LONG SHADOW

During my weekly trivia game with my co-workers on Sunday, a question prompted me to re-read a very compelling narrative of the Fall of Saigon in 1975. As usual I ended up more convinced than ever that understanding the Vietnam War is absolutely crucial to understanding the neoconservative foreign policy, the post-Cold War era, and the political mindset of Baby Boomers who were young during the war and now hold positions of great influence in the political, military, and business worlds. It is unfortunate that so few people who were not alive during Vietnam really understand what happened – since schools teach history chronologically, the spring term inevitably ends before getting through much of the 20th Century – beyond a vague sense that it wasn't good. We lost.

I'm convinced that Vietnam has cast a very long shadow over the American psyche since 1975. The past 30+ years of politics, particularly in foreign policy, has been largely an effort to erase the humiliation and feelings of inferiority that the withdrawal/defeat/whatever left on a generation whose parents has World War II as a cultural touchstone. Dad and Uncle Joe had D-Day and Iwo Jima; the young people of the 1970s had Khe Sahn, the My Lai Massacre, and Americans scrambling onto helicopters to flee Southeast Asia with their heads hanging. "Peace with Honor" was a feeble effort to dress up a defeat as something noble, but there's no getting around the fact that there was very little reason to be proud of the outcome (not to mention the simultaneous disaster in Cambodia).

Liberals took away the lesson that getting involved in unwinnable wars – ones that consist of bombing the living shit out of a country and then wondering why its people do not embrace America – in faraway countries is a bad idea. Conservatives took away the lesson that we lost because liberal pussies (like Nixon, Kissinger, Ford, and Westmoreland) gave up. But those are merely two different paths away from the same point: we lost, it sucked, and it ended in embarrassment. That must have been very hard to process for people raised on stories about the Battle of the Bulge and V-E Day celebrations. The ingredients for a perfect crisis of masculinity all converged in 1975.

Throughout the 1980s we engaged in a number of pitiful attempts to boost national morale with new, more successful "wars". However, the idea of trying to turn these ephemeral sideshows – like a U.S. invasion of a soccer field-sized island in the Caribbean called Grenada – into a great national Victory reeks of desperation and merely underscores the depth of the scars left behind by Vietnam. Gulf War I was supposed to be the Real War that a new generation could call its own, but it's hard to get too excited when the other side isn't really fighting back. Then there was the debacle in Somalia – another defeat. Then some confusing mess that no one understood in Bosnia. And then a ten-year quagmire with no objectives and no definable victory in Iraq. Golly, they sure did try to have a successful war to hang their hats on, but war without diplomacy is essentially just a fireworks show from a political perspective. Having failed to grasp what made World War II significant or why we could not win Vietnam, our national response has been to create a foreign policy and military apparatus that isn't good at much of anything except being expensive and reducing countries to rubble with absolutely overwhelming air power and technological superiority.

Don't get me wrong, I realize that the brunt of the suffering on account of the Vietnam war was borne by, you know, the Vietnamese. But I find the lasting impact on our political leaders from that generation fascinating. One of the trademarks of Vietnam was the unshakeable belief that American military might and technology simply could not lose to a sandal-wearing, poorly trained, half starving army equipped with hand-me-down Chinese knockoffs of Soviet equipment. And so the frustration grows each time we go off to fight another conflict and end up shocked and amazed that despite all of our space age hardware we cannot produce the desired outcome. I have a feeling that I'm in for a lot of "I'm a Boomer and this doesn't describe me at all" comments, but that misses the point. American foreign policy as engineered and executed by our elected officials and military establishment since Vietnam have clearly shown the psychological burden of being the generation that lost what was supposed to be its great war. To this day our leaders and a substantial portion of the electorate are still trying in vain to prove that we're big boys and we can do it, yet every second-rate conflict we get involved in now feels hollow. Too bad we still place such a huge cultural emphasis on raising people – especially boys – on a steady diet of WWII porn; without that we might actually produce a generation that could define its success in terms other than bloodshed and American hegemony.

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48 Responses to “LONG SHADOW”

  1. Mike Says:

    Interesting post. I'm just barely too young to remember the war, but I was aware that it was the war (and Watergate) that caused my parents' permanent mistrust of the U.S. government.

