Classic Doonesbury (1975) by Garry Trudeau
Reading about what is happening in Iraq with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria brought back certain memories. I was drafted in 1971 during the Viet Nam War. I was in the barracks on 23 January 1973 when President Nixon announced the Paris Peace Accords that would supposedly end the war and guarantee that South Vietnam would survive. Those of us watching said impolite, inappropriate, and disrespectful words directed at the TV screen.
“I have asked for this radio and television time tonight for the purpose of announcing that we today have concluded an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia.”
There was no peace and there was no honor. By March of 1973 the bulk of the USA troops were out. But, of course, the war did not end. The scene of the helicopter on the roof, pictured above, took place on 29 April 1975. On 30 April 1975, North Vietnamese troops and Viet Cong irregulars entered what was then known as Hanoi. After 20 years of USA involvement, Viet Nam was again a single country, under the very type of government we had sought to prevent. The cost to the USA was terrible, not only in the tens of thousands of lives lost, the hundreds of thousands of lives damaged both physically and psychologically, but also in the beginnings of the great divide that still afflicts our body politic.
Viet Nam was handled by Presidents from both political parties. While the original involvement was limited under a Republican President, the great build up of troops was under a Democratic President, while the withdrawal was overseen by a Republican President. Our involvement began in 1955 and ended in 1975 after 20 years of futility. Those who returned were not welcomed home nor treated as heroes by a country tired of a long and fruitless war.
You would think that we had learned the lesson of those years. But, in 2003 we invaded Iraq for the second Gulf War. The promised weapons of mass destruction were never found. The promised chemical stockpiles did not exist. We took a basically stable country and turned it into an unstable country. Just like in Viet Nam, we thought we could take a country and reform it in our image. We wanted a basically democratic country were everyone behaved nicely toward one another. We left a country in disarray and in a civil war. Just like in Viet Nam, within a couple of years of our leaving, the country has blown apart. Just like in Viet Nam, current political leaders have a case of amnesia. Back then, it was the last President’s fault, a Republican. Today it is the last President’s fault again, a Democrat. Neither back then nor today is that a correct assessment. It is our fault together, for believing that we could force another country to become like us and for acting on false intelligence and wishful thinking.
Listen to Republican Senator Rand Paul below:
The major difference is that our troops are now welcomed home and are treated like heroes. That has been a great improvement from our previous debacle. But, the rest of the stuff sounds like Viet Nam replayed. Back in 1975, many pushed Nixon to severely bomb North Viet Nam to stop the loss of South Viet Nam. That sounds just like what is being proposed today to Obama. Back then it was said that our military was shackled by politics, ignoring the fact that there vast number of Americans on the street protesting Viet Nam and wanting us out. Today, that same cry is heard, that if only we unshackled our military we could turn this around.
There are days when I feel like I am hearing a tape recording, a pretty bad and scratchy one. There are days at the VA hospital in which I work in which it appears that the only difference between a Viet Nam veteran with PTSD and a current veteran with PTSD is whether they have grey hair or not. Our culture is even worse divided than back then. The difference is that whereas back then the strongest voices were those of the folksingers and the Left, today the strongest voices are those of the country singers and the Right. And, the division is harsher than it was back then. Back then, the Left saw government conspiracies against them (and they had a partial point), today the Right sees government conspiracies against them (and they have a partial point). But, the drumbeat is the same.
So, pardon me if there are days today, watching the news, when I feel a little like “B.D.” in the comic at the top of this post.