Vietnam vs IraqBaby Boomer, Politics, Speakers/Lectures, UNLV | Sandra | March 23, 2007 at 10:47
If you have ever had to write one of those essays about compare and contrast, you will get the gist of the Black Mountain Institute Panel Discussion on The Vietnam War in Light of Iraq. The panel of six scholars and authors contributed their personal insights into the two conflicts; similarities easier to expound than differences. Both qualify as huge political, military and moral blunders; are we splitting hairs to decide which is the more tragic? The distance of time has apparently softened the Vietnam misstep as all silently agreed with Panelist and Novelist O’Brien that the US Iraq invasion and fruitless occupation is a “disaster on a scale that we may never come back from.” Not too cheery a thought and certainly not a vote of confidence in the future.
Similarities: We entered both conflicts ignorant of their cultures and without understanding of their own internal historical struggles. As Irsfield so aptly put it, “We got in the way of their history.” We certainly formed our political opinions based on misrepresented facts and propaganda, even outright lies. We justified our action on a fear of the domino effect: all Asia would go Communist, all the Middle East will fall under the power of extremist Islam. In both cases the enemy is not clearly identifiable, wrecking havoc in our operations where we employ locals as support. The enemy is everywhere, and as Herring queried, “Whom do we kill?” Lacking a defined target, the young soldier wants to kill everyone.
Differences: In Vietnam we entered into an existing war, one that had waged for decades and was a struggle by a people to be free of foreign domination, Chinese and Japanese as well as French. In Iraq we created the war, unleashing a struggle between three separate and competitive groups that had been controlled by the Saddam regime. Because of 911 and the anthrax scare, we believed we were in imminent danger as a nation. Vietnam was always very far away. There is a strong religious overtone to the Iraq conflict not existing in Vietnam. Although American Catholics sympathized with the ruling catholic regime in South Vietnam, it played a small part in public opinion. But the confusing complexities of the Sunni-Shiite struggle and our Christian world view of an aggressive Muslim movement threatening our existence are major triggers in our national psychology. This same element of fear was played out in Vietnam, not through religious channels, but from a fear of world-domination of Communism.
The Doc Rondo Hall was filled to capacity, 250 concerned citizens divided into two groups: UNLV students out of interest or class requirement and aging baby boomers who personally experienced that era in all its pain and turmoil. This has happened twice in our generation. Herring poses the question, “What does it tell us about ourselves?”
The discussion was highly academic, as to be expected, certainly dry and not a little lacking in animation. The sound system was not calibrated properly, which is really inexcusable considering the resources of the recital hall. It was very difficult to hear the panelists at various times, at other times comments were quite indiscernible. There really needs to be more attention paid to the technical part of such an evening as the impact is significantly lessened when the public has to strain to follow.
Tim O’Brien: author of the definitive novel on Vietnam, written from his own personal experience, “The Things They Carried.”
George C. Herring: Historian and author of “America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975,” the most widely used account in college classes across the country.
John Irsfield: novelist and short story writer, UNLV professor of English:
Vu Tran: Vietnamese-born, author and winner of the O’Henry Award for short stories. Although raised in the US, Tran’s stories are all set in Vietnam.
Jimmy Castellanos: A Veteran of Peace, he was deployed to Iraq as a Marine and is now a conscientious objector.
Joseph “Andy” Foy: UNLV author of four books on Vietnam and currently writing “The American South and the Vietnam War.”