    In college, I took a history class about the Viet Nam war, which covered the period 1930 – 1975. One thing that I got from that class: To really understand why the United States lost in Viet Nam, you need to look at the entire war, and not just the second half where we took over from the French.

  2. graeme murray Says:

    beautiful. but they don't give a shit and never will.

  3. Mark B Says:

    Ed, what was the narrative that you read?

  4. Dave Says:

    To anyone interested in reading more on this topic, I recommend "The Best and The Brightest" by David Halberstam. Admittedly that's like pushing "The Godfather" on someone who's into mob films, but I'm not one to shy away from the obvious choice.

    Halberstam makes a case that Kennedy was cornered by the Bay of Pigs (and Nixon's red-baiting), in a sense left with no choice but to escalate (to continue the escalation that began under DDE)

    The whole book is terrific, but the early study of the war is what I found most compelling: the incremental steps taken by 2 presidents followed by LBJ grudgingly going all in.

  5. Middle Seaman Says:

    Indeed, we do spend way too much effort, money and mind on war than we need to. Actually, our latest wars, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are totally unneeded, cruel, stupid, badly run, wasteful and mainly still in progress. (In Iraq, American civilians replaced soldiers kind of: "I am not Joe, my name is Joe.") Our military is three or four times bigger than it needs to be just so Bush I to III can play heroes.

    The French admitted defeat in Algeria and simply left. It minimizes the scars. Israel evacuated the Gaza strip and southern Lebanon with full recognition that the cost ain't worth it. (These areas are not quiet because their residents are fighting their own Vietnam.) We never got the national and political maturity to say good bye instead of see you. May be because the French and the Jews are way older than we are.

  6. buckyblue Says:

    Excellent post. Had this exact conversation with another teacher who teaches US History (I do not). He was asking me if he could alter the district course final since there were NO questions about Vietnam. Basically asking if he should teach Vietnam. He and I agreed that if you don't teach Vietnam you can't understand anything afterward. The course itself can only get into the 1950's.. And mind you, this is a US course that is taught for TWO years, the second of which begins in 1900 (or thar 'bouts). They spend seven weeks on the Gilded Age. No wonder kids hate history.

  7. Number Three Says:

    Not to mention the divide b/w "patriotic" Americans and dirty effin' hippies that the war in Vietnam seems to have left as a permanent part of the national psyche. Not to mention the "I support the troops" refrain, how certain segments of the population want to make every holiday "about the troops" (I'm sure that you see this on Facebook).

    My dad served during Vietnam (all stateside). My mom still tells me about how hard it was to be in the military during that time, how people would say mean things about the military, etc. These resentments run very deep. So I think you need to understand Vietnam to understand domestic policy as well as foreign policy.

  8. Arslan Says:

    If you want to delve into the psychological impact of the war I would recommend The Spitting Image by Jerry Lembke. It basically revolves around the old chesnut about how "Those damned hippies SPIT ON ME when I returned from the war,"(there are no documented cases of this ever happening) and then moves on to the subject of how Vietnam vets came to be portrayed as broken, crazy, and dangerous.

    @Buckyblue, I can totally see what you're saying here. I remember our history teacher had us find the meaning behind every lyric of We Didn't Start the Fire, explaining that Billy Joel intended the song to express how ridiculous it was that high school history classes seemed to stop at WWII. I really learned to appreciate that lesson, and whatever anyone says about the song, I can't help but rattling off the references in my head any time I hear it. Of course she was a bit guilty of the same sometimes. For example, we had a long class project about the Progressive era, between the Spanish-American War and the beginning of WWI(1914, not 1917 when we got involved). Let's see what's going to be more interesting to kids- robber-barons and trust-busting or..I don't know, A MASSIVE WORLD WAR? History teachers need to learn how to catch a bone when history throws them one.

  9. DES Says:

    Hey Ed, I'm a boomer and I could not agree more. Maybe because I am a female boomer — many of us have had a lot of practice recognizing crises of masculinity.

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    I grew up in the shadow of Vietnam, and the draft, and was overjoyed when we left. And I vividly remember, as a Junior in HS, hearing an a news radio station about the North's re-invasion of the South in early 1975, and thought to myself, "Ok, in a little over a year, I'll be in some stinking rice-paddy, or in Canada." And was (again) overjoyed when we decided NOT to start another fight over there.

