The Western left’s criticism of Israel’s role in Middle East conflict has long since become so bizarrely lopsided and vicious that many non-leftists have concluded that only antisemitism can explain it.
The left makes sure that every real and imagined military misstep on Israel’s part becomes international news, while ignoring the intentionally brutal attacks of Israel’s enemies against both Israel and their own people. The left contends that democratic, relatively multicultural Israel ultimately makes the evil decisions that drive the conflict and not the autocratic regimes attacking Israel. The left claims that the conflict can end only when Israel reforms, gives up or even disappears. The left requires almost no concrete action towards peace on the part of Israel’s enemies while demanding that Israel take concrete actions merely to get the enemies to even begin to think about negotiating.
Such extreme and thoughtless imbalance in the face of objective facts is one of the hallmarks of bigotry but I don’t think antisemitism drives the left’s stance on Israel. Instead, I think the mindless criticism a kind of intellectual mass hysteria that creates a delusional narrative so encompassing and so immersive that leftists begin to see it as unquestionable truth.
In short, the left is trapped in an immersive story in which Israel is the villain. Any fact that disrupts the “plot” gets edited out of the narrative.
That might sound overwrought but we have seen a mass delusional narrative before…
… the Vietnam era “peace” movement.
Before going further, I would note that there was a lot of debate over the wisdom of the war and its conduct across the American political spectrum that had nothing to do with the “peace” movement. Those people had practical concerns that the “eace” movement did not share.
We can define the “peace” movement as the leftmost 30% or so of the era’s American political spectrum. In even more left-leaning Europe, the percentage was much higher. It comprised the majority of the West’s academics, artists, journalists and mass-media figures. Most of the people in the “peace” movement had above-average educations and worked in fields that should have, in theory, provided them with a superior understanding of the reality of the conflict.
So, why can we confidently assert that the left they fell into the mass-hysteria-like delusional narrative? Simple: Every major assertion made by the “peace” movement about the conflict eventually proved completely wrong.
In reading the following, remember that we now have the advantage of 40 years of hindsight and that the end of the Cold War has allowed us to see conclusive evidence formerly hidden within communist states. Today, we know exactly what happened in the war and we know that the “peace” movement had every major fact wrong.
I’ll cover just the more egregious delusions that formed the main arguments of the “peace” movement. I feel it’s fair to label them “delusions” and not just “mistakes” because these where not the kinds of errors that resulted from incomplete information. Indeed, at the time, those opposed to the “peace” movement did have a correct model of the conflict, based on public information. Instead, believing with iron certainty any or all of the “peace” movement’s claims required individuals and groups to actively distort their own reasoning, to “talk themselves into it” in order to create a narrative they could convince themselves was correct. That is a process akin to someone who convinces himself that the mother ship will pick him up any day now.
Delusion: The war in South Vietnam was a popular uprising against an unpopular minority government
Reality: The outcome of the Tet offensive proved this idea conclusively wrong.
Delusion: Ho Chi Min was really just a non-ideological Vietnamese nationalist who was driven to seek support from the communist superpowers by the ignorance and racism of America and France.
Reality: This myth is so ridiculous it is almost gigglingly funny. It is difficult to imagine how Ho Chi Min’s life story could have more marked him as a doctrinaire communist.
Delusion:The Tet Offensive proved the US military had lied about the strength and scale of support in South Vietnam for the Viet Cong.
Reality: The Tet Offensive achieved surprise for the same reason Hitler’s offensive in the Battle of Bulge achieved surprise: The plan was based on a delusional narrative and had no chance of success.
Delusion: There were no North Vietnamese army units operating in either South Vietnam or Cambodia.
Reality: Post-Tet major combat was carried out by North Vietnamese regulars.
Delusion: The US “expanded” the war into Cambodia in 1970 and did so “illegally”.
Reality: The US had both the strategic need and the legal authority to pursue the North Vietnamese into Cambodia.
Delusion: The war was fought on the Vietnamese side by militarily outmatched but plucky and determined peasant soldiers who fought with no significant support or direction from the communist superpowers.
Reality: The support of the Soviet Union and Mao’s China was massive and decisive.
