It’s Samizdata’s Question but I Suspect Behind Many of Our Thoughts This Week

Perry de Havilland at Samizdata is asking for comments on the topic Are we approaching a ‘Tet Offensive Moment’? He asks

Are the political opponents of George Bush, who are advocating cut-and-run in Iraq, about to take the attrition war there (which by any objective measure the USA cannot possibly lose on the battlefield) and turn gradual military advantage into decisive political defeat?

(I thought of putting up a category – “Patriotism” – but figure this is still “Iraq.”) Anyway, I’m not sure whose “political defeat” he means, but do know whose purpose is primarily self-serving.

I swam through the seventies and eighties, immersed in a leftish world (listening to NPR, going to faculty parties). As Huck Finn demonstrates, if all the institutions (the church, the news media, academia) have a unified if deeply flawed value system, not only do we see everything in terms of that system; indeed, it becomes difficult to see anything about it as wrong. We see a bad choice, indeed, we may see sin, where someone more in touch with natural law (a pretty foreign concept to our generation) would see virtue. My generation, or at least some of us, may someday be seen as the rather xenophobic, licentious, and self-indulgent people we were. But we’re still writing the history.

We “knew” as the air we breathed that those whose response to Tet was cutting & running were the good guys; those who wanted to fight it out were the bad ones. And we boomers preferred thinking of ourselves as righteous. The result was an arrogance many still find characteristic of us. So, we’ve never, not really, been called to account for the boat people, the killing fields, the deaths that we left in our wake, returning to the comfortable seventies, the booming eighties and the self-indulgent nineties.

We seem sure we’ll always miss the bullet. But I suspect both my students (irritated at a social security system that seems unlikely to benefit them) and the bin Ladens (who do not see us as quite so righteous) are less likely to find our answers, our solipsism, our self-righteousness attractive. The long tradition and the empowering beliefs that our great institutions have debased and ignored may not, then, be around to protect us. We have been quite swift to utter such banalties as “the terrorists just want to be free” – misunderstanding freedom, what they want, what we believe all in a moment of blinding stupidity, ahistoricism.

To answer de Havilland’s question. I don’t think we are yet ready to recognize our responsibilities to both our tradition and the next generation. We just don’t want to be bothered. So, yes, I think about any damn thing that happens is going to be hailed as “Tet.” Quagmire has lost its impact, it is time to use a new Vietnam metaphor.

But, I pause, I’m writing this. After 9/11, I’ve rethought much of what I believe and have felt alive & responsible and incredibly proud of the tradition I’ve been so lucky to live in. I’ve also found groups of people – at school, at home, on the web – that have far too broad and long a vision to see any resemblance to “Tet” in a battle in a country which is now writing its constitution. Some of us are just speaking out more, others of us have changed. Perhaps more of my generation has than I think. And, then, the answer to de Havilland is, “No,” and it is because in part of military blogs and a fragmented media that now includes Fox and because maybe even we will grow up and we will realize we have to be the grownups.

6 thoughts on “It’s Samizdata’s Question but I Suspect Behind Many of Our Thoughts This Week”

  1. The aftermath of Tet was the result of a cocked up and utterly wrong military and political strategy. Like it or not, the US lost this war on the battlefield. Not because you had a stonger enemy but because the political will was never there to finish this campain quickly and swiftly. As a result the US military did not have the right resources and the right strategy. Remember Brando aka Col. Kurtz? If the US wanted they could sorted it out in the 60’s militarily. He was right.
    In my view, the current situation in Iraq is not at all comparable to that. I don’t think the political will is missing to sort it out. Nor are the military means. The enemy is clever, yes. And so far the response to changed tactics was somwhat slow. (Body armour, unprotected Hummers anyone?) Which is by the way is one of the main reasons for the public getting concerned. Plus the Vice President of course, trying to do something politically what Steve Jobs does for a living, creating a Reality Distortion Field. And failing.
    The Iraq transition is on not on track but heading in the right direction. And I don’t think anybody will try and stop that.