    But we need to keep the Vietnam War in context.

    It was the 3rd leg of the attack on white male supremacy in America.
    First came the Civil Rights Movement, and LBJ's two historic act's. These Civil Rights protests were used as a model for the future Women's Rights and Anti-war protests.
    And white men lost that battle over Civil Rights.

    Then there were women in the street fighting for their rights, burning their bra's in the street in protest.
    And, though the ERA never passed, women made their point, but continue to have to do so, even to this day – witness the current battles over choice, and even birth control.

    And then, after we had been told everything over in Vietnam was going a-ok, along came The Tet Offensive, and we discovered we were being lied to, and that things sucked over there. Uncle Walter Cronkite came back and told us so on the evening news.

    There were Anti-was protests before, but with the military determined to try to turn the tide by doubling-down, they really became big, as more and more guys saw that they might very well be the next one to be crippled, killed.

    And because they lost one fight, and were losing another, the white male military leaders redoubled their bombing efforts. "Hell, we lost to the Nigra's, we're losing to the women fold, but, Sweet Jesus, at least we can bomb the living shit out of these Yellow Bastards, and send them back to the stone age! Hell, we beat 'em before – and THOSE Japanese Bastards had a damn fine navy and air force, not just savages fighting in their jungles over a strip of land.'
    And that ended up not working either.

    So, Vietnam was the 3rd battle the white men lost.
    And they bullshitted themselves that if only we'd bombed more and harder, or nuked the SOB's, we'd have won. And, like the Germans after WWI, our Conservatives thought the reason we lost, was that they were stabbed in the back by blacks, women, and their very own DFH kids!

    And so, the backlash continues to this day:
    Despite early success, for all intents and purposes, we lost and withdrew in Iraq, and we're withdrawing from Afghanistan. And the same Vietnam, and post-war, era neocon fools who got us into those messes, now want to go after Iran.
    The white Conservative men are trying to limit voting by people (read: black and brown people) who are unlikely to vote for the white men who hate them.
    They're trying to limit women to the roles they feel they should serve – adoring, cooking, cleaning, meal-making, subservient, belly-warmers, and uncomplaining child-bearing, mothers and slaves.

    At least, that's how I look at the era from 1960 – 1975, and beyond.
    We're still fighting the same cultural battles as we did in the 60's and early-mid 70's.
    And, unfortunately, I don't see any end in sight.
    Conservatives not only never forget – THEY NEVER FORGIVE.
    And they keep breeding and making new Conservatives – who are determined to win their Daddy's battles, if they couldn't, or kill everyone in their efforts.

  11. Anonymouse Says:

    @Arslan: I'm also a fan of "We didn't start the fire". My high school years ended in the 1980s and we never even got to WWII in any of my history classes. Like @Mike, I'm too young to remember Viet Nam.

  12. twshiloh Says:

    "Liberals took away the lesson that getting involved in unwinnable wars

  13. twshiloh Says:

    "Liberals took away the lesson that getting involved in unwinnable wars – ones that consist of bombing the living shit out of a country and then wondering why its people do not embrace America – in faraway countries is a bad idea."

    Except for Iraq and Afghanistan (and Somalia, Libya, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, etc.) where liberals were falling over themselves to do exactly that for the opportunity to erase the 'stain' of being weak on defense.

    While Vietnam certainly reinforced some beliefs of the neocon *ahem* philosophy, IMO their big focus was on the USSR and their desperation to frame every conflict as an existential one. Which it why every enemy since then has the obligatory comparison to the Nazis and every battle has to be 'the most important in our history'.

  14. Nan Says:

    @Number Three, that b.s. about people hating the military during the Vietnam era is just that: retrospective bullshit that's been fostered by the right wing hawks. I'm a Vietnam era vet, so is my S.O., and neither of us remembers anyone ever saying anything nasty or being rude to members of the military during that time period. I know my anecdotes don't equal evidence, but there has actually been a fair amount of research done on this topic that debunks nonsense like the classic stories about returning soldiers in uniform being regularly and routinely spit on or treated shabbily in other ways. The one group that did treat returning Vietnam vets with a fair amount of disdain was the American Legion and VFW members, the old farts who had served during WWII. They didn't consider Vietnam to be a real war so were pretty rude and nasty to the guys coming back from Vietnam. Neither of those veterans' organizations had much use for the Vietnam era vets until they began realizing the old farts were dying off and they needed new members to survive.

