Vietnam as Metaphor

In a recent post I argued against the utility of history on the basis that history is not an objective search for testable hypothesis, but rather a reenactment of current struggles using past events as the medium of expression. Yet this point seems to be reflected in our current discussion of the past and its application to the situation in Iraq.

In a recent online discussion of the War in Iraq we find 93 references to Vietnam. In fact, Vietnam was refereed to more than five times as much as the 1991 Gulf War, the Boer War, the Spanish-American War, Yugoslavia, Somalia, South Africa, Chad, Sudan, El Salvador, Malaysia, Oman, Algeria and Lebanon put together. Vietnam and World War II make up close to 70% of all the historical references, more than two thirds, of all the references to any conflict in recorded history. I don’t think it is because of the similarity of technology, forces, landscape or tactics. These two conflicts represent more than just a series of events or a strategic doctrine. These conflicts are important semiotics for understanding our role and expression of approval or disapproval of the war. World War II is the sign for a just war against a clearly evil enemy followed by total social transformation for the better. Vietnam is a sign for morally questionable or at least ambiguous motives, misdirected or misunderstood strategy and failure of performance or will to succeed.

In 2003 and 2004, we saw far more references to World War II in the media, expressing approval and confidence. Now, as the struggle has gone on for four years with no end in sight and great uncertainty about the outcome, references to Vietnam dominate. While conflicts in Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan, Chad, Yugoslavia and the Boer War all have insights to contribute to our understanding of the current conflict, they do not carry the social and political significance to Americans that Vietnam and World War II do. As a result it is hard to not talk about them.


~ by severalfourmany on October 26, 2007.

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