I’ve written before about our president’s poor understanding of history. I’ve noted repeatedly that he will often use a historical reference that not only doesn’t actually support the point he thinks he’s making, but makes the opposite point instead.
But today he’s just gone too far. It actually hurts my brain. It’s not merely egoistic grandiosity anymore, it’s frankly aggressive, abusive treatment. It’s like he is actually trying to damage the minds of anyone who knows their 20th Century American history, or is old enough to have lived through it themselves.
How is it possible to withstand such an elemental force of bizarre rhetoric? How are we, who are limited by a lingering memory of sanity, a habit of believing in consensual reality, and an inability to wake each day and accept that everything we knew previously is wrong, to confront such an assault?
For years, Vietnam has served as the icon of American military failure. In fact, as long as Bush has been talking about invading Iraq, critics have been comparing it to Vietnam as an example of a misguided, strategically questionable, poorly planned, expensive military misadventure, where thousands of lives were lost and billions wasted for no apparent long-term value. So, what did Mr. Bush do today?
He alluded to Vietnam to support his war in Iraq.
No. Really. He did.
Sit down, it’ll begin to pass in a few moments.
Sputtering? Good, good. That’s a sign. You’re recovering. (Some can’t get over the initial catatonic shock and just dissociate.)
‘How?’ ‘Wha?’ Indeed.
The collision of the concepts ‘George W. Bush’ and ‘Vietnam’ might lure you into recalling that Bush avoided service in Vietnam, choosing to defend the skies and bars of Alabama when his generation was called to war. Some particle of an obsolete sense of decency might make you wonder how he could dare to stand before the Veterans of Foreign Wars and make a reference to his own cowardice, and Deferment Dick’s, that way.
But before your mind can fully process that conundrum, it gets buffeted by other absurdities.
Starting at the beginning of his speech, the pummeling begins. Did he really draw an equivalence between the militarists of WWII Japan, the Communists in Korea, the Communists in Vietnam, and “the terrorists who wage war in Iraq and Afhanistan”? Yes, yes he did. Did he actually say that the “lesson of Asia’s development is that the heart’s desire for liberty will not be denied?” Yes. (He does know that North Korea is still in Asia, right? And China? Are you sure?)
Wait, what? He’s seriously suggesting the experiences of two culturally and ethnically homogeneous nations like Japan and Korea, both of whom experienced American troops in completely different contexts, hold an example for what we can expect in diverse Iraq after an unprovoked invasion? Ow. Ow. Ow. Headache!
No. He didn’t just refer to the culturally-sensitive actions of the post-war occupation forces in Japan as an example. He did. He really did. He’s going for it: he’s actually suggesting that the way the US handled Japan and Korea are comparable to the way we handled and are handling Iraq.
Wait, our sticking by South Korea taught the Communists that aggression didn’t pay? (Then what the hell was Vietnam about?)
The mind reels. He is skillful, this Bush. All this about Japan and Korea, how American involvement spread the seeds of liberty and led to the growth of vibrant Asian economies (like China? no. shut up.), it’s just a warm-up, softening the mind for the coup de grace: Vietnam.
— See, there were doubters about Vietnam, just like there are now about Iraq. You know, there were even people way back when who said we should never get involved there in the first place? And there were even people saying we were making things worse, not better. —
Then, just as reasonable minds are about to proceed to the next rational thought “And they were right”, comes the bomb: The “one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.””
Yup. That’s right. The big mistake in Vietnam wasn’t getting into a stupid, pointless war, and staying in it until the American people had finally had all they could stand. The big mistake in Vietnam was ending it. (Just like Iraq presumably. It wasn’t a mistake going in, it hasn’t been a long string of mistakes since, the mistake would be leaving.)
Brilliant. Vietnam, the war he himself wouldn’t fight, is the very war we should have continued to fight, but didn’t. We must not make that mistake again, huh?
Just before you have a moment to think things like “Wait, weren’t the killing fields in Cambodia, which was thrown into chaos by our bombing and incursions before the Khmer Rouge took power?”, there comes yet another blow, perhaps the most brutal, to the very fabric of a rational universe.
There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today’s struggle — those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that “the American people had risen against their government’s war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today.”
His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda’s chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to “the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents.”
Ai-yiii! There it is, our great failure as a nation.
If only our leaders in the 70s had understood that decades later, very bad men would take the lesson that the American people will not continue to support expensive, pointless wars for vague objectives indefinitely! And that they would taunt us after we’d gotten ourselves involved in just such a war!
Then we might have been spared our current fate, doomed to remain engaged in said expensive and pointless war, just to spite them and prove the taunts of the terrorists wrong. The American people will SO support expensive, pointless wars indefinitely! We’ll show YOU, Osama. So there!
— See, if we were to leave Iraq, the terrorists would be emboldened and gain new recruits. (Whereas, if we stay, they are emboldened and gain … oh, never mind.)
So, there you have it.
The lesson of our military involvements in Asia is that the seeds of liberty spread by American military forces grow into thriving economies. And the lesson of Vietnam is that the big mistake is to pull out of the killing too soon, because then lots of local people kill each other instead, and only after is there a thriving economy. And, just as importantly, you get a reputation as a country that’s not really up for years of pointless violence and killing in foreign lands.
Which I guess is a really bad thing, if you want the US to be involved in decades of pointless violence and killing in foreign lands.
Something like that. But he must know, since he’s like, a Vietnam veteran and all, right? Oh, yeah. Hmm.
Just to show he wasn’t at all tired, Bush wrapped up his speech with a claim that we’ve captured more al Qaeda guys in Iraq than there are al Qaeda guys in Iraq, a passage about how people across the Middle East are longing for freedom and to be treated with dignity and respect (which I guess, is why we are supporting a military ruler, several monarchies and ‘democracies’ like Egypt), and a reference to how the Japanese war machine was brought down by men who’d been ordinary folks just months before, (in case you’d forgotten that Japan attacked us, we have no draft and the Iraq war has dragged on longer than the entire war in the Pacific.)
It’s at times like this that I get most demoralized. How can such a raving loon be allowed not just to wander about his ranch in Texas, but to actually hold the reins of power in our country? I can’t take too much more of this. He’s only getting worse.