    If I had to explain why so many Vietnam era vets now claim to remember being treated badly by the public, I'd hazard a guess that they're taking their unhappiness with the government — both for sending them to Vietnam and for the crap treatment by the VA for years afterward — and projecting it on to the anti-war movement. No one likes being told they got fucked for nothing, and, although there was a draft, there were also many, many members of the military who were voluntary enlistees. It isn't much of a stretch to go from being unhappy at being told they were idiots for enlisting to truly believing that they were literally, not just figuratively, spit on.

  15. c u n d gulag Says:

    Nan,
    From what I remember, it took the WWI and WWII guys in the American Legion and VFW a long time to come around on the Korean War vets, not just the Vietnam ones.

    THEY WON THEIR war(s), you see…

  16. JohnR Says:

    "It is unfortunate that so few people who were not alive during Vietnam really understand what happened"

    Also unfortunate that so few people who _were_ alive really understand what happened. What we understand and what happened, of course, are always generally very different things. And, of course, what we learn from them are also very different things. Sort of a 2-level divergence from each other. Look at Nixon: some of us (liberals as well as conservatives) (re-)learned that if we don't keep a sharp eye and a firm hand on government, power will corrupt. Some of us (and it's pretty easy to see whom) (re-)learned that (a) you must destroy all the evidence, and (b) that you must control the sources of information. "What really happened" has become a matter of myth and dogma wrapped in ideology and shrouded with tribal ritual. Belief is always more powerful than 'reality'.

  17. Tim H. Says:

    The conflict in Viet Nam had a purpose, ethically challenged, but real, bleeding the Soviet Union. Leaving when we did gave them the breathing space to gather resources to invade Afghanistan, we just spread the joy, even when we try to do the right thing. Time to step back from empire, we seem to screw up everything we touch.

  18. Coffeeman Says:

    Good post, Ed. I'd suggest you examine the difference in MSM coverage of Vietnam compared to "embedded" Iraq stenographers, and the corporate control of almost all MSM news sources. There's a reason why Aljazerra is missing on most cable providers.

    Add in the fact that there's no draft and you have the recipe for continued wars…that is until the empire is finally too broke.

  19. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    My history teachers and courses in high school were god-awful. I still resent all the time I wasted in those classes where I could have been learning interesting, relevant things about how the world works.

  20. HoosierPoli Says:

    Definitely a key point: our expensive military hardware doesn't seem to be able to do anything but blow up tanks in the desert, and we don't get many opportunities to do that anymore.

  21. Bernard Says:

    The Right killed all the leaders of the Left, as well. even their own children at Kent State. that's one of the takes from the war. which effectively silenced the DFH's.

    the Right blamed everything on the Peace Movement. and this strategy led to rise of the great St. Ronnie of Reagan, hero of the American Way.

    the Propaganda movement from Nixon on was so good. as we can see now how well it worked. also the right learned not to show the War on TV. or dead bodies coming home from the War.

    The Right was oh so good in oh so many ways. and the Boomers bought it hook line and sinker, the most recent example, Lee Greenwood, "Proud to Be American" BS.

    Watching Americans kill each other at home as well as in Vietnam was about the only commonality i saw in America in the 60s. violence is the American Way. and Sex is forbidden. Puritanical ways we see coming today from Santorum.

    not much has changed since then. the Right wing PR is better though.

    and all i gather is the Right claims none of this is really Conservatism. Amazing to live in their world and hear them complain about how Conservatism has been hijacked by Bush, Nixon, et al. Only Reagan is the true Conservative.

    Boy are we fukked!

