The 2004 election is about the present and future, not what happened 30 years ago. I can understand the public’s bewilderment regarding the debate over who did or did not do what during the Vietnam war. After all, America’s present offers plenty of real issues that the next president will deal with. But a nation is nothing if not the result of its history and America’s history has much to tell us in these early years of the 21st Century. I cannot see America’s war on Iraq without remembering Vietnam. And that’s why that war has a high degree of relevance for me so long after its end.
Much of my concern is personal. I served in Vietnam, in combat, even though I thought the war to be wrong. I did not serve willingly but I served. And ever since, that war has haunted me. My service did nothing for my country. America was no better off because I and 2.5 million Americans served in that war. Vietnam was no better off, either. In fact, America’s war there killed over 2 million Vietnamese, left the countryside devastated and poisoned and only served to postpone the resolution of Vietnam’s century long anti-colonial struggle. That resolution was all the more destructive in 1975 than it would have been in 1956 had the US and its South Vietnamese ally allowed the national election mandated by the 1954 accord that ended the French Indo-China war.
That’s why I find Bush’s intervention in Iraq so disturbing. Neither he nor his claque of neo-conservative advisors seem to remember how we got into Vietnam. As a result, their assumptions, language and even their tactics resemble those of the cold warriors who led us into that southeast Asia quagmire. So once again, the United States has intervened unilaterally in another nation based on the belief that we can change that nation to conform to our own world view. And just as Lyndon Johnson lied to the American people and Congress to obtain a resolution to support his intervention, George Bush lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaeda to justify his intervention.
And the results look about the same. We faced nationalist insurgency in Vietnam and the same has occurred in Iraq. What I find truly amazing is that Americans are surprised that Iraqis are opposing our intervention. If the tables were turned, if an outside power attacked and occupied the US, every able bodied person would resist. Even if there was some merit to their actions–say, to overturn Bush’s theft of the 2000 election–Americans, including me, would object to the intervention. So why are we surprised at Iraqi resistance? Especially when we have failed to live up the promises to restore order, essential public service and have resisted their call for elections to create their own government to replace the one created by the American occupation?
As a veteran I find Bush’s actions especially appalling. He has committed American troops to an unnecessary war. He is sending Americans to Iraq to suffer and die in vain. That to me is an unpardonable abuse of his authority and demonstrates his complete lack of judgment, which disqualifies him to hold the sacred trust of the presidency. I was fortunate enough to escape death or disfigurement in Vietnam but know what it means to serve in vain. Bush has created a whole new generation of soldiers who will suffer the same fate. Their only alternative is to live the lie that so many Vietnam veterans live, namely, to believe that they served their country when in fact their service, however honorable and heroic, did not contribute to America’s security in the world. I have not had to live with that lie since I knew even as I served that the war’s premise was faulty. Instead, I get to live with the knowledge that I was willing to kill war that was wrong.
Either way, Iraq war vets will suffer the same fate as Vietnam vets. If the US ever had a chance to successfully change the regime in Iraq, it has long since passed. George Bush and his Vulcans ignored the advice of military leaders about the number of troops needed to secure Iraq, grossly underestimated the financial cost and were totally unprepared to reconstruct Iraq in the very short time that most Iraqis saw us as liberators. Now our soldiers are mired in a no-win war against the people they came to liberate.
Sometimes war is unavoidable and the sacrifices of our armed forces are necessary to save the nation. Iraq is not that war but the sacrifice of our soldiers is all too real.
George Bush did not learn that difficult lesson when it was taught 30 years ago and it shows in his willingness to commit American forces to a war that does not serve our national interest. That is the crime for which George Bush deserves to be removed from office.