The Vietnam Analogy, Part 4 by mattsteinglass
April 2, 2007, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Iraq, United States, Vietnam

According to the NY Times on Sunday, Rep. John Boehner is among the point men in the effort to use the mendacious stab-in-the-back myth of Vietnam to justify the doomed “surge” plan in Iraq. To wit:

Representative John Boehner, the minority leader, drew a different lesson. “Our enemies understand what happened in Vietnam,” Mr. Boehner said. “When this Congress voted to cut off funding, we left Vietnam. We left chaos and genocide in the streets of Vietnam because we pulled the troops out and didn’t have the will to win.”

The Administration’s contempt for mainstream academics is legendary, so it’s no surprise that the Republican version of the denouement of the Vietnam War seizes on an interpretation which has about as much credence within the field of Vietnam historians as global-warming denialists have among climatologists. And, in the hands of political hacks who tend not to be too intelligent, such as Congressmen, the message grows even more coarse and perverts the truth even further.

Still, it’s depressing to see Boehner claim to millions of Americans who may not know any better that the US’s departure from Vietnam “left chaos and genocide in the streets”. The Communist government moved very quickly to establish order and firm governance throughout southern Vietnam after it reunified the country; unlike, say, the US’s initial tenure in Iraq, there was no widespread looting, and the large stores of arms left behind by the defeated ARVN were taken over by the government, not left to be sold on the black market and facilitate future insurgencies. As for “genocide”, the reeducation camps Hanoi established were pretty horrible, and something like 300,000 people were interned there; but they were not extermination camps, and there was no massacre of former government officials or troops.

It would be more accurate to say that “chaos and genocide” in Vietnam were caused by the US’s presence, not its departure. While the US was in South Vietnam, the country was in a perpetual state of civil war, with a weak US client state unable to assert control over most of its territory, and US military operations (carpet bombing, blind artillery fire, no-verification “body counts”) indiscriminately slaughtering huge numbers of civilians in suspected “enemy-controlled” areas. Once the Communists took over, the chaos and the fighting ended. As South Vietnamese soon found out, Communism was not a good way to run a society — and, within 11 years, the country shifted course back towards capitalism. But the establishment of a firm and secure national government was impossible while the US remained in the country, propping up its favorite quasi-puppet in Saigon. The same situation has emerged in Iraq.


2 Comments so far
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I would entirely agree. I myself went there purely in search of adventure. I stayed because I came to love the country and people. The war and all the suffering that went with it were totally unnecessary and were largely due to the US presence.
Vietnam happened.
Iraq though is just plain stupid.

Comment by Rose

Glad to hear it. It’s interesting to hear that perspective from someone who took part extensively in the action, as I see from your blog you did.

Comment by mattsteinglass

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