Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Parallelegy

I noticed what I thought was an interesting parallel in the news the other day. However, I hesitate to write about it, since it doing so may be a violation of Godwin's Law. It touches lightly on Nazi's, and that is extreme and inflammatory. But the I think this particular news item contains valid echoes of historical events.

I'm speaking here of President Bush's recent remarks at the VFW Convention, where he seemed to say that the U.S. should not have left Vietnam. In fact, the speech seems to say the only reason the U.S. withdrew it's forces was domestic pressure.

The point here is not the legitimacy or accuracy of the President's analogies. Whether there are particular parallels between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam is not the question that interested me. It was the argument that Vietnam was lost at home. This is not a new position, obviously, but seems to have gained renewed credibility recently, at least with the President. I find it troubling because it parallels the "stabbed in the back" theory of World War I.

After the surrender of Germany and the punitive Treaty of Versailles, many Germans resented the loss of national prestige, the poverty only amplified by the Depression, and the decline of a once great state. A theory that won great credence was that the Great War was not lost on the battlefield, but at home. That a lack of domestic will and strength stabbed the German Army in the back. Most historians agree that this theory doesn't hold water, just as most dismiss the notion that Vietnam was a winnable war for the United States.

Historically, this argument is used to give cover to jingoism, arms buildups, power grabs, and authoritarianism. I'm not enough of a radical to suggest that the present case is so extreme. However, given the administration's track record of pushing for increased Executive power, the parallel is interesting. But parallels are useful only so far as they can be used for extrapolation. It isn't "Bush is a fascist" or anything so extreme. Perhaps it is only that when great powers face defeat (or merely lack of victory), blame is inevitably cast on a faceless opposition at home.

3 comments:

I'm Enough Of A Radical said...

The deployment of the vague analogy - which is either a) partially true, b) true in one sense or interpretation, or c) unable to be proved false - is an art that has now been perfected by the President and his Party.

The key phrase is "domestic pressure." Was it chiefly responsible for withdrawing from Vietnam? Yes. But here I'll quote someone who summed it up better than I:

"U.S. involvement in Indochina became untenable when that engagement itself became a threat to America's social fabric and national cohesion - and then to the very institutions that had responsibility for the war, the U.S. military and intelligence services, as well as the presidency and Congress." -- Jim Hoagland, 8/24/07 Washington Post

Can that be classified as 'domestic pressure'? Sure. But they look like pretty good reasons to end a war to me; Bush instead frames the term with air-quotes, in such a way to prejudge the term as frivolous. In reality, the "domestic pressure" was a response to a threat faced by the country: the threat of an endless war, perpetrated by an obstinate government, against a different kind of enemy that was impossible to defeat in any meaningful way.

Why does that sound so familiar? Same situation with Iraq (perhaps even worse in many ways), but not yet the same end result. The point is that despite what the President thinks, the nation does not need Iraq to be a victory; Bush does. He went all in, but America needn't follow him into the loser's lounge.

I've long argued that Bush is the very definition of a fool; and continuing to pursue the venture in Iraq more or less out of spite, and without any meaningful or grounded-in-reality goals, is the very definition of foolishness. More and more have recognized the folly, though it has not become a threat to America's social fabric; which is why Bush refuses to acquiesce.

[Reveals tattoo on chest.] "Revolution!"
"Uh, it says 'Mayhem.'"
"Bollocks!"

I draft plans of houses... said...

And just because I found it looking something up for my comment above, and because I'm a huge fan of Ambrose Bierce, here's a tidbit quoted from some other article:

After Dr. Johnson said patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel, the cynic Ambrose Bierce amended it with, "I beg to submit that it is the first." Then H.L. Mencken jumped in: "But there is something even worse: it is the first, last and middle range of fools."

PudriK said...

Curse patriotism all you want, but you'd be arguing about an obstinate prime minister were it not for a bunch of guys who called themselves "patriots."

(Just adding a little balance.)

THE MIND IS NOT A VESSEL TO BE FILLED BUT A FIRE TO BE KINDLED