Tempting the Flame-War Gods...

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Tempting the Flame-War Gods...

Unread postby Kai » Mon Oct 30, 2006 4:52 pm

Okay, but seriously. This is something I'm considering writing a research paper on, and I would love to have as many opinions on the subject as I can.

There have been many comparisons between the Vietnam War and our current involvement in Iraq. There are damned good points for both sides.

On the one hand, we have America getting in an ideological conflict with people we don't understand because we're afraid they'll end up with a government that's "dangerous" to us, whatever that means.

On the other hand, there are natural resources involved like oil. There is a reasonable expectation that secular government in a hardcore Muslim country like Iraq can work, as evidenced by Turkey.

While the evidence itself is interesting, and I would certainly welcome anything people can offer in that regard, this isn't the topic of my paper. This isn't "Vietnam and Iraq: Compare and Contrast."

The topic of my paper is, predictably, of a more ethnographic bent. Why do people react so strongly to this comparison?

My hypothesis is pretty much that we have, as a nation, established Vietnam as a Bad Thing. It went badly, ended badly, and worst of all, made us look bad. Comparing the conflict in Iraq to the Vietnam war attaches this modern issue to a confirmed Bad Thing. By attaching it to a Bad Thing, we are in essence calling it a Bad Thing in itself.

Now, for people who approve of the war in Iraq to any degree, that makes the whole comparison extremely dangerous. It means that if they give the analysts one inch along this line of reasoning, they'll be to blame for the mile-long string of anti-war diatribe that comes after.

So, here's my request. I'm looking for views on this comparison. I'm totally willing to accept that even if I'm not wrong, I'm missing some crucial part of the picture. It would help me to hear alternative explanations, or even to just receive links to particularly heated (but still relatively-informed, please =P ) discussions that center around this comparison. <p>-------------------------
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Re: Tempting the Flame-War Gods...

Unread postby Idran1701 » Mon Oct 30, 2006 5:50 pm

Personally, I don't really have any strong feelings about the comparison, and I've not familiar with anyone else that does, though the latter is probably because I try not to get embroiled in debates about the war. As for the former, personally, I'd say it's partially being anti-war and partially because I honestly don't know enough about Vietnam to be able to accurately determine how good of a comparison it is. I probably don't know enough about the current war either, but I can't really say if that's part of it or not without knowing more about Vietnam itself; I know I don't know much about that already, and so that's definitely a factor in my inability to judge the comparison, but I can't necessarily say the same about my knowledge of the Iraq war.

I get the sense there's another factor here regarding my personal lack of strong feelings, but I can't pinpoint what exactly that is right now, though if I do figure it out I'll be sure to bring it up too. <p>

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Re: Tempting the Flame-War Gods...

Unread postby Kelne » Mon Oct 30, 2006 7:25 pm

Well, I recall reading an editorial on that very subject not so long ago. I forget most of the details, but one point that stood out was the difference in scale. Even in its worst month, the Iraq war hasn't come close to seeing as many casualties as during the Vietnam war. Additionally, the present conflict is one of insurgency, rather than against a unified and highly organised foe.

No doubt there were other important differences mentioned that have since escaped my mind. The upshot was that by allowing himself to be drawn into acknowledging the comparison, Bush made something of a strategic error. Rather than making his opponents work to justify the comparison, he's allowed them to move on and emphasize the 'Bad Thing' angle inherent in it.

Beyond that, there's not much I can say. We didn't really study Vietnam at school. <p>Centuries of threats of "I'll turn you all to stone!" and "I'll knock you all down!" have caused Domans to develop an instinct to form small groups. For safety, I assure you. – Keir</p>

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Re: Tempting the Flame-War Gods...

Unread postby Nakibe » Tue Oct 31, 2006 1:15 am

Lets see what I remember from my class on this crap. Half of this is probably wrong ANYWAY, but eh.

First off, the start of the wars. The Vietnam war was, despite what some people think, NOT about Vietnam. Our country's reasons for participating in this war had nothing to do with not liking Vietnam or anything of that sort. It was a proxy war so that we and The Communists (China in particular, if memory serves) could have a battlefield for which to settle our differences without the big guns. The GOAL is to make them think twice about spreading their Commie ways throughout the region. Domino theory and all telling us that if one of them went red, they ALL would.

