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Vietnam Revisited
Newsweek International
Updated: 9:03 p.m. ET May 29, 2004

June 7-14 issue - Our April 19/April 26 story comparing the Iraq war with Vietnam struck a nerve with readers. Said one, "Both were a bad idea." Another wrote, "Terrorism stopped once we got out; communists didn't take over the world." Some compared this conflict to others: the Soviets in Kabul, Israel in Lebanon.

The Vietnam Connection

Thank you for Fareed Zakaria's great cover story ("Our Last Real Chance, April 19/April 26) and for Evan Thomas's interesting Iraq-Vietnam comparison ("The Vietnam Question") in the same issue. I think it may be useful to make a comparison to the Philippines, which the United States conquered in 1898. In 1901 a civil government was established under William H. Taft. Fighting continued until 1902-03. A national assembly was inaugurated in 1907. With 4,000 Americans dead, Black Jack Pershing was fighting Muslims in the south as late as 1913. Popular anti-U.S. sentiment persisted throughout the cold war, until a nationalist Congress voted against U.S. bases in 1994. The difference is that whereas in the Philippine experience, not even the Hearst-controlled papers could get all the gory details from the distant Philippine battlefields, today the U.S. public is exposed to a deluge of uncensored images—bloody and even pornographic—in our instant mass media.
Raul H. Dado
Consul, Philippine Embassy
Vientiane, Laos

Evan Thomas calls the comparison of Iraq to Vietnam "a stretch," and instead compares this conflict to Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be to the Soviet Union's disastrous invasion of Afghanistan. Like the United States now, the Soviet Union, in a fit of misguided and ultimately fatal imperialistic misadventure, invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Ten years later it would withdraw, counting more than 10,000 dead. The United States is in a similar situation. Some defense officials predict we could be in Iraq for 10 years. By then our casualties could equal or even surpass those of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And the situation could prove to be just as costly economically and politically. It is unfortunate that President George W. Bush is not a student of history.
Kevin E. Green
Dallas, Texas

Ghosts of Vietnam? Not unless you consider that the government and president lied to get congressional and public approval of the war; we had no reasonable plan for the war's aftermath; we had no good understanding of the culture we were trying to "save"; our troops did not have a well-defined and identifiable enemy; so many of our troops and innocent civilians have been tragically lost; billions of dollars have been squandered, and our leaders and military brass keep assuring us that everything is on schedule.
David Patrykus
Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin

The first thing to learn from the Vietnam War is that the terrorism stopped once the United States got out. The second thing is that once we got out, the communists didn't take over the world. The problem with Bush's foreign policy is the belief that democracy is an end in itself. It's not. It is the means to an end: self-determination. There will be rebellion, insurgency and terrorism as long as there are those who impose their will on others, no matter how noble their intentions may be.
Edward Pontacoloni
Windsor, Connecticut

Vietnam and Iraq share the fundamental fact that they were both basically a bad idea. In Iraq it is very unlikely that Americans are going to be able to win the peace unless we have United Nations backing. It took Vietnam architect Robert McNamara about 35 years to admit that that war was a mistake, a conclusion many of us reached and tried to tell him in the early 1960s, before 50,000 Americans had died. How long will it take our current leadership to figure this out?
Michael Selmanoff
Baltimore, Maryland

Recently the United States thoroughly trained some Iraqi police forces that later refused to fight against Iraqi insurgents. It brings to mind the South Vietnamese forces that we trained, only to have them perform poorly or not at all. How is it that those with little or no training are able to intimidate or defeat well-trained forces? There is a second uncomfortable resemblance: in Vietnam the pro-American leaders were always disreputable crooks with little backing from the Vietnamese populace. We have the same situation in Iraq.
Ralph Ekwall
Omaha, Nebraska

Four Americans are brutally killed, and 600 Iraqi men, women and children are killed and wounded in revenge. Is this the "welcome" and "liberation" that President Bush had promised? The United States does not recognize the principles of democracy, international law, justice, the Geneva Conventions or human, civil or children's rights. Bush wants an Iraqi council to take over, and Fareed Zakaria suggests bribing, cajoling and manipulating Iraqi citizens into electing a U.S.-friendly administration. But who should the United States bribe? Bush has little to offer these people. Iraq is not like Vietnam. The American occupation is like the Israeli occupation, only on a much grander scale. The United States will be stuck in Iraq for decades.
Inger Lund Knudsen
Vejle, Denmark

