There is a word missing in most of the
coverage of Iraq. It's a ghost-laden word that conjures up
distressing memories that Washington and most of our media prefer to
keep in that proverbial "lock box," hidden away in dusty archives
and footage libraries,
The word is Vietnam.
Its absence was never more noticeable than in the coverage this
past weekend of the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam war, marked in
Vietnam with celebrations, but largely ignored in America where CNN
led with the story of a bride who went missing when she had second
Is this denial or is it deliberate? Just this past month, the
national Smithsonian Museum of American History installed a new
patriotically correct permanent war-positive exhibition, "The Price
of Freedom: Americans at War."
If you want to know about the pain of the war offical America
wants you to forget, you have to head a few blocks south on the mall
in Washington to the Vietnam memorial with its nearly 60,000 names
engraved in black marble. That's where you will see the tears of
visitors every day and their lingering memories three decades later.
While American media outlets avoid any parallels--with pundits
insisting that none exist---overseas some see what many of us don't
or won't. A BBC story by Matt Frei reports, "Thirty years after the
end of the war, Vietnam continues to divide and haunt America far
more than the country that lost 50 times as many people."
His is one of few Vietnam reports that references Iran even
though the Iraq connection is buried in the last paragraph, an
association even the journalist seems uncomfortable with:
"Iraq is far from becoming another Vietnam. But today the ghosts
of the jungle are busy getting resurrected in the sands around
What are those ghosts? And why do they deserve more than media
burial in the jungles of Asia or the sands of Iraq?
Here are some of the largely ignored parallels:
l. Both wars were illegal acts of pre-emptive aggression
unsanctioned by international law or world opinion. Earlier, U.S.
interventions involved successive US administrations. JFK's CIA
helped put Saddam in power, Reagan armed him to fight Iran. George
Bush, 41 led the first Gulf War against him. Clinton tightened
sanctions. George Bush, 43 invaded again. Five
Administrations--Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford fought
2. Both wars were launched with deception. In Iraq it was the now
proven phony WMD threat and contrived Saddam-Osama connection. In
Vietnam, it was the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident and the
elections mandated by the Geneva agreement that were canceled by
Washington in l956 when the US feared Ho Chi Minh would win.
3. The government lied regularly in both wars. Back then, the
lies were pronounced a "credibility gap." Today, they are considered
acceptable "information warfare." In Saigon military briefers
conducted discredited "5 O'Clock Follies" press conferences. In this
war, the Pentagon spoon-fed info at a Hollywood style briefing
center in Doha.
4. The US press was initially an enthusiastic cheerleader in both
wars. When Vietnam protest grew and the war seen as a lost cause,
the media frame changed. In Iraq today most of the media is trapped
in hotel rooms. Only one side is covered now whereas in Vietnam,
there was more reporting occasionally from the other. In Vietnam,
the accent was on progress and "turned corners." The same is true in
5. In both wars, prisoners were abused. In South Vietnam,
thousands of captives were tortured in what were the called "tiger
cages." Vietnamese POWs were often killed; In North Vietnam, some US
POWs were abused after bombing civilians. In Iraq, POWs on both
sides were also mistreated. It was US soldiers that first leaked
major war crimes and abuses. In Vietnam, Ron Ridenour disclosed the
My Lai Massacre. In Iraq, it was a soldier who first told
investigators about the torture in Abu Ghraib prison. (Seymour Hersh
the reporter who exposed My-Lai in Vietnam later exposed illegal
abuses in Iraq.)
6. Illegal weapons were "deployed" in both wars. The US dropped
napalm, used cluster bombs against civilians and sprayed toxic agent
orange in Vietnam. Cluster bombs and updated Mark 77 napalm-like
firebombs were dropped on Iraqis. Depleted uranium was added to the
arsenal of prohibited weapons in Iraq.
7. Both wars claimed to be about promoting democracy. Vietnam
staged elections and saw a succession of governments controlled by
the US. come and go. Iraq has had one election so far in which most
voters say they were casting ballots primarily to get the US to
leave. The US has stage-managed Iraq's interim government. Exiles
were brought back and put in power. Vietnam's Diem came from New
Jersey, Iraq's Allawi from Britain.
8. Both wars claimed to be about noble international goals.
Vietnam was pictured as a crusade against aggressive communism and
falling dominos. Iraq was sold as a front in a global war on
terrorism. Neither claim proved true.
9. An imperial drive for resource control and markets helped
drive both interventions. Vietnam had rubber and manganese and rare
minerals. Iraq has oil. In both wars, any economic agenda was
officially denied and ignored by most media outlets.
10. Both wars took place in countries with cultures we never
understood or spoke the language, Both involved "insurgents" whose
military prowess was underestimated and misrepresented. In Vietnam,
we called the "enemy" communists; in Iraq we call them foreign
terrorists. (Soldiers had their own terms, "gooks" in Vietnam, "ragheads"
in Iraq) In both counties, they was in fact an indigenous resistance
that enjoyed popular support. (Both targeted and brutalized people
they considered collaborators with the invaders just as our own
Revolution went after Americans who backed the British.) In both
wars, as in all wars, innocent civilians died in droves.
11. In both countries the US promised to help rebuild the damages
caused by US bombing. In Vietnam, a $2 Billion presidential
reconstruction pledge was not honored. In Iraq, the electricity and
other services are still out in many areas. In both wars US
companies and suppliers have profited handsomely; Brown &Root in
Vietnam; Halliburton in Iraq, to cite but two.
12. In Vietnam, the Pentagon's counter-insurgency effort failed
to "pacify" the countryside even with a half a million US soldiers
"in country." The insurgency in Iraq is growing despite the best
efforts of US soldiers. More have died since President Bush
proclaimed "mission accomplished" than during the invasion.
The Vietnamese forced the US into negotiations for the Paris
Peace Agreement. When the agreement was continually violated, they
brilliantly staged a final offensive that surprised and routed a
superior million-man Saigon Army. Can the Iraqi resistance do the
The BBC is wondering too, reminding us, "As the casualties
mounted so did the questions about how much a threat the Vietcong
could really pose. Today another pre-emptive war against an enemy
far from home has posed similar questions."
As the insurgency in Iraq escalates and continues to seize the
initiative with the capacity to attack where and when it wants, is
it unthinkable to suspect that another April 30th campaign of the
kind that "liberated" Saigon is possible in Baghdad?
We have already seen "the fall" of Baghdad. Can it "fall" again?
Of course not!
Repeat after me. We are winning.
Democracy is on the march.
News Dissector Danny Schechter, editor of
Mediachannel.org, reported from Vietnam in 1974 and 1997. His
latest film is WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception) on the media coverage
of the Iraq war. (www.wmdthefilm.com)