At the end of August the American Left wallowed joyously in 1960's nostalgia, taking comfort and joy in the alleged parallel between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Grey-haired folksinger Joan Baez, startling millions with the revelation that she is still alive, found her way to Crawford, Texas, where she delivered an impromptu protest concert (including the insufferable "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?") for several hundred supporters. At the same time, Senator (and Vietnam vet) Chuck Hagel curried favor with the mainstream media (cementing his claim to the coveted epithet "maverick") with his appearance on ABC TV's "This Week," in which he shamelessly pushed the Vietnam-Iraq analogy.
With all the misguided attempts to compare our current struggle in Iraq with America's most disastrous prior war, it's crucial for informed citizens to understand the profound contrasts and distinctions between Vietnam and Iraq - and to simultaneously come to terms with the one great and essential similarity.
Herewith, a quick list of the nine essential differences between the two wars - along with the single crucial resemblance.
1.THE ENEMY - In Vietnam, we faced more than a rag-tag guerilla band: we confronted one of the world's most formidable military machines in the nation of North Vietnam, with more than a million men under arms. What's more, these troops and their officers had been hardened by some thirty years of fighting-first against the Japanese, then against the French, and finally against the South Vietnamese and the Americans. Ho Che Minh, dictator of North Vietnam, provided a potent symbol with a clearly articulated Communist agenda. In Iraq, on the other hand, we fight no nation, no organized army, no visible or unifying leader, but a collection of shadowy terrorist bands. These gangs occupy no territory, have announced no coherent program for the future, and command no economic or territorial base to replenish their cadres. They can certainly do damage to Americans and to the troops of democratic Iraq, but they can in no sense suggest a credible alternative-hence their very limited popular support.