Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Big Wheel Keeps on Turnin'

A small country with a legacy of colonialism. An ineffective government, with a civil war being abetted by foreign powers. An American President desperate not to withdraw America's forces from the scene, but convinced disaster awaits if America's prestige is allowed to falter. A general sense that the war may very well be unwinnable, but that the government needs to escalate forces anyway, to show that America did everything in it's power to avert disaster.

Iraq, 2007? Try South Vietnam, 1964.

Almost done Dereliction of Duty, and it makes me sick how little we've learned. The bubble that McNamara and others built around first Kennedy, then Johnson is a clone of the one Cheney and Rumsfeld built around Bush. But specifically the period of late 1964 to early 1965, as Johnson was debating how to respond to the Gulf of Tonkin and other North Vietnamese provocations. (Which themselves were responses to American attacks, but more on that later.) What most struck me was the position that some took - essentially, they argued that even if America ended up losing in Vietnam (remember, this is before the massive increases in men that were coming) it would be worth fighting to show that America wouldn't simply abandon its other allies.

Problem was, all these forces were being committed to Vietnam based on a theory that couldn't be falsified. The idea was that North Vietnam would eventually buckle if Washington simply showed how serious it was to defend the South. So when the North failed to buckle under, it wasn't evidence that the North viewed reunification as vital to it's national interests - it was seen as proof that Washington hadn't "communicated" its will effectively. So the US got put on the treadmill for an eventual force of over 500,000 men in Vietnam. And they still lost.

Two things to draw from this: One, you really do need an obvious negative result in any theory. But better still, don't waste human lives on a fucking theory. Two, it may very well be impossible to create a reputation contrary to your adversary's perception of you, especially if your adversary is actually correct. The North Vietnamese gambled correctly that America would not sustain a long, costly, losing war in Indochina. Washington gambled on some other outcome. Oops.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Good old George Santayana....