  22. blahedo Says:

    Looking at a timeline now, it's completely astonishing that the current day is more than twice as far from my childhood (mid-80s) as my childhood was from Vietnam, chronologically speaking. I was born in 1978, and already by the time I had any awareness of anything, Vietnam was already history as ancient as Korea and the World Wars (with which it typically formed a foursome, sometimes kicking out Korea). That said, it seems to me that Ed's post here has to be just about completely correct, because up through the W administration and *even now* after a decade of Iraq and Afghanistan, I have this mental sense that Vietnam was our last "big" "war". And we lost. That doesn't actually bother me all that much, but I certainly can easily see the shadow cast there.

  23. Denn Says:

    I'm a boomer and that doesn't describe me at all. The fact is that we weren't the ones calling the shots in the sixties, that would be the depression babies, i.e. my parents' generation.

  24. Major Kong Says:

    I came away with "Don't mess with Vietnam".

    Especially after China took 60,000 casualties trying to "teach them a lesson" in 1979.

    And that was from the Vietnamese second string, because their first string was busy cleaning up the mess in Cambodia at the time.

  25. Xecky Gilchrist Says:

    Golly, they sure did try to have a successful war to hang their hats on

    Indeed, and I think that they did, by their terms. They just didn't realize that their definition of success – profiteering, stifling of dissent, bloodthirst, etc. – weren't what made WWII the Good War.

  26. Kulkuri Says:

    What I find ironic is some my contemporaries who at the time more or less agreed with the anti-war types. Were pissed because they got fucked by the government into being in the military fighting a bullshit war(whether stateside or in 'Nam) that we had no business being in. Some were pissed because they thought we were there fighting because there might be oil reserves in the region. Now they are extreme hawks and Tea-Baggers!!

    Another irony is the right still fighting the Dirty Fucking Hippies long after 99% of them went mainstream and some ex-hippies are the ones fighting the Dirty Fucking Hippies!!

  27. Pat Says:

    I suspect the rest of the thread will disagree with me here, but I think there's a larger story in our inability to fit the square peg of military policy within our domestic politics. The really big military adventures are a thing of the past; there are no more Hitlers, and globalization won't let us go to war with China, so the remainder of military targets are going to be the rogue states. You can go the route of Iraq or of Libya—that is, you can throw all-in, wrap the conflict in the American flag… and suffer the catastrophe, or you can remain over the horizon, shoot down Ghaddafi's helicopters, let the indigenous movements win the war while losing none of your own troops and engendering no international ill-will… and squander all credit, and see yourself tarred as a coward by your domestic political opponents. I think as between the two of those, the right choice is clear, but I also think the politics are going to bias decision-makers toward the wrong one.

  28. anotherbozo Says:

    Speaking of songs, I was listening to Buffy Saint Marie (a Canadian boomer?) singing "The Universal Soldier" just yesterday.

    Ed makes a lot of great points but also reminds me that a mere blog covering almost 50 years of history is bound to be highly selective. His generational theory of American quagmires is complicated by several things:

    Presidents wanting to be Great Presidents a la FDR, i.e. "war" presidents. Damned be the theorist who posited that our greatest presidents saw us through wars; too many oversized egos in the White House have thus sought out one for each of themselves.

    Our historical gunslinger mentality, from "injun fighters" down to the sacrosanct NRA and violent video games.

    The bloated military. when you've got half the planet's military might sitting around, it'd be a shame not to use it, what? Everything looks like a nail, etc.

    A public that buys it all. Just ask Presidents McCarthy and McGovern.

  29. Arslan Says:

    "The conflict in Viet Nam had a purpose, ethically challenged, but real, bleeding the Soviet Union. Leaving when we did gave them the breathing space to gather resources to invade Afghanistan, we just spread the joy, even when we try to do the right thing. Time to step back from empire, we seem to screw up everything we touch."

    Actually Vietnam was seen(without regard to history) as a potential puppet of China. In fact the Vietnamese distrusted the Chinese almost from the beginning of the war against the South, and moved into the Soviet camp as the war dragged on. In no way was the USSR being "bled" by this since all they did was contribute weapons and some advisers(unlike Afghanistan where they actually invaded). Of course the US was unwittingly supplying the NLF insurgents itself. It gave out weapons to village militias which were promptly turned over to NLF members. Neil Sheehan found(in Bright Shining Lie) that the amount of weapons provided to these militias by the US was enough to equip every NLF fighter. In fact NLF leaders complained to the North about shipments of SKS carbines and Kalashnikovs, as these weapons required Soviet ammunition.

