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Same Lies, Different War By: Bruce Kesler
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 20, 2005

There are many valid criticisms of America’s involvement in Vietnam, as there are of our involvement in Iraq, many based on realpolitik. What distinguishes such valid criticisms from those of the leftist anti-war movement in both wars is the focus on besmirching America's and our allies' character.

I’ve witnessed striking parallels when I supported our commitments in Vietnam both on campus and then as a Marine in Vietnam, and as a supporter of our efforts in Iraq.

The Iraqis/South Vietnamese are not ready for democracy:


In 1966, I attended an anti-war teach-in where Bettina Aptheker, daughter of the U.S. Communist Party’s theoretician Herbert, spoke.  She stressed that America was imposing Western ideas of democracy on the South Vietnamese, who couldn’t care less.  I commented this was a racist assertion, creating an uproar at challenging the supposed egalitarian purity of the left.


In following years, South Vietnam held elections, internationally judged as pretty honest, that had higher participation rates than common in the U.S., despite threats of attacks on voters.  This didn’t stop such ongoing racist assertions from the left about the South Vietnamese, nor did the absence of free elections in North Vietnam.


In Iraq, before their January 30, 2005 elections, anti-war commentators predicted the elections wouldn’t garner participation and would be a failure.  The Iraqis were not “into” free elections and democracy.  Guess what? The elections were remarkably successful, with higher participation rates than common in the U.S., despite threats of attacks on voters.  Even the 20% of the Iraqis who are Sunnis, who withheld voting as protest against losing their former positions of control under Saddam, now join actively in drafting the new constitution.  But, still the left repeats the Iraqis don’t really care about, or are incapable of, democracy, without a murmur about the absence of free elections elsewhere in the despot-ridden Arab world.


It is hogwash character assassination that the Iraqis and South Vietnamese didn’t care about or aren’t capable of democracy, that only the fatally gullible or determinedly anti-U.S. can swallow.


The Iraqis/South Vietnamese Won’t Fight:


In Vietnam, President Johnson did largely brush aside the South Vietnamese army for several years before President Nixon poured resources and training into Vietnamization.  The Vietnamese forces did come along rapidly to be able to replace us.  In August 1971, as a civilian, I traveled unprotected, safely, via Jeep throughout South Vietnam.  We had won the war within South Vietnam.  By late 1972, only about 5% of the U.S.’s former force levels remained in South Vietnam.  However, when faced with a massive Soviet-armed invasion from the North in 1975, the U.S. Congress defaulted on U.S. pledges of arms and air support, and effectively disarmed the South Vietnamese.  Even the North Vietnamese were surprised at their own success.


In Iraq, Saddam’s army was one of the largest and heaviest armed in the world.  Yet, in 1991 and 2003, it rolled up and flew away like a carpet in the face of U.S. and allied troops.  Today, the U.S. is building a new Iraqi army, literally from scratch.  It is rapidly improving and being successful.  Still, it takes years to build an army.  Also, as the tide of battle against the anti-democracy forces is turning, so has the intelligence from ordinary Iraqis markedly increased, leading to more successes.  At an increasing clip, U.S. and Iraqi forces are rooting out terrorists and closing down enemy refuges and logistics routes.  Whether the U.S. Congress, increasingly restive at the burdens, will repeat its 1975 default remains to be seen.


But, it is hogwash character assassination that the Iraqis and South Vietnamese won’t fight, that only the fatally gullible or determinedly anti-U.S. can swallow.


The U.S. is too stupid or culturally-blind to care about planning for peaceful conditions in Iraq/South Vietnam:


Despite the war, the economy of South Vietnam grew, infrastructure was developed, and social services spread.  A UPI reporter, Alan Dawson, critical of the U.S. and South Vietnamese, who remained behind in South Vietnam after the North’s takeover in 1975, wrote: “Although it is a cliché that the Communists were well organized when they entered Saigon, I found the reverse to be true, especially in fields affecting the people in general.”


The truth is, it’s rare to have a quick recovery from a war or political change of control.  Foggy memories think it was rapid in post-World War II Germany and Japan.  Actually, it took many years, and massive U.S. investments, even in those already highly developed countries.


The U.S. did not foresee all the post-war complications in Iraq, but did see many and prevented them.  The U.S. did not foresee the post-war determination of Saddamists and neighboring satrapies to brutally undercut recovery, and the resulting distraction of resources, but is overcoming that.


The U.S. is an imperfect seer as any.  But, it is hogwash character assassination that the U.S. is too stupid or doesn’t care about post-war planning and recovery, that only the fatally gullible or determinedly anti-U.S. can swallow.


The U.S. military are brutal oppressors:


Many thousands of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese surrendered or defected to the U.S. and South Vietnam.  Almost a million Vietnamese fled the North to the South in 1954, and as many fled the South when the North took over in 1975.  There were no reverse flows.  After 1954 and 1975, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died and were tortured in communist concentration camps.


My Lai happened.  (One might add a consideration that Lt. Calley in charge was the product of the U.S. Army scraping the barrel for officers, as campus recruitment was opposed by the anti-war movement then as now.)  Con Son Island happened.  (One might add that it was a South Vietnamese facility, and conditions did not approach what our POW’s endured.)  Terrible things happen in wars, but these were far from the norm.  One might add the exceptions of U.S. and South Vietnamese brutalities pale by comparison to the pervasive North Vietnamese atrocities, which were matters of the highest policy.


Still, the U.S. anti-war movement delighted in calling U.S. military personnel “baby killers,” without a murmur about North Vietnamese behavior either during the war or after.  And, they are silent today about the innocents slaughtered by terrorist car bombs, beheadings and tortures.


After the Vietnam War, this defaming of our forces was compounded by painting American troops as suffering widespread PTSD for our guilt of participation in a “wrong” war. A counseling industry has profited from exaggerating PTSD as far more frequent than it is and encouraging soldiers to make such claims in order to get benefits.


A psychiatrist at a VA hospital recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times (6/13/05) that, “experience shows that the VA must be skeptical about claims of combat-related distress.”  She goes on to cite, for example, a report in the British Journal of Psychiatry, checking on the backgrounds of 100 Vietnam War veterans being treated for PTSD that 59% did not have combat exposure.


Another recent study of Americans found about 15% demonstrating anxiety and related disorders, maybe comparable to PTSD, a far higher percentage than among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet, the myth is repeated that U.S. troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering widespread PTSD.


The uproar over conditions at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo ignores that the enemy combatants there (repeat, these are enemy combatants) suffer much less than most U.S. fraternity pledges or trainees in our boot camps, that almost all the cases of disrespecting the Koran were committed by prisoners and not U.S. military guards, and that many when released have quickly returned to the battlefield against us.


It is, again, hogwash character assassination that the U.S. military is a brutal oppressor, that only the fatally gullible or determinedly anti-U.S. can swallow.


There are, truly, few and feeble parallels between wars.  However, there are important parallels across wars in the strategy of character assassination tactics used by the anti-U.S. left.  The left’s canards from the Vietnam War are being repeated over the Iraq War.  There’s a new generation to trick, and older fools to be tricked again.

Bruce Kesler was a Marine sergeant in Vietnam from 1969-70. In 1971, he founded the Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace, which John O’Neill joined, to combat John Kerry’s lies, and they finished the job in 2004. Kesler has been a finance and business operations executive for Fortune 100 and smaller companies, and now owns an employee benefits consulting firm.

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