For those of us who aren't there for this decision, though... what is there to see, really? We're starting a war because the FRENCH asked us to? WTF?!? And we're fighting in a country where the people don't like us and we can't tell the people from The Enemy... etc etc.

Understand that most of us Americans like our wars a little better when we have clear goals. This allows us to treat things a little more like a football game, sadly. I mean, for those of us who aren't there and getting killed or fighting daily or anything we can look up and say "Hey, we're winning" because we just got X closer to goal Y. In both of these cases the goals aren't nearly that clear cut, and as such you can't expect the public opinion to be terribly high on the issues.

Also: It is worth noting that we DID have clear goals during the Vietnam war... just not goals that the American people at the time were going to accept. ALSO, I find it fun to note that the one thing that does get forgotten in Vietnam comparisons or notes... We DID have clear goals.. just not clear goals to the public in general. ALSO as far as I can remember these goals were more or less accomplished. Either that or the Domino theory turned out to be a big pile of fecal matter. Possibly both! :D!

On the other hand I could make a case for our goals being about as clear at the start of the current war as mud. I'd not be guaranteed to be right, but at least its interesting, right?

Oh, and due to the nature of the war in Vietnam, we were fighting an enemy that was essentially similar enough to the people that we were supposed to be protecting and knew the area just as well as the people that we heard lived there to the point where they basically could slip in, kill people, blow up stuff, leave, and be back in line demanding sanctuary the next day. That's rather difficult to fight. And certainly you can't impress the neighborhood communist countries in this case by bombing stuff. Even when you have a clear target and could theoretically end the war right then and there you aren't 100% ready to risk China deciding that they'd do more than just supply guns and train a few troops.

Meanwhile the actual threat in the current conflict is more homegrown. A combination of radical and violent ideology combined with the fact that they really DO have just enough of a mad on to consider us at the very least "Invading" their space, and, well, there you go. The deathtoll is less than it ever was in the Vietnam war by far, but this is not to say that the situation is any less dangerous. Its certainly much much MUCH more unstable, I might note.

And also, similar to the Vietnam War... we have unfortunately stuck our heads in now. For our country it would be political suicide for the nation as a whole to quit before the goal is reached, as it was in Vietnam. But then that's sort of something I personally expect when we get into the middle of things. And likely no matter what happens at this point anyone who is associated even vaguely with the war will slowly become more and more unpopular.

On that note and certainly not important for this discussion, it IS kind of sad and annoying that once thing reach critical mass on the anti-war effort that even the politicians that are actively working to end the war as well as the ones that can accurately judge the value of staying IN the war are all going to get totally mauled in the polls. One of those situations where no good deed goes unpunished. <p><span style="font-size:small;">

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Re: Tempting the Flame-War Gods...

Unread postby Seethe347 » Tue Oct 31, 2006 3:07 am

I think your hypothesis is a good start, but it needs to be expanded. As it is, it could work as a reason to vehemently deny any similarity between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, but there has to be an emotional element involved beyond political strategy to cause actual feelings of outrage at a proposed idea. This isn't to say that people can't fake being angry in an attempt to crush an idea without applying actual logic to it, but genuine anger is motivated by simpler things than strategy.

Here are my proposed reasons, in no particular order, for why people become heated over the comparison between Vietnam and Iraq:

1. The person who is becoming angry actually fought in or was strongly affected by the Vietnam War. If this person doesn't like the comparison, it could be because they see it as devaluing the meaning of their own experience by using the Vietnam War as a tool for launching a cheap political blow. If the person favors the comparison, then the anger is probably directed at the politicians who they see as having led America into another Vietnam.

2. The agitated person is narrowly patriotic and sees dissent against Bush as an attack on the United States itself. Nevermind that our forefathers fought and died so that we could have freedom of speech and political opinion. Anyone who doesn't agree with the right wing without question should git out of America.

3. The person is just mimicking someone else's anger. Since at least one other person is angered or is pretending to be angered by the comparison, anger must be the proper reaction. If you can't come up with opinions on your own, just follow the herd.

