• The Korea, Vietnam, Iraq Syndrome

    Email Print


    Three, Many Vietnams"! was Che Guevara’s famous call to arms.
    Today we remain in the throes of our third Vietnam, Iraq. This is
    the third time since World War II that hundreds of thousands of
    U.S. troops have been sent abroad in a neo-colonialist war.1

    The first "Vietnam"
    was in fact Korea. And it was the first war to be televised to the
    relatively few TV sets then in existence. Americans saw the bloody
    battles in black and white with American soldiers killed day after
    day. At the end of it all about 50,000 Americans and a million Asians
    were dead, at the hands of Harry S. Truman who was deeply reviled
    as the result of the war. Truman was unexpectedly defeated in the
    first New Hampshire primary and withdrew from the presidential race,
    which Eisenhower won on the promise of "going to Korea"
    and ending the war – which he did, much to his credit. Today
    we do not hear much about Eisenhower; but the bloodthirsty Truman,
    the only human being to order the incineration of hundreds of thousands
    with nuclear weapons of mass destruction, is hailed by the likes
    of Democrat neocon Peter Beinart and other Democratic neocons as
    a model for Democrats today. However, at the time of Korea organized,
    antiwar sentiment was miniscule and there was little to no protest
    over the draft.

    Next was Vietnam
    itself where our historical memory often seems to begin when most
    pundits discuss war, apparently because their knowledge of history
    only springs from their own personal memories. Kennedy and the rest
    of "the best and the brightest" Democrats started this
    war and by its ending another 50,000 Americans and two million Southeast
    Asians, by Robert McNamara’s count, had been killed. Kennedy was
    another "tough" Democrat, decrying a supposed missile
    gap and promising to send troops anywhere in the world for "freedom."
    But this time a massive opposition grew, slowly at first and then
    gaining in speed. By 1968, Johnson had suffered the same fate as
    Truman in New Hampshire and he was driven from office. By 1964 there
    were sizable campus and street demonstrations against the war, driven
    by Old Left and New, and by 1969 the demonstrations had grown to
    hundreds of thousands. The draft became untenable and was abolished.
    From now on the empire builders would have to make do with an "all-volunteer"
    army recruited mainly from the ranks of those who were strapped
    for cash or mesmerized by the culture of war.

    Now we have
    Iraq. And in this last election, the President who brought it upon
    us was handed a resounding defeat – just as were Truman and
    Johnson before him. But this time millions in the U.S. marched against
    the war before it started, and 23 Senators refused to rubber stamp
    Bush’s call to arms. Even the military was reluctant, and it took
    enormous exertions of deception and manipulation, like calling for
    a vote a month before the 2002 elections, leading most politicians
    to vote their careers and ambitions instead of stopping the unnecessary
    slaughter that knew lay ahead. Once again the United States has
    left its signature in Iraq, killing around 500,000 so far and probably
    more than that due to the Clintonian sanctions leading up to the
    war. It seems that a consistent U.S. strategy, its signature, is
    to level any third world country and visit mass murder on its population
    if that country is considered an enemy. The hope is obviously that
    those who displease the American Empire will know that there is
    a great price to pay. Although American deaths have fallen far short
    of those in Korea and Vietnam, the tens of thousands of injuries
    would have been deaths in those earlier wars.

    Vietnam generated
    more opposition than Korea and now Iraq has generated more opposition
    and earlier opposition than Vietnam – despite the absence of
    the draft, which did so much to mobilize opposition to the war on
    Vietnam. (Now we have Max Boot, resident neocon at the LA Times
    calling for an army of foreign-born mercenaries who can be rewarded
    for their fighting with U.S. citizenship.) And opposition to this
    war does not come mainly or principally from students but from all
    segments of the population. It was a grown-up opposition, symbolized
    by Lila Lipscomb and Cindy Sheehan, whose sons were taken from them
    by the machinations of the neocons. (The drawback to the lack of
    youth has been a dearth of militancy and radicalism and uncompromising
    idealism.) The opposition has sprung not only from the Left, but
    from Libertarians and the non neocon Right which has returned to
    its anti-imperial roots, largely abandoned after WWI.2
    This stance is routinely smeared with the "isolationist"
    label to no avail, and I soon expect to see bumper stickers proclaiming
    "Isolationist, and Proud of It."

    The fact is
    that we have come a long way. The American people are increasingly
    dissatisfied with war and Empire – in fact we are sick to death
    of it. The Vietnam syndrome is no longer adequate to describe the
    phenomenon since it is now the product of three colonial wars. Properly
    it should be called the "Korea, Vietnam, Iraq Syndrome."
    The masters of Empire, both Democrat and Republican, will try to
    "cure" us of this sentiment, and we must be wary of this,
    but in the end they will not succeed. They have lost the battle
    in Iraq, and they have lost the battle for the hearts and minds
    of Americans to sustain an empire.

    So we stand
    on the threshold of a full-blown Anti-imperial movement if we can
    pull it off. We need to consolidate this now before the Empire decides
    that it must wage war on China – which was part of the motivation
    for Iraq in the first place and is now finding its way into the
    screed of the propagandists of empire.3 We have
    the forces, from Left and Right, to generate such a movement. We
    must do it – or with the advance of technology, we may all
    perish by accident if not by design.

    This article
    is prepared from unprepared remarks at a demonstration of the Antiwar
    in Boston on Veterans Day.


    1. The numerous
      imperial wars fought by proxy armies for the U.S. from Angola
      to El Salvador to Afghanistan to Iran, which killed untold millions,
      do not qualify as "Vietnams" in Che’s definition. No
      one has yet adequately tallied the toll in lives and destruction
      claimed by these cruel wars.
    2. Justin
      Raimondo. Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of
      the Conservative Movement.
    3. Thomas
      Friedman. "China:
      Scapegoat or Sputnik
      ." NYT, Nov. 10, 2006.

    17, 2006

    Walsh [send him mail]
    is a scientist who lives in Cambridge, MA, and is a frequent contributor
    to CounterPunch.org.

    Email Print