Delusion: American soldiers were routinely committing wide-scale atrocities in the conduct of the war.
Reality: There was no pattern of wide-spread atrocities or war crimes.
Delusion: The deafening silence on the nature of communist regimes on the other side of the conflict.
Reality: The nature and intentions of all of the communist regimes involved in the conflict dictated everything about the war. The “peace” movement actively ignored that information.
Delusion:The “peace” movement brought about peace.
Reality: This is the most tragic delusion of all. It is the reason I have been putting “peace” in quotation marks.
There are many other less-well-known delusional assertions made by the “peace” movement about the war, but these will suffice to prove my point.
The comparisons between the views held by the left on Vietnam and their views on the contemporary conflict surrounding Israel are obvious.
As with Vietnam, leftists today claim that Israel acts out of imperialism, racism and colonialism. As with Vietnam leftists today completely ignore the nature or intentions of the regimes and groups attacking Israel. Most leftists have no clue about the Nazi history and ideology of the Baathist regimes of Syria, Jordan, Egypt and (formally) Iraq. They know nothing of the regimes’ need to maintain Israel as an external enemy in order to maintain their own rule. As with Vietnam, they view the nature and intentions of the opposing actors as irrelevant because the primary driver for the conflict is the internal failings of Israel.
As with Vietnam, leftists accuse Israel of routinely and intentionally committing war crimes, while the immediately obvious and overt routine and intentional war crimes — e.g., suicide bombings aimed at civilians — of Israel’s attackers are relentlessly downplayed into insignificance. As with Vietnam, all claims of war crimes made by Israel’s enemies are taken as true without independent confirmation. As with Vietnam, all accidental deaths, even those clearly orchestrated by Israel’s enemies, are blamed on Israel’s disdain for human life. As with Vietnam, any real Israeli war crimes brought to light, even those brought to light by the Israelis themselves, are proclaimed to be merely the tip of an aiceberg instead of outliers.
As with Vietnam, the delusional narrative used by the left originates primarily from the propaganda of the non-democratic actors. All the delusions of the “peace” movement in Vietnam came first from communists, usually transmitted via Europe and then mindlessly accepted by leftists in America. The left in America swallowed communist propaganda as mechanically as a python engulfing a pig. Likewise, the left today will swallow any accusation against Israel.
As with Vietnam, as the increasing intensity of the narrative progressively cast Israel itself as becoming more extreme and evil, the narrative justifies increasingly harsh action towards Israel by anyone in response. Just as the delusional narrative about Vietnam eventually created domestic terrorism and violence in America, the delusional narrative about Israel will eventually drive Western leftists themselves to commit acts of violence and terrorism against Israel.
It is not just Israel that is in danger. The left’s susceptibility to delusional narrative makes them dangerously easy to control. Having surrendered their intellectual discipline in order to play heroic characters in a fantasy narrative, they are helpless to resist any propaganda created to mesh with the narrative. This makes it easy for almost any autocrat anywhere to induce the left to serve their interest.
Because the narratives in both Vietnam and Israel are clearly delusional, they both must be epiphenomena of some hidden dynamic of the subculture of the left. After all, the exact same pattern applies to the opposition of the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, the liberation of Iraq, the ongoing war in Afghanistan and, really, every conflict between any liberal democracy and any autocracy.
Why leftists in mass repeatedly fall into the same pattern of delusional narratives goes beyond the scope of this post. What is important is the fact that they do, and that therefore you can’t actually argue with them using facts or concepts that leftists don’t believe fit within the narrative. Doing so is as jarring to them as would be writing a cowboy character into Hamlet. They just put down the “book” in disgust and leave the conversation.
Instead of arguing with leftists about Israel, using facts they will ignore or transmogrify to fit the narrative, instead argue against their use of the narrative itself. Drive home the point that leftists keep to a “script” that just has the names changed in order to fit any particular circumstance. Hammer on the parallels between the Vietnam narrative, which we now can prove was delusional, and the narrative about Israel or other conflicts.