4. There are complicated personal issues involved. Maybe the person or someone the person is close to is currently serving in Iraq, in which case the motivations could be similar to those described in Reason 1. Also, though it somehow seems like this would be rare, if the person is serving in Iraq then they might feel that a withdrawal would cause everything they have worked for to be lost, and the comparison is one more possible cause for a withdrawal.

5. The person who is upset is an Iraqi who doesn't want his or her life taken over by radical clerics. Whoever wins the civil war after the American forces withdraw probably won't be anywhere near as liberal as Saddam was. For a moderate Muslim, knowledge of this fact could be rather distressing.

6. The person is an Iraqi who does want his or her life taken over by radical clerics. In this case, he or she would see the American forces in a similar way to how the supporters of the North Vietnamese forces saw them. As the Enemy.

7. The person is a supporter of the war for more rational reasons than described in Reason 2 but is still too emotionally attached to their opinion to tolerate any disagreement with it. They might have a good reason for this attachment, such as feeling that abandoning the war now would be abandoning the people whose lives have been messed up or that retreating would give the terrorists something to crow about. Or they might have a bad reason for this attachment, such as being either too arrogant or too insecure to handle debate.

Your hypothesis, as far as it points out how the comparison between the two wars constitutes an attack on the Iraq war, does apply to pretty much all of the reasons I have given.

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Re: Tempting the Flame-War Gods...

Unread postby pd Rydia » Tue Oct 31, 2006 10:16 am

Find some old people who lived through Vietnam and talk with them? I mean, asking us is cool and all, but I'd say by and large most of us only know about Vietnam from what we were taught. If Vietnam was from 59-75, a number of our parents were old enough to be cognizant of such happenings (mine were 7 and 9 at the start). I'd say it'd be valuable input, getting the opinion of those who lived through that time period.

Don't have much to say on it, myself. Vietnam is more real for some than it is for, say, me, who has only studied it in history books, and never talked about it with someone who lived through it, let alone served through the conflict. <p>
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Re: Tempting the Flame-War Gods...

Unread postby Kai » Tue Oct 31, 2006 1:11 pm

Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam. Warning: Long. I think the "Insurgents as Enemies" section on page five is particularly good. The article is a lot more hopeful than I expected.

As one who orchestrated the end of our military role in Vietnam and then saw what had been a workable plan fall apart, I agree that we cannot allow "another Vietnam." For if we fail now, a new standard will have been set. The lessons of Vietnam will be forgotten, and our next global mission will be saddled with the fear of its becoming "another Iraq."

The Unreported Vietnam-Iraq Parallel.

And here's a well-supported counterpoint to that.

Now, the differences that I see are major when you think about it.

First of all. Ho Chi-Minh never ruled Vietnam, and Hussein did. This means we can't tack all sorts of atrocities onto Ho like we could Hussein.

Secondly, natural resources are at stake here, whereas in Vietnam they really weren't.
Thirdly, Ho Chi-Minh repeatedly looked to America for assistance and as a model for his own independence movement. The Declaration of Independence of Vietnam was based in large part on the American one, and on the philosophers who laid its foundation.

Fourth. Iraq isn't and wasn't a colony until, well, arguably until now. Vietnam was, and their struggle was initially primarily against their French colonizers. This lends a different sort of nationalism to their side than we see with the guerillas we're fighting now. It also means that we didn't start the Vietnam War, we just made it messier and more complicated because we were scared of the Communist monolith.

My request for blogs that have comments on them stands. There's more going on here than appeals to emotion on both sides. The evidence itself is compelling enough on either side. What I want to see are examples of people discussing it. I don't surf political blogs, which makes this a bit harder, since I don't really know where to look. <p>-------------------------
<span style="font-size:xx-small;">I've always followed my father's advice: he told me, first to always keep my word and, second, to never insult anybody unintentionally. If I insult you, you can be goddamn sure I intend to. And, third, he told me not to go around looking for trouble. --John Wayne</span></p>

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Re: Tempting the Flame-War Gods...

Unread postby Kai » Mon Dec 11, 2006 6:34 pm

The pdf of my final paper is behind a link! <p>-------------------------
<span style="font-size:xx-small;">I've always followed my father's advice: he told me, first to always keep my word and, second, to never insult anybody unintentionally. If I insult you, you can be goddamn sure I intend to. And, third, he told me not to go around looking for trouble. --John Wayne</span></p>

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