president never wanted the war in Iraq to be personal. His people forbade photographs of coffins arriving home. They refused to keep track of how many Iraqis had been killed and wounded. When "Nightline" devoted a show to the faces of soldiers who had died, one conservative broadcast outlet even pulled the program from its lineup.

The president wanted this to be about policy, not about people. Even that did not go well. The policy became a moving target. First there were weapons of mass destruction that were not there and direct links to the terrorists who attacked on September 11 that didn't exist. The removal of Saddam Hussein was given as the greatest good; it has been done. Then it became the amorphous goal of bringing freedom to the Iraqi people, as though liberty were flowers and we were FTD. The elections, the constitution, the rubble, the dead. Once again we were destroying the village in order to save it.

This all took an unfortunate turn for the administration during the president's vacation in August, when Cindy Sheehan showed up at his ranch. Say what you would about her politics or tactics, there was no doubt that she was a mother whose soldier son was now dead, and who wanted to know why. ...

The Vietnam Memorial stands, in part, as a monument to blind incrementalism, to men who refused to stop, not because of wisdom but because of ego, because of the fear of looking weak. Not enough troops, not enough planning, no real understanding of the people or the power of the insurgency, dwindling public support. The war in Iraq is a disaster in the image and likeness of its predecessor.

The most unattractive trait of the American empire is American arrogance, which the president embodies and which this war elevated. It is not simply that we have a good system. It is the system everyone else should have. It is the best system, and we are the best people. We can mend rivalries so ancient that they not only predate our nation but the birth of Christ. We will install the leaders we like in a country we scarcely understand, leaders who will either be seen as puppets by their people or who will eventually turn against us. We have been here before.

"In Vietnam we didn't have the lessons of Vietnam to guide us," says David Halberstam, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of that war. "In Iraq we did have those lessons. The tragedy is that we didn't pay attention to them." Or maybe only our leaders did not. The polls show the American people have turned on this war much more quickly than they did on the war in Vietnam. Of course, they are the ones who pay the price....

At least Johnson had the good sense to be heartbroken by the body bags. Bush appears merely peevish at being criticized. Someone with a trumpet should play taps outside the White House for the edification of a president who has not attended a single funeral for the Iraqi war dead....



Read entire article at Newsweek

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paul eric collier - 10/28/2005

Anna has it exactly right. This administration is driven by breathtaking hubris and ignorance. George Bush, and the devious corporate whores he surrounds himself with, are no better than traitors and war criminals. Unfortunatley, they have a support base that will believe in them no matter what, and a well-financed power base that will underwrite them as long as they dole out tax breaks. How has America delivered itself into this Dante-esque state?