February 12, 2008

From Vietnam to Iraq: A Repeat of History, A Repeat of Mistakes

By Ashley Studley. [Pol 301D-Spring 2008]

Up until 9/11/2001, I rarely paid any heed to politics or worldly issues. I was slightly aware of current events, but I was far more preoccupied with my adolescent self to be truly bothered by any larger matter. Once the events of September the Eleventh occurred, I was shaken awake. I was distraught, confused, and wanting justice within every part of my being.
When President George W. Bush announced that Iraq had a direct correlation to 9/11, I almost ate it up as quickly as it had been served. I assumed Saddam Hussein had always been a threat, to his people and our own, and I was about to jump on Bush’s bandwagon like so many have now regretted doing.

But my high school social studies teacher deterred me from doing so. As he introduced us to the major issues surrounding the War in Iraq, he reminded us of the issues that revolved around the Vietnam War. That war, which lasted 16 years-the longest in American history, was one which we should not have involved ourselves in, and is eerily similar to the circumstances regarding our effort in the Middle East.

I found an article written by then-student Charlie Dering, dated March 30, 1971 in Pace’s former school newspaper, Sunshine. The headline reads as “War Atrocities”, and in it Dering makes note of the unmistakable actions taken by American forces in Vietnam. If it wasn’t for minor distinctions here and there, it would be easy to believe that Dering was ranting about today’s conflict.

In 1959, the United States sent troops to Southern Vietnam to assist in the stabilizing of their government. This part of Vietnam was having difficulty separating itself from the Communist party which controlled Northern Vietnam. In an attempt to settle this conflict, millions of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed, along with thousands of Americans. The U.S. finally pulled out in 1975, having failed to resolve anything.

Similar to today, the President has claimed that our new mission is to build and promote democracy within Iraq. Since his weapons of mass destruction theory didn’t pan out as well as he’d hoped, the goal now is to stabilize their government-the one which we destroyed by invading the country in March of 2003. We were only supposed to occupy for two years at most, a time span which has more than doubled as it reaches its fifth year anniversary in just a month. According to the Washington Post, American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimate that the combined death toll has reached 655,000. It is sad that our President knowingly misled us into an un-winnable war, and it is even worse that we have allowed it to go on for so long.

Dering’s article touches upon the sanitization of the news, and how up until Seymour Hersh exposed the Mai Lai massacre in 1969, Americans were not being informed of the truths of the war. Dering makes note that foreign media outlets were far more truthful in facts and photos with their presentations of the war. The same applies to today’s media, which is constantly criticized for its failure to give an accurate look into the Middle East. All we are given from day to day is a death toll, one without names or faces. Is the media attempting to keep us as detached from these casualties as possible? Or is it simply the government controlling what we see and what we hear? Whatever the unjustified reasoning, the public deserves truth, no matter how ugly or how bad it makes the country appear.

The student ends his article by saying “An end to these atrocities can be realized only by an end to the war. Evidently our President doesn’t want that.” Upon reading this, I realized that our country has not learned from its previous mistakes. It’s almost as if Charlie Dering looked into the future 37 years ago, and knew that our country would make the same blinding errors and never learn from them. Sadly, I wonder how many lives it will take and how many history books will need printing in order to end and prevent such atrocities from ever occurring again.

The Pulitzer prize photo: Kim Phuc - Vietnam Napalm bombing, South Vietnam 1972

1 comment:

Pacer said...

The Tonkin Gulf "incident" whereas the US Navy was attacked by North Vietnamese forces was a fabricated one, but it provided an excuse for greater US military action.

The outcome of the incident was the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by "communist aggression". The resolution served as Johnson's legal justification for escalating American involvement in the Vietnam Conflict, which lasted until 1975.

Similarly, the Bush administration claimed that Iraq posed a clear and imminent danger to the US, which was not the case, and that Iraq had a connection to 9/11, which was also a frabrication.