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05/09/2004

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Oscar

I find the argument about Vietnam interesting if not compelling. Vietnam was a sideshow in a conflict that required limited means be used to keep the other big boys away. It can and has been reasonably argued that Vietnam was a success in Cold War terms because we held off communist expansion long enough for many countries in South East Asia to take a more western track.

The failure in Vietnam was at home, and it may have been the first war to show the difficulies that modern communications causes democratic governments during wartime. The leaders have to explain what they are doing to the folks at home without the enemy figuring out what they are trying to do. Liddel-Hart's beloved indirect approach is difficult if not impossible with a hostile ( or at least APPARENTLY HOSTILE)press beathing down the government's back.

Oscar

By the way, I feel your point about "doing something" is a good one with wide applicability. Economics is another area where this sort of this happens.

Kingdaddy

Hey,thanks for the thoughtful comments. I, too, think that there were ways to "win" the Vietnam War. On the counterinsurgency side, I think there've been some pretty compelling accounts that approaches like the Marines' CAP program, CORDS, or even (in its more benign incarnations) Phoenix actually did work a lot better than the big conventional sweeps, and could have continued eating into the NLF's base of support (particularly after Tet). Of course, it was conventional NVA troops in tanks, not Viet Cong in pajamas, who took Saigon...And that was the sort of conventional conflict that we were disproprotionately better trained and equipped to fight.

However, it's tough to see what could have been done, once the US public decided it wasn't worth it any longer. (Much like when the British were still fielding troops in the colonies, which could have continued if public support back home hadn't collapsed. Ironically, Americans owe their own independence to just such a "loss of will.")

Despite the silliness about Kerry's medals, I think most people are much, much better prepared now to have a reasonable discussion about the Vietnam War and "lessons learned" than 10 or 20 years ago. One of the reasons for this blog is to encourage people to engage seriously with unappreciated books like Sorley's A Better War, Krepinevich's The Army and Vietnam, and more recently, Max Boot's Savage Wars of Peace. Whether you agree with their arguments or not, it's time to open up the discussion again. "Little wars" are the types of conflicts we're fighting now...And, as it turns out, we've been fighting them for a long, long time.

P.S. The three books I cite above don't agree with each other, and I don't necessarily agree with any of them. I give credit where it's due, though, whether I agree with the author or not.

Oscar

I think you missed my point about Vietnam. I just today found a short quote from Jerry Pournelle which explains what I meant exactly:

"We won the war in Viet Nam although few realize that: the Russians frittered away their energy and treasure in a place far away from any rational objective, and at great expense sent the output of their truck factories not to develop the USSR infrastructure but to be targets for USAF and Spectre. It was a campaign of attrition for no vital objective."

I think it may be a flaw in our current culture that we cannot tell the difference between a campaign and a war. This distinction was clear to all in WWII, but by the time of Korea, many had forgotten it, although (thank God) Truman did not, which is why he sacked MacArthur.

The biggest loss we had in Vietnam was that it gave power to a pernicious evil which is still with us: the internationalist-progressive/cultural-diversity mafia.

Antiquated Tory

Nothing like commenting on a 19-month-old discussion. I've heard the argument that Vietnam was a successful war of attrition before, and I think it has some legs. I live now in the Czech Republic, and I know that a lot of Czechoslovak industrial output went to support that war. The Czechoslovaks were repaid in Vietnamese labor--Vietnamese were sent here to work in factories. Labor theory of value and all that. Really quite daft; they didn't need more labor here, they needed more goods.

("internationalist-progressive/cultural-diversity mafia"? I beg your pardon? Not that either a) Oscar will ever read this at this late date or b) this comment section is an appropriate place to discuss the bogeymen hiding under various beds.)

Craig Hubley

"Anti-politics is a flight from responsibility, disguised as virtue." Bernard Crick rejected what he called the "absolute-sounding ethic" so commonly heard now to justify military interventions. Instead he made a point of listing "political virtues" that he claimed were independent of ideology. Machiavelli, too, wrote The Discourses, not just The Prince, which was about governing well, and what political outcomes might be worth a war.

Neither Crick nor Machiavelli, nor Sun Tzu, advised trying to ignore politics just because swords are swinging. Quite the opposite. You might be done talking to the commander or the head of state, but you have probably barely begun to talk to the sub-commander, the opposition leader, their allies... look at Iraq. To stop talking to Saddam was one thing, but to fail to have open connections with the Shia beyond one guy telling you what you want to hear... Achmed Chalabi, namely... was unforgiveable.

A final point: Vietnam and Afghanistan were both proxies during the Cold war. Citizens of both suffered very terribly for being caught in the midst of an extended (30 years in each case) war funded and armed from superpower coffers for superpower purposes. Iraq likewise shifted from Russian to American sphere as the US poised itself against Iran, and that may have extended the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war (in the middle of which, Rumsfeld was shaking hands with Saddam), and Iran also had its elected leader removed by the CIA in the 1950s, so again there you could claim there was half a century of various kinds of suffering and suppression caused by the Cold War. It's hard to believe that further active intervention in any of these places can actually lead to goodwill, for that reason alone. Though something is clearly owed these people for being trapped in the middle of superpower confrontations (and don't even get started on Latin America), it probably isn't military "help".

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Ben

By the way, I feel your point about "doing something" is a good one with wide applicability. Economics is another area where this sort of this happens. http://www.hotfileseek.com

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I dedicate some time each week on the discussion boards for other blogs. It's a great way to meet people, including those who support Bush's policies. I use the opportunity to speak directly with the pro-Bush crowd to see if we can find some common ground, a place where the screaming will stop and a true meeting of minds will begin. It's my democratic duty to both practice open-mindedness and encourage it in others.Hey,thanks for the thoughtful comments. I, too, think that there were ways to "win" the Vietnam War. On the counterinsurgency side, I think there've been some pretty compelling accounts that approaches like the Marines' CAP program, CORDS, or even (in its more benign incarnations) Phoenix actually did work a lot better than the big conventional sweeps, and could have continued eating into the NLF's base of support (particularly after Tet). Of course, it was conventional NVA troops in tanks, not Viet Cong in pajamas, who took Saigon...And that was the sort of conventional conflict that we were disproprotionately better trained and equipped to fight.

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I always cringe whenever I hear someone likes a politician primarily or completely because of that person's values. Nothing like commenting on a 19-month-old discussion. I've heard the argument that Vietnam was a successful war of attrition before, and I think it has some legs. I live now in the Czech Republic, and I know that a lot of Czechoslovak industrial output went to support that war. The Czechoslovaks were repaid in Vietnamese labor--Vietnamese were sent here to work in factories. Labor theory of value and all that. Really quite daft; they didn't need more labor here, they needed more goods.

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The United States tried many military measures in the Vietnam War. Some worked; some didn't. Success could only be judged by outcomes, whether you looked at gross and perhaps misleading statistics nike running shoes like relative body counts, or more important but less measurable results like the effort to win "hearts and mindsmens nike basketball shoes.

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I dedicate some time each week on the discussion boards for other blogs. It's a great way to meet people, including those who support Bush's policies. I use the opportunity to speak directly with the pro-Bush crowd to see if we can find some common ground, a place where the screaming will stop and a true meeting of minds will begin. It's my democratic duty to both practice open-mindedness and encourage it in others.

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