OP-EDS

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October 5, 2001

This could be a war not won

Late during orientation week, I got in an argument with a student whom I assumed to be a first-year. I never saw what he looked like — we chatted from opposite sides of the divider in the RSO lab in the Reynolds Club basement. Despite not seeing the face of my interlocutor, I think an approximate transcript of our conversation makes a good starting point for an opinion article (all quotations are approximate, as I am taking this from memory).

Begin:

Other guy: The Afghans are scared of us, we're going to bomb them to bits.

Me: They weren't scared of the Russians.

Other guy: Well they have more reason to be afraid of us.

Me: The Vietnamese weren't afraid of us either, and they won.

O.G.: The United States won every engagement in Vietnam.

Me: (dubious) But it still lost. It had to pull out without accomplishing its goal, containing Communism, and therefore lost.

O.G.: We didn't lose. The United States won every military engagement against the rebel South Vietnamese. The North rolled in once the U.S. pulled out; it was a political loss caused by resistance at home, not by the military.

Me: But... [at this point the guy on the other side of the divider left]

I'd like to use the rest of my space to fill in my rejoinder in hopes that the person here quoted (however loosely) might read it. To say Vietnam was not a military loss is ridiculous. One cannot arbitrarily divide military actions from political ones in this way and retain any meaning (viz In what sense could the Vietnam war be considered a U.S. victory?). After all, Baron von Klausewitz said that war is simply politics prosecuted by other means. The U.S. did outclass Vietnam in military might, and most of the casualties were suffered by the Vietnamese side. The numbers I usually hear are 50,000 against ~2 million (most of these civilians — a condition that an Afghan war would be likely to share), with 50,000 more suicides by American veterans in the war's wake. But widening the war would have brought the open intervention of China, which the U.S. could not deal with, as shown in the Korean War. Moreover, the government faced a larger and larger resistance movement, which was breaking out into open urban insurrection in the late period of the war. Furthermore, the military's morale and discipline were under extreme distress — sabotage of naval ships, a race/peace riot on the carrier Constellation which removed the ship from the theater for weeks, rampant drug use, and a large number of fraggings (anonymous “accidental" or purposeful killings of superior officers) all pointed to this. Expanding the war would have exacerbated all of these problems. If the U.S. government could not defeat the Viet Cong within the constraints placed on it by popular discontent and larger geopolitics, ignoring those restraints would have made the situation even worse (at least in the eyes of the conservative-minded).

Now what relevance does all this have for us today? The answer is obvious — the population of this country can resist the government in its wars, and is aware that many of these serve no purpose aside from maintaining the control of the American ruling class. With the possibility of a war in the Middle East, we should remember that we don't have to let it happen. That the people in this country can, if they have the will to do it, resist this country's will to slaughter innocents (a will which certainly exists, if the 500,000 dead Iraqi children of the past decade are any evidence). Make no mistake, the U.S. can lose.