In what has to be a stunning blow to the forces in country, the deaths of at least 15 GIs in the November 2nd downing of a US Chinook helicopter may well mark a turning point in the US public’s perception of Washington’s little war in Asia. Add to this the daily toll of dead and wounded from both Iraq and Afghanistan and even Donald Rumsfeld has got to wonder how much longer the warmakers’ PR machine can continue to fool the American public. In my conversations with citizens at work and elsewhere in my life, I find that more and more individuals are increasingly skeptical about this occupation’s purpose, cost, and methodology. Unfortunately, most folks that I converse with seem to feel that there is little they can do to stay the administration’s course of action, so the general outcome is one of growing cynicism, not activism-which is fine with those who sent the soldiers into the region in the first place. A cynical reaction still gives the war hawks plenty of room to do their dirty work.
The growing skepticism is obviously well-founded. No matter what rosy picture is painted by GW Bush’s insistence that things are going well and no matter what kind of twisted logic he and his spokespeople use to explain away the growing exposure to combat faced by the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the facts are clear (even through the milky lens provided by the US mainstream media): there is a war going on in Iraq and people are dying every day. No major combat is over. Nobody won anything, except for Halliburton, Bechtel and a few other corporations.
I just finished the recently published book They Marched Into Sunlight by David Maraniss. It is the brilliantly narrated tale of seven days in October 1967 as experienced by men serving in the Big Red Division of the US Army in southern Vietnam and by students, faculty, and administrators at a protest against Dow Chemical recruiting at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The book is detailed and complete, yet never rambles. The author for the most part spares us his political opinions, preferring instead to tell a story that is a spectacular piece of reporting yet poignant and emotionally draining.
I mention this book not because of the story Maraniss tells, but because of the story’s background he presents to the reader. This is a background that takes place in the Oval Office, the officers’ quarters in the field and the Pentagon, and in the mindset of President Lyndon Johnson. It is a background that sees victory in Vietnam as the only choice for the US military, no matter what happens on the ground. It is a mindset that demands that the battlefield realities be transformed into the exact opposite of what they are in order to maintain public support for the war. In other words, the disastrous ambush that the Big Red Division was led into to fulfill some officers’ ideas of how to fight the Viet Cong became a victory for the US Army, even though it was a clear defeat. Soldiers who saw their friends and subordinates die were told to lie about what happened to them. Central Command denied that an ambush occurred, insisting that it was an “engagement” only. To add insult to injury, they double-counted the enemy dead and de-emphasized the 58 US deaths. Meanwhile, back in the US, we were being told that the war was almost over, even though the administration and its generals knew otherwise. In fact, they were getting ready to send more men over to the jungle. Tet 1968 was still over three months away. The light at the end of General Westmoreland’s tunnel was getting further and further away.
If there is such a light in the tunnel that is Washington’s current war in Iraq and on the world, it better be a long-lasting light bulb, because this war is far from over. The growing numbers of attacks on US forces are not representative of a desperation being felt by the opponents of the occupation. They are the exact opposite. The resistance continues to gain strength and will probably continue to do so until the American military leaves the country. It doesn’t matter what the composition of the resistance is, the important fact is that they are resisting. Furthermore, they appear to gaining substantial support among the Iraqi people. The Vietnamese resistance was often described in language very similar to that used to describe the opposition in Iraq: terrorists, foreigners and rabble with little support. History proved otherwise.
It is unwise to make too much of the similarities between Vietnam and Iraq, since they are quite different on the ground. However, I believe it is important to examine how the US government continues to characterize the war in Iraq in terms very similar to those it used to describe the war in Vietnam. If their lies are what they believe to be true, then it is of utmost importance that we who oppose their war take a look at history and expose the words emanating from the current White House and its allies for what they are-lies designed to convince the people of the US that this war is something other than what it is. At the same time, we should take the lessons learned by the movement opposed to the war on Vietnam and apply them to ending the current war. Perhaps the most important of these lessons is that this war was not a mistake, nor is its aftermath. Despite the phony protestations of the Bush administration and the wishful thinking of many of the war’s liberal opponents, the war planners were pretty certain that the US troops would still be in Iraq killing and dying well after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The stories we are told that state otherwise are just more of the lies that this war came wrapped in. Wars of empire are never accidents, they are part of the planning that maintaining an empire demands.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org