  30. Cletus T. Yokel Says:

    If you haven't read it, this is a compelling study of post-vietnam media, particularly film. essentially the argument is the the vietnam conflict was thought to have emasculated us as a nation and action movies and political rhetoric of the reagan era were an attempt to redefine american masculinity.

  31. PWL Says:

    I AM a boomer, and I'm not going to say this doesn't describe me at all. Two things:

    1. Our generation was raised on the idea that any war America fought would be like World War Two, where we were definitely the Good Guys and our enemies were crushed into Unconditional Surrender. No one told us most wars aren't like that.

    That's probably the reason the Korean War slipped off the radar screen almost as soon as it was over. No "victory", just an ambiguous truce.It should have been a warning to us, but we chose to ignore it–didn't fit with the narrative we constructed.

    2.Re Vietnam, it wasn't just that our super-weapons couldn't defeat a bunch of poorly armed Commies ( I could say more about America's mistaken idea that technology wins wars, but I'll save it for another day). I think it was also that the notion of ourselves as the bestest, most noblest people on earth–God's Chosen–was so badly shredded by what happened in Vietnam—My Lai, free-fire zones, and such–with the final blow being the hasty flights off the roof of the embassy.

    And ever since then we've been looking for a Holy Crusade (read:war) we could "win" while acting in the name of Righteousness and Good, just so we can patch the image we have of ourselves back together again….

  32. bb in GA Says:

    Your historical timeline has been corrupted.

    Last US combat forces out in August 1972 and all American troops out in 1973.

    No heads bowed low.

    The US Draft ended in 1973.

    Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) fell on 30 April 1975.

    We could have a grand pissin' contest about what happened and 'who done what' (Left and Right) in between.

    In fact I think we have for the better part of the last 40 years. We may even be living it all over again in Afghanistan.

    Check w/ Hamid in about three years and see if he still has his head.

    //bb

  33. paulie Says:

    Yeah, we know how to pick 'em. First, we backed Diem–until we killed him. Then we backed Thieu–and left him out to dry in '73 (peace with honor, A.K.A. "we quit").

    After Saigon fell in '75 we ignored the genocide next door in Cambodia–not worth the effort to save 1.7 million Cambodians from Pol Pot's tropic thunder.

    Grenada was Division 1A football versus a high school seven-man squad. We rolled up the score.

    Panama was Dollar Diplomacy on steroids. Noriega gets free dermatological care of courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

    The Persian Gulf War was vindication for all prior bad match ups. We're 12 and 1, or something like that.

    Somalia saw Staff Sgt. William Cleveland's body desecrated and dragged though the streets in Mogadishu.

    Somalia led to "how many acts of genocide does it take to make a genocide" in Kigali, Rwanda. One million died in 100 days.

    We fought a 72-day air war from 15,000 feet above the former Yugoslavia to oust Milosevic–because we were sick of seeing Serbians slaughter Muslim men, woman and children in Sarajevo live on CNN. No pilots dragged through the streets of Belgrade.

    A decade of tough love followed in Kabul–"either you're with us or with the terrorists".

    To WMDs. Or lack thereof. WTF.

  34. mothra Says:

    I think this is the only place I will ever see Kissinger described as a "liberal pussy."

    And as Coffeeman says, do not discount the way the Vietnam War was covered vs. all subsequent wars. The military and pols certainly learned that if you let the people see the man behind the bloody curtain, they find a bad taste in their mouths for war.

  35. baldheadeddork Says:

    Maybe I'm just being a Gen-X asshole, but I always thought the obsession over Vietnam was 99% about that generation refusing to let go of those years when the country did revolve around them.

    Contrary to popular opinion, Vietnam wasn't the first time the government lied to the people or used propaganda to run us into an ill-advised war. It also wasn't the first time we lost a war, and even the US losses were not that great. What we lost in twelve years in Vietnam was the average for five months of WWII. Korea was 2.5 times more costly in the number of casualties we lost every year we were in that war. As impossible as it may seem for our sixties-obsessed culture, every indication says that history will rank the military importance and consequence of the Vietnam war somewhere between The Spanish-American and Mexican-American wars. Politically and diplomatically it was the least-meaningful and important war we ever fought. It, and all of the protests against it, meant nothing.

