Vietnam Syndrome

good Christopher Hitchens article explains–once again–why Iraq isn’t Vietnam.

A war fought with weapons of indiscriminate slaughter, and accompanied by racist rhetoric, with a conscript Army deployed against a highly evolved revolutionary movement is as different as could possibly be from a campaign of precision-guided munitions, with an all-volunteer Army, directed at the overthrow of a hideous and dangerous tyranny, and then taking the form of a drive for free elections and a constitution. If people say that it’s “reminiscent” of Vietnam, it means they don’t remember Vietnam.


On Sunday night in Milwaukee, asked whether his vote on the war resolution made him feel responsible for American casualties, [Sen. John Kerry] didn’t even rise to the level of waffle. Sen. John Edwards, I thought, distinguished himself again by saying that Kerry’s was “the longest answer I have ever heard to a yes-or-no question.” Edwards went on to volunteer that he did accept responsibility. That’s a bit more like it. Did Kerry think that he wasn’t ever going to be asked? Does he think he isn’t going to be challenged about Vietnam as well? He’s had plenty of time to think about it, so the evasiveness and butt-covering is double-trouble, and multiplying.

There’s something creepy about the Democratic decision to hail the heroes of Vietnam, from Kerry to Clark, and to denigrate the extraordinary effort being made to salvage Iraq and to pursue and kill people who really are, unlike the Viet Cong, the common enemies of humanity. It’s trying too hard, and it’s inauthentic and hypocritical as well as point-missing. It would be as if the Republicans suddenly started talking, as that great veteran Robert Dole once did, about all the conflicts in American history as “Democrat wars.” That didn’t fly, if you recall, though it would have been a fair description of Vietnam.

Steven Taylor has some thoughts on the piece as well.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Scott Harris says:

    There is another difference between Vietnam and Iraq. Namely that the Vietnam war was not about Vietnam, it was about the Cold War with the USSR. And Vietnam can only be understood in context.

    Those who argue that we should have fought it differently may be technically correct from a military point of view. But from a political point of view, expecting a full-out commitment to total war mere months after being on the brink of suicide in the Cuban missile crisis is unrealistic.

    Also, I would argue that the Vietnam war was necessary for the eventual victory of the Cold War. Just as the Battle of Britain was not so much won, as it was survived by the British, we survived the Vietnam war, and ultimately prevailed. Put in the context of the Cold War, Vietnam was certainly the low point, but just as MacArthur came back to defeat the Japanese in WWII, we came back and won that long 40 year war.

    Vietnam veterans should be proud of holding the fort while America figured out how to defeat the enemy. There is no shame in their service.

  2. James Joyner says:


    My dad is a Vietnam veteran and, certainly, the service was honorable for virtually all of the vets.

    Yes, the war was fought in the context of the Cold War although there’s no evidence that it helped win it. Indeed, it made the mistake of assuming that all movements calling themselves “Communist” were part and parcel of the USSR. We won the Cold War because of a superior economic system and because our military contained Soviet expansion. Vietnam had virtually nothing to do with that.

    And our serious involvement in Vietnam was years after the 1961 missile crisis.

  3. Ann says:

    I was in grade school during the Vietnam War, but i know alot of Vets whose lives will never be the same. The Afghanistans as well as the Iraquies see us as meddlesome capitalists, which how many of us can disagree with? Our way of life works for us because that’s the way we have been raised, but here we are trying to force our way of life on millions(at our expense) when their cultural ways are so different from their’s.

  4. Paul says:

    You’re right Ann… The Iraqis are just too stupid to figure out this freedom stuff.

    We should have left the dictator there.

    Freedom is way overrated anyway, it just begets capitalism.