Every time you find yourself in a discussion or debate with leftists about Israel, bring up the obvious parallels between the current narrative and the failed narrative of Vietnam. Point out that the same people who fell for communist propaganda then, fall for similar propaganda now. Point out that the evils assigned to America then, such as war crimes, are the same as the evils assigned to Israel today. Point out that the poor quality of the evidence accepted against America then is the same quality of evidence accepted against Israel now. Point out that just as the left ignored the internal natures and dangers of the communists back then, the left ignores the internal natures and dangers of the groups and regimes opposing Israel now.
Most importantly, remind them that their “victory” back then lead to incredible bloodshed and oppression. Then pray to all gods and fates that this time, even though we have started with the same delusional narrative, we can “write” a different ending.
16 thoughts on “Vietnam, Israel and the Left’s Delusional Narratives”
At the heart of the left’s animosity toward America and its traditional values, which included a romantic urge to help other people to fight off aggressive actions by unsavory neighbors, is a rejection of parents. I really think it is a phenomenon of the Baby Boom generation which is still attempting to reproduce itself with college students today. It is a sort of disdain for the bourgeois life style of the 1950s parents who were so happy to be living in an era of peace and plenty. A lot of the men were living the dream they had thought about when friends were being killed in combat. “Bought the farm” was a euphemism for someone being killed but where did that come from ?
The women, contrary to feminist propaganda, were happily raising children and were not obliged to work outside the home, although many like my mother did so. She went back to work in 1951 when I was in 8th grade and my sister was in 5th. We could fend for ourselves pretty well, plus we had a nanny. Every family on our block had either a nanny or a laundress. Everyone was middle class but that was what middle class was like then. People bought houses without mortgages or paid them off as soon as they could. There were no credit cards until Diners Club came along. Women had little metal “charge plates” for department stores but that was as far as it went.
Children who grew up late in that era, ten years younger than I am, came to despise that life their parents had and many came to despise their parents. I have a suspicion, but no proof, that the more prosperous the parent, the less regard the child had for them. Some of this came from the sense that there were no dangers except that of the Cold War. Korea was controversial but it didn’t stir up the animosity that Vietnam did. The Baby Boomers were still babies. When they came to college age, suddenly there was a real threat to their lives of ease and comfort. The Draft.
The ending of the Draft ended the protests like turning off a switch. I also have hopes, even though I won’t be here to see it, that the passing finally, of the Baby Boom generation will close this sorry chapter of American life. For one thing, the generation to come will not have the life of ease and comfort that the 1950 parents provided. One hopes that these changes will prevent another spoiled and disruptive generation of children coming to maturity ungrateful for the lives their parents provided.
This is not the whole story as the Civil Rights movement also played a large role and may have contributed to the children’s contempt for their parents. My point is just that this all seems grounded in contempt. Israel is an island of bourgeois values in a sea of medieval thought and behavior. The left hates and has contempt for those values, where ever they may be found. Of course, they do not object to privately enjoying them. Private behavior is another matter.
I would agree with a lot of that. Certainly, the weird self-absorbtion and sense of personal entitlement of the boomers certainly contributed. I think the sexual revolution was a big attraction and people felt they had to dress up their rejection of traditional sexual mores in lofty terms of remaking the world into a just place.
However, I think the narrative actually arises primarily from another source. I will cover that in a future post.
Certainly, but couldn’t many similar points be made about the Spanish Civil War?
Not saying that anything you write about Vietnam is wrong, it’s all spot n and in toto a great piece of work.
Just that even before Vietnam, there was precedent in Spain 1935-39. It is somewhat obscured because Franco and the Phalange were backed by Mussolini and esp. Hitler, so any criticism of teh Left gats miscast as support for Naziism, but otherwise the Left overlooking anything on the Republican/Red side that didn’t fit the approved narrative was really similar.
Parallels with the early part of WW2, pre-Barbarossa, as well.
General conclusion, there were and are plenty of useful idiots who care not a bit for consistency or facts, let alone freedom or justice or human dignity, as long as someone will tell them today’s approved enemies and friends.
Anti-Semitism and Leftism are not random uncoordinated variables. Anti-semitism was called the socialism of fools. Since only fools are socialists anymore, most of them are anti-semites.
Anti-Semitism and Leftism are not random uncoordinated variables.
