Thursday, September 5, 2013

Syria is not Iraq. It's Vietnam.

President Obama is selling the concept of attacking Syria as a “limited” war: clean, surgical missile strikes like a surgeon with a scalpel.  The idea that all we have to do is fire a few missiles and Assad will retreat in fear reminds me of the selling of another war.  Not Iraq.  Vietnam. 

The war lasted through three presidents, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, but it was under Johnson that the war escalated.  Technically it lasted from 1962-1975 when the last helicopters picked up people fleeing the war-torn region.  The killing was horrendous:

Guenter Lewy assumes that one-third of the reported "enemy" killed may have been civilians, concluding that the actual number of deaths of communist military forces was probably closer to 444,000. The most detailed demographic study calculated 791,000–1,141,000 war-related deaths for all of Vietnam. Between 200,000 and 300,000 Cambodians died in the war, along with about 60,000 Laotians and 58,220 U.S. service members.
The idea of fighting the war was sold as “containment”—that stopping the communist Viet Cong by assisting the corrupt regime of South Vietnam would prevent communism from spreading.

There are stark differences between the war in Vietnam and the way we fight wars today, although both were sold as “limited” wars.  At the time we had access to graphic images of the fighting on the evening news and there was a draft which forced discussion of the merits of the fighting at the dinner table.  It’s not like today, where you can go years without seeing a single death and the soldiers fighting our current wars are a distant memory for many.  Out of sight, out of mind.

If President Obama is serious about the dreadful images of dead civilians from Syria, he should take note of the collateral damage he’s caused through his drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, among other countries.