Iraq and Vietnam

Growing up in the heartland of the United States in the aftermath of WWII, I was informed daily in many and various ways that I was privileged to be living in a land where Freedom and Justice were upheld not only in law but in a very sacred document inscribed on parchment and cherished with as much reverence as the Bible. It was implied that God had chosen this sacred soil, this place called America, as His latter day Jerusalem and we who were privileged enough to reside there, as Americans, had a sacred duty to inform the rest of the world of our received wisdom - that by dint of our great fortune we were somehow the inheritors of a terrestrial heaven which they, too, could share if somehow they were able to make their way to our domain and were willing to work hard and fly the flag proudly and with reverence.

But even back then in that heady time of imperial innocence there were those who suggested that America was suffering a bad case of national amnesia. For those days of rapture left out a large portion of brutish history which included everything from genocide of the Native Tribes to mass deportation of Italians, Russians, Germans and, yes, even British who dared to think that the sacred parchment which contained those cherished amendments called the Bill of Rights gave them permission to unionise and strike against the likes of Henry Ford - to say nothing of the Blacks who at the time were living in an apartheid regime and saw more burning crosses and bloodstained hoods than the cherished slogans writ bravely on the national coinage.

The sixties in America swept all that aside. A new generation who had taken to heart the slogans of their great and glorious leaders were astonished to find that those fine phrases only held true if you had the right colour skin and your politics didn’t question the dictates of Adam Smith. This was the generation that went down South in droves to right what they saw as centuries of hollow cant and injustice. Some of them gave up their lives in that cause. Others went to jail. Still others were sent to Vietnam.
Vietnam was a national dilemma. Like Iraq there were those good denizens of the Political Class, well credentialed liberals, who told us, hand on heart, that if we didn’t fight in Vietnam we would soon be fighting the Commies (al Qaeda of its day) on the shores of California. Back then it wasn’t the ‘Axis of Evil’ but rather the ‘Evil Empires’ – China and Russia – that was sneakily behind the Red Menace. There was also a theory spoken of with great earnestness by the politicos of the day (with as much passionate fervour as the Powells, the Straws and the Blairs) which they called the ‘Domino Effect’. It said that if we didn’t stand up to those nations bent on sowing the seeds of World Communism now, our children would regret it; for if North Vietnam was allowed to succeed in their aggression, then the other nations of Indo China would topple endlessly like rows of helpless ivories stood end to butt.

Many young people trusted their government then and many died horrendous deaths for their belief and their faith in those ‘well-meaning’ political leaders. And more than those who were killed were those hundreds of thousands who were destroyed in other ways by the barbarity of war (and who you see even today rummaging aimlessly through the rubbish bins of urban America).

There are those, of course, who will say that Iraq isn’t Vietnam. And of course it isn’t. But neither is it Hitler’s Germany. However what is true is that there exists the same class of political leaders, some liberal and well-meaning, who wish to convince us that if we don’t fight now we will regret it later. Well, we did fight in Vietnam and we did regret it later. And some of those well-meaning liberals came to lament their determined stance which they argued back then with such heart-felt passion. And some of them actually apologised for their ‘mistake’. But tell me, how do you apologise to the millions of corpses on both sides who died for that past mistaken notion? How do you apologise to the mothers and fathers who lost their children? How do you apologise to the women raped and the land despoiled? Tell me, do you just apologise and go on to the next bloody war? And then apologise for that?

2 February 2003