In Vietnam, we thought we knew who the enemy was when we involved ourselves in a conflict that cost America 50,000 lives. The aftermath of the war left a defeated president and Robert McNamara writing a book of confessions about why he made so many mistakes. With Iraq, we have nothing to gain and much to lose. We cannot give Saddam Hussein a fair trial. We are doing the same things he did to control his nation. President Bush had a decision to make after 9/11. Americans were mad and hurt and wanted revenge for what had happened. That's where strength of character and wisdom should have come into play. But the president didn't review the country's history lessons. As big and powerful as America was, we could not beat the primitive Army of the North Vietnamese. Even in 1968, when Ho Chi Minh felt he was defeated, he took the initiative anyway and completely turned things around for the North. We weren't smart enough to see that. How smart are we now?
David Bostwick
via internet

Americans must be feeling so ashamed of themselves. How can a buffoon like George W. Bush become the president of the most powerful nation in the world? I want to know: Do Americans learn history? Do they learn about the atrocities committed by the United States? Do they know that America still has not paid compensation to Vietnam for the genocide of up to 3 million Vietnamese? Do they learn about all the regime changes in Central and South America? All those dictators and death squads were supported and trained by the United States.
John Smith
Johannesburg, South Africa

It's America that really won the Vietnam War when the American people—not Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap—forced the U.S. military to abandon Vietnam to its own self-chosen destiny. Believe me, this simple truth is embedded in the world's consciousness and is a key to understanding the worldwide opposition to Bush's war: it is an opposition born from disappointment, not from hate.
Mario Satta
Lucca, Italy

The Vietnam war cost more than 2 million lives, not the 50,000 you counted. Do only American lives matter? In Iraq, on the other hand, innocent civilian deaths outnumber American military deaths 10 to one. Americans living abroad know this attitude is turning the world against us. Like Vietnam, the Iraq War is unjust and unnecessary. It's time for George W. Bush to join Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon on the list of infamous past presidents.
David Irby
Dingle, Ireland

Evan Thomas says, "there is only one group of Americans who have had to bear the true burden: the servicemen and -women... and their families." Why do casualty lists from a supposedly objective news magazine not include the relief workers, missionaries, construction workers, journalists, security guards and multitudes of other nonmilitary personnel? What about the pain and suffering and restricted freedoms endured by other Americans as a result of this war? What about our Coalition partners and U.N. personnel? And the age-old question in any war: are the lives of Iraqis less important than American lives?
Paul Tiffany
Woodland Hills, California

The situation in Iraq escalates day by day, in apocalyptic proportions, as the original idea of installing a peaceful democracy has faded. In my view, such countries can be ruled "successfully" only by a dictatorship or by a strictly controlled democracy. This applies particularly to Iraq where the majority of the Shiites now demand, justifiably, to participate in the new government. It may be that peace is only possible if the country is divided into two parts for the big religious groups. If, as President Bush announced repeatedly, the oil belongs to the Iraqi people, I can see no reason why U.S. soldiers should risk their lives in Iraq any longer. As we say in Germany, better an end with dismay than a dismay without an end.
Walter H. Becker
Plochingen, Germany

In the past, every war ended with an armistice, concluded by the commanders of the warring parties (World War I, World War II, Korean War, Gulf War). By contrast, in Iraq, no armistice talks were held, no agreement was reached, so therefore the United States and Iraq are still at war, and every Iraqi soldier may continue to fight against U.S. forces. A unilateral declaration, such as President Bush's speech on the aircraft carrier, has no legal value in ending a war. That is the legalistic opinion of an "Old European" but in our time, maybe such subtleties are of no value.
Reimar Holzinger
Vienna, Austria

I have hardly missed any of Fareed Zakaria's articles, and have been a great admirer of his strategic analysis of policy issues. But I am deeply disappointed by his five-page April 19/April 26 cover story, recommending the way forward for America in fixing Iraq. There is not a single word about Israel as if the subject is entirely irrelevant.
Asif H. Kazi
Lahore, Pakistan

Your article comparing Iraq to Vietnam was very enlightening. It may be interesting to compare the Iraq war to other major historical conflicts, wars that should never have taken place. Is this war similar to the Crimean War of the last century, a war that was fought for no good reason with thousands of lives lost for no real gain? The United States once believed that if Vietnam fell into the hands of communists, the whole region would follow, posing a direct threat to the security of the United States. A few years and thousands of deaths later, the country did come under communist control—there was no domino effect, communism did not spread. In Iraq, it was believed that the regime had a big arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. A year and a few hundred deaths later, no WMD can be found. Alas, Pandora's box has now been opened and it will take time and a lot more suffering before its demons can be rectified and contained.
Amin K. Kawar
Amman, Jordan

