My war was jungle green. This one's desert brown. Mine was not winnable. Neither is this one. Mine lasted twelve years until the parties finally went to Paris for discussions over coffee and croissants.
A Conversation With My Nephew, an Archaeology Student at Brown University
"Forty-three years ago North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. Two days later, the U.S. Navy reported to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that a second American ship had been attacked. The first assault happened. The second was a lie to further bolster the Johnson Administration's demand for a Congressional resolution that gave the White House a free hand to send over half a million troops to Southeast Asia. One of many compelling parallels to today's debacle."
"Stop comparing them. You can't compare them. It was a different time."
"Not so different as you might think. In the green war thousands of our local employees were loyal to us. They worked directly for us in non-sensitive positions: for the embassy, for USAID, for the military."
"So? Do you know what happened to those people when we left?"
"How the hell should I know? I wasn't even born."
"Aren't you curious?
"Hey. I hardly see my girlfriend. I spend my time digging into civilizations that are even older than you! Er, just joking Auntie. But you know what I mean. Um, it looks like you're going to tell me anyway."
"Because the same thing is about to happen again. In the green war those who weren't slaughtered when we deserted them were sent to the boonies to be communist indoctrinated. They suffered terribly. Six Vietnamese worked for me inside the embassy. We became good friends. We were like family. Only one made it out."
"I know it must have been hard. But there's no point living in the past."
"You just don't get it. Fifteen U.S. warships have just today entered the Persian Gulf for "maneuvers." We have thousands of Iraqi civilians working for us, many as interpreters. We can't operate effectively without them. They're scared to death that they are being watched and earmarked for death. Isn't it our moral responsibility to protect them? Do you think we are making contingency plans now to get them and their families out when we leave?"
"I hadn't thought about it. I mean like ... most Americans aren't told these things. We never see the flag draped coffins coming off the planes. It's only recently that we're finding out about how poorly our wounded vets are being treated in outpatient care. That's why nobody trusts government. They're all liars."
"That's exactly my point. We have a reputation for using people, then leaving them to fend for themselves, including our own vets. Does the flag mean anything to you?"
"Oh come on Auntie. You're about to preach that patriotic crap."
"You mean you don't believe in the spirit of this Democracy, in the Constitution; that the Democracy is greater than the sum of all its parts; that the Founders passed on a Spirit that lives inside every American soldier who has gone to war?"
"Give me a break. I know for a fact that many GIs join up to get a better education so they can get out of the nowhere town they're stuck in and move up the economic ladder. I know that for a fact."
"True. But I know for a fact that, except for society's inevitable losers, once the majority of our young people put on that uniform, and go through training, something happens besides bonding. I think it's Spirit. You see it in their faces. You hear it from every news correspondent who has observed them in the war zone. Unfortunately when the soldier is exposed to the most horrifying aspects of war when the physical body gets broken or disfigured, often the spirit too can suffer severe psychiatric illness."
"I'll grant you that. Institutions like Walter Reed and VA Hospitals are supposed to be places of healing.
"Yes. But I'm getting a little off point here. I'm trying to make you see-to care about the insanity of what is happening today. That it's no different from what I experienced when the Vietnamization team was called Combined Operations Rural Development Support (CORDS). Neil Sheehan wrote about it in his book, "A Bright Shining Lie." In Iraq's version of CORDS, the Bush Administration wants to double the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) to rebuild basic services. Today's "surge" is not to win an unwinnable war, but to provide political cover for defeat, to lay the foundation for blaming the inevitable bloodbath on the Iraqis when we leave, while we bask in the eternal sunshine of another spotless lie."
"That's your traditional liberal thinking and this is not Vietnam. How can you be so sure we'll fail? I'm having trouble seeing your point of view."
"Because you're not looking. Our diplomats have many fences to mend. Being an American today is very different than when I was welcomed and safe in every country I served as a diplomat. You can go and be an archaeologist or anything you want. But if your generation ignores the country's history, it will continue to repeat its mistakes. If you remain apathetic, some day you might find yourself digging in the wrong place at the wrong time, and unlike my own experience, your American passport will not get you out of it."
"Auntie, you're a love, and in some ways you make sense, but I don't agree with everything you say. You're too yesterday. Anyway, I always hated modern history. Let's continue this at lunch. Maybe I can make you see a different perspective. I'm starving."
"Right. I'm buying. But off campus. Last time gave me indigestion."