  36. Talisker Says:

    @Middle Seaman: In fact the French exit from Algeria was a lot more traumatic than the USA leaving Vietnam. France had been colonial rulers of Algeria since 1830 and roughly 1 million French settlers and their descendants lived there. In the 1950s President de Gaulle replaced the French constitution with one granting him near-dictatorial powers, and France came close to civil war. Seen Day of the Jackal? The people who wanted de Gaulle dead were (mostly) those who objected to his policy of evacuating Algeria, and in fact there were several serious attempts on de Gaulle's life.

    Believe it or not, the USA does not have a monopoly on fucking things up.

    That said, the French learned their lesson about meddling with Arab countries. Perhaps the USA and UK should have listened to President Chirac when they were gearing up to invade Iraq — he may have been a crook and a cheese-eating surrender monkey, but he did have personal experience of fighting an Arab insurgency from his time in the French army.

  37. Bernard Says:

    one real irony is that we armed the people in Afghanistan against the Russians, who we are fighting now.

    turn about is fair play.

    just like we armed the Iranians, thanks to Reagan.

    the convoluted military behavior of America never ceases to amaze. God Guns and No Gays!!!

  38. JazzBumpa Says:

    Of course, I'm a boomer, but that's beside the point.

    Viet Nam left a scar, but it's very easy to over- emphasize its importance. To characterize Post Viet Nam American foreign policy as compensatory imperialist dick-swinging is to ignore the fact that American foreign policy pre Viet Nam was also imperialist dick swinging. It was Ike who got us involved in Viet Nam, so the whole program there was a hell of a lot more than 12 years.

    It was also Ike who agreed to Churchill's plan to overthrow the democratically elected government in Iran, and install the Shah. That, BTW is why they fucking hate us over there. And Saddam was our friend, before he wasn't. Just like Noriega. Just like Marcos.

    Come to think of it, it's been that way since about the time that Wyatt Earp was shooting it out at the OK Corral. it was Smedly Butler who blew the whistle on American imperialist dick swinging – in the Philippines, China, the Caribbean, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Haiti – and he died in 1940.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smedley_Butler

    Yes, Viet Nam makes a tragic and fascinating psychological touch point. But to say it was a major turning point in foreign policy is looking at American military history with blinders on.

    Cheers!
    JzB

  39. Tom M Says:

    Roosevelt at Tehran 1943 proposed a trusteeship for Indochina because the French were suspected of cooperating with the Japanese invasion of SE Asia but Churchill opposed the plan for fear of losing India (which plan worked out for Winnie about the way Gallipoli did) and Stalin decided to throw Churchill a bone after ignoring him for not invading France.
    After WW II ended, the French moved back in and Ho took upmwhere he left off only instead of fighting the Japanese, he took on the French who the US supported with bombers and mechanics which is how we got to keep less than 500 people in SVN after the Geneva treaty.
    There is little doubt that the military never lost a battle, there just weren't that many. Tet cost the Viet-Cong virtually all of their fighting force and after 1968, the war in the south was with North VN units.

    Want to end Afghanistan? Do it the way Viet-Nam stopped: Congress withdrew the money. it is that simple. And will simply never happen with the current crew.

  40. Arslan Says:

    "We fought a 72-day air war from 15,000 feet above the former Yugoslavia to oust Milosevic–because we were sick of seeing Serbians slaughter Muslim men, woman and children in Sarajevo live on CNN. No pilots dragged through the streets of Belgrade."

    I think they were more sick of seeing Muslims and Croats kill Serbs since they rarely even reported that, even in the case of the Storm and Flash offensives which still are the largest offensives of the Yugoslav wars(Croatia against the Republic of Serbian Krajina).

  41. freeportguy Says:

    An analogy to which many will connect: compare the military to an NFL Quarterback: most scouts look for and get all aroused at the thought of a 6'6" 250lbs propspect with a canon arm that can throw the ball through a concrete wall 200 yards away (JaMarcus Russell?).

    They don't so much about the 6'0" guy with respectable arm strenght, although he's got good touch, great understanding of the game and awesome leader (Drew Brees?).