I don’t think so. Anti-Semites must identify with and care about another group enough that they can rationalize jewish people as a threat of some kind. I think most leftists today are to self-absorbed to care about a group that way. There are exceptions I think but it is not the rule.
The current issue of The London Review has an article on the novel ‘Matterhorn’ which discusses the current battle to control the narrative of the Vietnam War historiography. One thread follows the various notions that the war was never winnable. Another raises an analogy with the “Stabbed In The Back’ view which officers in the German Army articulated following the First World War, claiming that the Army had not been defeated and blaming socialist government ministers for the dreadful outcome of the Versailles conference. The argument over the Vietnam narrative will surely continue for decades.
And what percent of Jewish voters voted for Obama? The mind boggles.
Maybe they voted for him because of his Yiddish putziness. The really sexy Jews are not raving liberals, imho.
The argument over the Vietnam narrative will surely continue for decades.
Oh, I agree. I’m just interested in specific claims of fact made at the time that turned out to be true. By fact, I mean such-and-such troops were at a particular place at a particular time.
Shannon, You do a great job in analysis. However, I have a bone to pick about your use of “too” and “to”. “Too” means to a greater degree or excess (as in “too much”) or it may mean also (as in “she went too”). “To” means movement toward (as in “he went to the store”). A quick memory device for me is the word “toward” only contains one “o”, so my thought governs “to=toward” and it is left for “too” to mean excess or also. (Even in my explanation I used “to” in to mean ie. toward meaning…) Hope this helps.
Once again your analysises are fun to read because you put so much thought into them and I am sure you could write a really good history book. However, my mind skips a thread or two when it skirmishes over the misused too’s and to’s.
The Vietnam war analyses may split into three narratives. One is Harry Summers’ as shown in “On Strategy,” that we could have won the conventional war. The second is, for lack of a better term, the Petraeus strategy, in which the British were able to separate the people from the insurgents in Malaya and tried to convince the Americans to use a similar approach. Abrams began to adopt that approach but far too late. The third is that it was never winnable.
My personal opinion is that it was decisively lost in the US and a corollary is that you can’t fight unconventional wars with conscript armies. Korea was a warning that US citizens won’t accept high casualties except when very highly motivated. Even the Civil War might have been lost if Sherman had not taken Atlanta right before the 1864 election. We were actually winning in Vietnam when we had only Special Forces there.
“Analyses,” not to be too anal about it :}
Better if I had written clumped or gathered than split. Analyses is correct, I think.
Sorry, about the grammatical errors. I am horrible at proofreading my own writing. Strangely, I’m very good at editing other people’s work.
The Vietnam war was not “winnable” in the sense of WWII because the actual aggressors where in China and the Soviet Union underneath a nuclear umbrella. The Korean war, after all, is technically still on and hardly a year has gone buy without some lethal attack from North Korea against the South.
We could have “won” the war in Vietnam the same way by keeping South Vietnam and Cambodia free of communism. In fact, we had pretty much accomplished just that by 1973. South Vietnam had stabilized to the point they could mostly fight their own ground war. In fact in early 1974, the North Vietnamese invaded, the South Vietnamese ground forces pinned them and American air power pounded them to pieces. Then the North Vietnamese simply waited for Tom Harkin and Ted Kennedy to pass through bills block any and all military or civil aid to South Vietnam. It was that betrayal and abandonment that killed them. They couldn’t stand against the Soviet Union and China on their own. Had we hung out South Korea the same way, the North would have won there as well.
Frankly, I think the “Peace” movement the worst thing any group of Americans has done since the civil war.
I agree about Tom Harkin and Ted Kennedy, which is why I think conscript armies are not useful in these asymmetric wars that we will be fighting for the next 50 years if not the rest of the century. It is a shame that Obama canceled the advanced combat systems that were being developed for even smaller infantry units in such wars. Like the B 1 bomber, it will be resurrected by the next serious president. Had the draft not fueled the furor over the war, the Democrats would not have been able to force abandonment of an ally.
The coup taking out Richard Nixon was another large part of the story. We could almost as easily say that Mark Felt lost Vietnam. It’s too bad that Nixon left himself open to the attack. Ironically, I think it was his compassion for “his boys” that led him to his nemesis.
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