As one who served in Vietnam I can tell you: one of the main differences between the two wars is the nation's attitude toward those who serve in combat. The nation has learned the hard lesson that it is possible to see those who serve in the armed forces as honorable while still questioning the war in which they serve.
Joan M. Maiman
Chicago, Illinois

As a vet and survivor of the Vietnam era, I'd like to cheer your writers for so clearly expressing a perspective on what we should have learned from the Vietnam War. We are not tyrannical imperialists but people who thoughtfully commit our men and women to defend freedom. Dissent is not traitorous but a valuable part of that freedom. It is our obligation as a part of a free and democratic society to express our doubts about the decisions of our leaders and to deeply examine the purpose of committing young men and women to war.
John Glenn
Knoxville, Tennessee

Evan Thomas asserts, "measured objectively, the comparison to Vietnam is something of a stretch. That war dragged on for more than a decade and cost 50,000 lives... A year in, the death toll in Iraq stands at 458 soldiers killed in action." The combat death toll in the first three years of combat involvement in Vietnam, 1962 through 1964, totaled 392. From 1956 to 1961, U.S. deaths from military operations totaled 25. What will the Iraq death toll be if we still have troops stationed there five or more years from now? It is premature to refer to the comparison as a stretch when we have barely begun what may well be a protracted involvement.
J. Wistar Huey III
Ellicott City, Maryland

Blair's Leadership

We are told ("The Blair Problem," Feb. 9) that British Prime Minister Tony Blair competed for the Labour Party leadership against Gordon Brown, now chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1994, when in fact he competed for it against Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, and that a third consecutive victory by Blair at the polls next year would be an "achievement unmatched in British history," when in fact Margaret Thatcher (remember her?) had three consecutive victories: in 1979, in 1983 and again in 1987.
P. M. McGoldrick
Pinner, England

When the BBC made a mistake, its management quickly acknowledged it with resignations from those responsible. Bush and Blair, however, have yet to acknowledge their "mistake" and ask for forgiveness from their respective electorates and especially the families of the troops that continue to die in Iraq as a result. Nor have they punished those responsible for "misleading" them.
Debbie Menon
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Revisiting the Empire

Your article "American Terminator" (Issues 2004) claims that the British Empire accounted for less than 10 percent of global production (compared with 30 percent for the United States today). This may have been true in the empire's final days. But there was a time when it boasted about 75 percent of the world's industrial output. After all, the Industrial Revolution originated in Britain. As for total output—both the former United Kingdom and the present United States are little fish compared with the unmatched Mongolian Empire, which presumably included more than half of humanity, including the two most advanced economies: China and the Arab world. Empires come and go. So does hype. Who remembers that just 25 years ago Tokyo boasted the world's biggest stock market and the richest businessmen, and Japan was considered the land of the future?
Juergen Schmidhuber
Lugano, Switzerland

Iraq's Civil Servants

In "The Fires to Come" (Issues 2004), Amir Taheri says that for 30 years, no civil-service worker in Iraq was able to find serious work without a party card. Civil servants in every walk of life resisted the party and its dogma silently. Many distinguished scientists, teachers, doctors and engineers, known for their integrity, honesty and professionalism, were also known for not being party members. The Baath Party wanted some ministries—including Education and Defense—to be open only to party members. But it did not succeed, so it fired hundreds of officers in the mid-'90s because they refused to enter the party. The party tried but could not get a real hold in certain professions (like medicine). This failure was a recurrent issue at Baath meetings; it became a thorn in the party's side. The illusion that all Iraqis were party members is damaging and helped create the chaos we're now witnessing. The departure of those civil servants who know their business well is a loss to the country. The road ahead will be difficult. But in 20 years Iraqis will remember George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Donald Rumsfeld for their courageous stand on the Iraqi issue. We hope this will bring peace, prosperity and democracy to the Middle East. They will have special places in the hearts and minds of millions of Iraqi people.
N. A. Jaafar
Baghdad, Iraq

For the Books

Your Tip Sheet item "The Word on Books" says that Random House "marks first editions with the number two" (Jan. 26). This is inaccurate on a couple of levels. The Random House division of Random House, Inc., used to mark first editions with a printing line (number line) concluding with a 2 (as in 98765432) and the words "First Edition." When we went to a second printing, the words "First Edition" were eliminated from the copyright page, leaving the number 2 as an indication that the book was, in fact, a second printing. However, complaints from confused book collectors inspired us within the last 12 months to start following the system used by most other publishers, and our first editions are now indicated by the words "First Edition" and the digit 1. As both someone who helps make books and someone who collects them, I thought the article was otherwise very helpful.
Benjamin Dreyer
Managing Editor/Copy Chief
Random House Publishing Group
New York, New York

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.
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