    How many of these canon armed monsters have we seen being total BUSTS?

    Firepower alone will NOT make one win a war. And the best won wars are those you resolved by NOT having to go to war! (Cuban Missile Crisis '62)

    The lost art and understanding of what real DIPLOMACY is. That's how you end up sending John Bolton the UN as you representative.

  42. eau Says:

    I think an often overlooked part of the problem is that AMERICA DIDN'T WIN THE SECOND WORLD WAR.

    Sure, the Yanks were a *part* of the winning side, and the outcome may have been different without the US. But all those Ruskies freezing their arses off on the Germany's Eastern front, the French Resistance, and the British bombers had a little something to do with it too. Not to mention those wacky physicists and their Big Boys and Little Boys and a-whatnot.

  43. Arslan Says:

    70-80% of German Wehrmacht forces were destroyed on the Eastern Front by the Red Army. This does not count those killed by partisans in Albania, Yugoslavia, Greece, or Slovakia(I'm referring to the uprising of General Catlos in 1944 here).

    So yeah, America sped it up, but did not "win it."

  44. Death Panel Truck Says:

    There was no way we were ever going to win in Vietnam, for two reasons. The first reason was that we were ill-equipped to fight a jungle war.

    Secondly, they knew something that we didn't know, or knew and refused to acknowledge: time was on their side. They could wait us out. They knew that eventually we would tire of the effort and go home, and when we did, they could come out of the jungle and rebuild what we had destroyed.

    And that's exactly what they did.

  45. bb in GA Says:

    @DPT

    We were arrogant/ignorant enough to ignore/forget our history w/ the British in that 1776 war. I know that the cultural ties were stronger since we were all mostly Brits then, but even through that the principle still worked.

    Shoot their asses and run away. Do it some more tomorrow.

    The Brits bitterly complained that the rebels would not stand and fight. I don't know if it is true, but I've read that Uncle Ho was a fan of the Founders of the USA.

    //bb

  46. Bernard Says:

    the tide against the Vietnam war turned primarily cause it was shown on TV every night on the Nightly News with Walter Cronkite and the rest.

    that alone caused the mood to turn along with the grevious injuries of returning war veterans for a war way far on the other side of the world.

    all that blood and treasure for stopping the Communist Dominoes. after a while American didn't give a damn about Cambodia, Laos or Anywhere else over there. it was too far and out of sight, other than on TV.

    the endless blood and destruction of our Society was a by product of the War in Vietnam. which led to the War on Drugs(Blacks) after the Right killled MLK. the endless self destruction of American Society still continues to this day.

    ah but so it goes, as Lind Ellerbee used to say when she ended her New show. we Americans have traded one war for another in hopes we will be victorious at winning sometime, somewhere.

    the War on America/Drugs is really a success when you think of the Black society in prison and destroyed to keep them/blacks from voting against the Conservatives. the rest of the failure of American society is just part of the "collateral" damage.

    wonder why they hate Obama. LOL

  47. Jado Says:

    "Winning" a war means one of two things – destroying the existing hostile organization and subjugating the natives for our own purposes (i.e., the Phillipines after the Spanish-American War), or destroying the hostiles and rebuilding the country (i.e., Japan after WWII).

    We never have the stomach for conquest and colonization, and we never have the attention span or focus for occupation and nation-building. So we end up with easy military victories followed by long, drawn-out asymetrical defeats by the people we are supposed to be helping.

    But honestly, if we can't be expected to be smart enough to NOT burn Qurans in garbage fires in a hotbed of religious fundamentalism, it can't be a surprise that we no longer have the sophistication or patience to deal with native populations in a reconstruction-type manner.

    We are what we do. We no longer have the ability to rebuild Western Europe or occupy Japan, as neither of these would turn a profit by third quarter of next year, and our investors need the stock to rise. So here we are…

  48. Glen.h Says:

    As a non-American (Australian) I can add something about what the Vietnam War did do- It permanently and badly damaged the image of the U.S as the "Good Guys" for its allies. It also raised serious doubts about the basic competency of the U.S military. This tarnishing applies to both liberal and conservative administrations as there is really very little difference in foreign policy between the two.