The similarities between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War have been pointed out again and again. But there is also an important difference, that between the rhetorical styles of two of the war presidents: faux Texan George W. Bush and died-in-the-wool Texan Lyndon B. Johnson. While Bush’s logic is impeccable
All freedom is good.
Democracy is freedom.
Let’s bomb the living shit out of Iraq
his arguments are less than compelling because they deal mostly in abstractions rather than the concrete images that give Texas-speak its distinctive power. Bush tries desperately to sound like a colorful Texan, but these efforts, like so much else he does, come across forced, self-conscious, inauthentic. “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” “Smoke ’em out.” Please, George, trying way too hard. Granted, “mushroom cloud” was a powerful image, but we haven’t heard that one in a while. Perhaps we will again in the run-up to the Iran War.
President Johnson, on the other hand, fully inhabited his Texasness, sprinkling his speech with colorful and vivid images such as the famous:
“Without superior air power America is a bound and throttled giant, impotent and easy prey to any yellow dwarf with a pocket knife.”
Johnson unbound the throttled giant, committing even more war crimes than Bush (so far), thus forfeiting his right to be known as the Thich Nhat Hanh of his generation. Just as well, since Thich Nhat Hanh is the Thich Nhat Hanh of his generation. For those suffering from memory loss or youth, Thich Nhat Hanh is the Vietnamese Bhuddist monk, poet and peace activist (“yellow dwarf” in presidential parlance) who in 1966 flew to Washington to plead with Secretary of Defense and uber-technocrat Robert McNamara to stop killing Vietnamese. This meeting, though not recorded, was later reconstructed through interviews with the participants:
McNamara: Systems analysis facilitates key decisions on force requirements and weapon systems.
Thich Nhat Hanh: Breathing in, I relax…
McNamara: Management tools developed to implement PPBS include the FYDP, the DPM and the DCP.
Thich Nhat Hanh: Breathing out, I smile…
McNamara: FYDP consists of tables projecting strategic forces, general purpose forces, intelligence and communications, airlift and sealift, guard and reserve forces, research”
At this point Thich Nhat Hanh took out a pocket knife and stabbed McNamara in the heart. McNamara continued:
McNamara: — and development, central supply and maintenance, training and medical services, force structure, military assistance
Thich Nhat Hanh realized his mission had failed. McNamara eventually felt he had killed enough Vietnamese, and retired. In later years he came to regret his role in the war and said he would have stopped it but couldn’t find his glasses.
HOWARD MEYERS lives in Los Angeles, where he is old and in the way (pace Jerry Garcia). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org