May 14, 2005

Universal Regard

"The Vietnam War is universally regarded as a disaster for what it did to the American and Vietnamese peoples." -- Stephen J Morris in a recent Sunday NYT Op Ed piece ("The War We Could Have Won" -- an article characteristically full of breathlessly strung-together non sequiturs).

No. While the war was certainly a disaster for what happened to Vietnam and its peoples during it, I think that for most UnAmericans, it doesn't look to have been quite the same sort of -- or level of -- disaster for what happened to the US and its peoples. To keep fatuously equating the suffering of Vietnam and the US during the war (a war in which the US had only a sideline role for a significant time) is a real insult to almost everyone concerned (even the French, who might have something to say about the Vietnam War as well).

So many Americans seem determined to cast the US as the victim of the Vietnam War. But the war (or at least that part where the US did play a significant role) wasn't something that just happened to the US, or an act of God that overtook wiser political imperatives, or that somehow just sucked a reluctant US in from its usual splendid isolation -- it was something the US as a country (but not necessarily US people individually) brought upon itself. The War wasn't an active player, a character, a thing with its own motives or forces that did all this bad stuff to an innocent America (or Vietnam). You can argue one way or another (or many different ways) about whether the US was justified in participating in the war in the ways it did or not (and I -- surprise, surprise! -- tend to believe things are more complex than usually credited), but it's not easily arguable that the US was a victim of anything much more than its own hubris and political culture in this case.

It wasn't the Vietnam War that was the disaster here for what it did to America -- it was America.


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