Sunday, March 20, 2005[posted by jaed at 7:12 PM]
Vietnam: the defeatless defeat
I've thought before that one of the reasons for the sense of unreality that shimmers off the Left when it's characterizing Iraq as a sandy "quagmire", and demanding "American troops out now!", is that neither it nor America ever faced any consequences for bugging out of Vietnam.
Sure, the pictures of desperate people trying to get into the last helicopters were troubling, and the killing fields in Cambodia weren't any secret, and everyone's heard that the Vietnamese had a bad time... but somehow they have been mentally disconnected from our actions. We abandoned these people to their fate because we were sick of political wrangling, but there's not even a sense of national shame over that.
Defeat in Vietnam had no real effect on us. Our people were not killed. Our cities were not destroyed. No one offered us the choice of communism or the sword. We never had to face the reality of defeat by a merciless enemy. We just... quietly slunk away, and left the Vietnamese to face the results.
We never had to pay for what we did.
Is it strange if many of us think we can do it again in the Middle East without paying for it? Is it really that incomprehensible that people don't recognize the consequences of losing this war? Their model for "losing a war" is Vietnam, and that had no real consequences for us.
That's why the Vietnam protests, and their heirs in this decade, have such a disconnected feel about them. They're not contemplating the possibility of defeat. When America is defeated in war, the only result is a little embarrassment. America feels bad for a decade or so. The consequences of defeat - the massacres, the death camps, the loss of sovereignty, the loss of the common person's freedom - these things happen to someone else. Then, the Vietnamese and Cambodians. Here, these things will happen to the Iraqis and Afghans, not to mention the emerging Iranian and Arab democrats. They'll be crushed. But we won't have to think about it too much.
Until the real consequences, this time, break over our heads, years or decades later.