Although the Vietnam War and the war against Iraq are taking place 30 years apart from one another, many people have been drawing comparisons between them. Motivations for the two conflicts differ, however there are still some actions and themes that reveal similarities.
David Horowitz, a professor of history at Portland State University said, “I think that Vietnam is substantially different than the Iraq war.” In Vietnam, “the U.S. had no intrinsic interest, except as a test case,” he said. In Iraq it is in the “context of reshaping a dangerous region.”
With this said, Horowitz also found that they weren’t totally separate. He stated: “In both cases, a democratic alternative was talked about.”
Horowitz has publicly spoken about the recent protest against the war in Iraq. He believes that there is too much pacifism and abstractness in the protest. He thinks that unlike Vietnam, the protestors are not saying no war this time around, but no war ever.
Cynthia Luther, an international-student adviser, feels strongly that the United States should not be in Iraq. “Our original intentions were clear and have become cloudy,” she said. She also said, “I don’t think it will go on as long as Vietnam, and I don’t think the people will stand for it.”
Luther has been in the company of many Middle Eastern students in the past couple years and said, “After 9/11, Middle Eastern students were very hesitant to come out.” However, she has noticed that they are more and more willing to speak up with their opinions, and she encourages them to do so.
Luther believes that the United States never got a clear picture of Vietnamese culture, and the same is true for Iraqis. She feels that the American people have no background on issues, such as why women wear veils; that they lack information; and that they hold a general assumption that the Iraqis were behind Hussein.
When asked about parallels between the protests, Luther said, “Iraq is a flip of Vietnam.” Protest against the Iraqi conflict started before the war, whereas in the case of Vietnam, protesting was a gradual process. Luther pointed out that protests have died down lately and said, “I’m kind of surprised students aren’t outraged.”
John Damis, a political science professor, was a college student during the Vietnam War. With his firsthand knowledge, he said, “The differences are much greater then the similarities at this point.”
Damis said that the United States is meeting challenges of the war in different ways. “There is a very different dynamic at work,” he said. “In Vietnam, the enemy had enormous amounts of manpower.” Damis sees that it is not the same situation in Iraq and that there is a “real kind of deadline President Bush has.”
Damis says that this topic has come up during classes he has taught and finds that students are mostly against government policy, past and present.
Mel Gurtov, also a political science professor, takes a different view and said, “There are obviously similarities, but it is important not to get trapped into thinking that Iraq will be another Vietnam.” Gurtov found that there are many comparisons to be made but also “hopes we are a long way from another Vietnam.”
Gurtov, like Horowitz, is also unclear on what the anti-war movement hopes to accomplish. “The extraordinary depth of the peace movement of the ’60s is absent today,” he said. “There is no peace movement. The problem is everyone agrees a tyrannical government was overthrown, and this puts a damper on people’s willingness to protest.”
Gurtov believes that the moral aspect of the Vietnam War has come to light more and more in the past few years and this will hopefully prevent it from occurring again.
“The parallels are there, and as long as the occupation goes on, the resistance is likely to go on,” he said.
Professor of urban studies Gerald Sussman takes a different view when contrasting the two wars. From 1945 to 1954, Vietnam fought in the Indochina War against the French to win their freedom. “The U.S. stepped into a colonial situation and chose to exercise a more unilateral position in Vietnam,” he said. Sussman believes the United States was also looked at as the same type of threat as the French.
“The U.S. couldn’t build any legitimacy because it was perceived as an aggressive colonial power,” he said.
During the Vietnam War, the term “quagmire” was used quite frequently to make an analogy to accidentally walking into a type of mud-like marsh that one gets stuck in. Sussman said, “I think it was used incorrectly.” He believes that it wasn’t out of ignorance that they entered Vietnam and that the United States had a history of intervention in the Third World.
Sussman says that both wars affected public opinion and re-election. “Presidents cannot engage in unpopular wars if they want to get re-elected,” he said. He feels that it is not just the war that affected or is affecting their re-election, but other issues. In Nixon’s case, there was Watergate, and in Bush’s there is the stagnation of the economy.
Sussman also saw a parallel between the change that takes place in soldiers who have to fight in the wars. “I have a sense that the same demoralization is starting to affect troops in Iraq (as it did in Vietnam),” he said.
Jon Mandaville, a history professor, believes it is too early to say whether Iraq is another Vietnam, but he does see it as a quagmire.
Mandaville contrasted former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Bush, and said that Johnson had less of a clearly articulated foreign policy than Bush does. He also sees that the cultural gap between the United States and countries is not getting any smaller. He explained that not very many soldiers are taught Arabic and many military personel don’t know much of anything about the people they are fighting against.
“We never enlarged the civil affairs,” he said. Mandaville also pointed out that the United States has rewritten Iraqi textbooks. “They will learn nothing but good things about the U.S.,” he said.
He does not see Iraq lasting as long as Vietnam, but believes that Iraq is “a country divided.”