  2. Solipson,

    ” Like it or not, the US lost this war on the battlefield. “

    Well, no. From the military perspective, there were actually two Vietnam wars, one pre-Tet and one post-Tet. The pre-Tet war is the exercise in futility that most people think of as the “The Vietnam War”. Following Tet US strategy and tactics changed radically and became highly successful.

    By 1973, South Vietnam there remained almost no internal enemy forces and they had repelled two major invasion from the north using SV ground forces assisted by US airpower. SV fell to a massive external invasion in 75 because the US cut off all military assistance leaving them with gaping holes in their defense and no means of resupply. Had the US provided even minimal support SV could have survived and prospered.

    I would recommend A Better War and Vietnam:The Necessary War for a more modern, post-Cold War view of the conflict, especially its end stage.

  3. “The aftermath of Tet was the result of a cocked up and utterly wrong military and political strategy. Like it or not, the US lost this war on the battlefield. Not because you had a stonger enemy but because the political will was never there to finish this campain quickly and swiftly. ”

    And why not?

    Because the other side was backed by a nuclear-armed superpower. Our long-term strategy was to (a) keep the other side from spreading its tentacles all over the world while (b) not provoking a nuclear exchange.

    In this campaign, slowly bleeding the other side until they gave up was the right way to go.

    Our biggest mistake was using conscripts to do it. In previous wars, we got away with using conscription because (a) most of the “conscripts” would have volunteered if there were no conscription, (b) opposition had less time to form and organize itself, and (c) people are more disposed to put up with what is clearly a temporary evil than one which is or may be permanent. In a long, slow campaign of attrition, none of these factors are present, and conscription gets us nothing but trouble in the field and more trouble at home.

    People who would have ignored the campaign (and whose participation wasn’t needed to wage it) were personally threatened by it and turned into active opponents. This eventually led to disaster.

  4. Hummers weren’t designed for what they’re being used for. So it took awhile.

    My husband is in mfg. If you want to talk about tolerances required for the ceramics, he’ll be glad to fill anyone in. Plus, weren’t we also providing our allies w/armour?

    There was a great email posted at Rantburg earlier this week about pros and cons of both sides’ weapons.

    Since there’s a lot of cinderblocks on this side of the road, what the vermin are doing now is making their IEDs look like said blocks. We’re only defusing about 40%.

    Once we get a handl on that…….

  5. Well… This is a fair question, considering the Democrats seem very determined to force the matter. This seems odd to me, as setting up the 2006 mid-terms as a “yes” or “no” debate over whether Americans are cowardly hypocrites won’t hurt the GOP and will certainly put a lot of Democrats into a no-win situation.

    The left wing Democrats want the US military out of Iraq yesterday, unconditionally and without any concern for the consequences. They’ll say Tet Tet Tet so much that if there were a Baathist or Iranian assault with heavy US casualties, they’d be hard pressed not to gloat and tell the electorate that Pres. Bush is worse than LBJ and Nixon combined. They don’t seem to like much about “flyover” America. So naturally they’ll rerun the 2002 midterm platform, with more bloggers and less union support.

    The “Blue Dog” Democrats will do everything they can to avoid Party line vote on “unconditional surrender” and retreat from Iraq. These Democrats are from rural, western, and sourthern highland districts, and have managed so far to play both sides. They want the US to stay in Iraq, and supported the war; but they have a lot of complaints over how the Bush admin has handled the whole process (basically the same as McCain). If they vote in favor of a US retreat (if), they’ll try to cut their losses by changing the subject. (they don’t talk about Tet). But Blue Dog Democrats don’t win elections by voting yellow (obscure joke).

    The GOP very badly wants the Democrats to force a up down vote on pulling out of Iraq. They will ask the voters to choose between two future visions of America. Is America the land of cowards and oath breakers? Are Americans a people who offer a sincere hand to former enemies, like Japan and Germany and Iraq? Or does America now betray those ideals we’re trying to honor in Iraq? The Democrats have offered Americans a solution to the problems it faces: run away. Pass the buck. Listen to THE BBC! heh.

    What redeems the Viet Nam generation is the fact that most of you actually WANT to do the right thing, but the vocal minority then shouts nonsense at the majority until you give in. Tet? Quagmire? War of attrition? If the old radicals were any good at recruiting talent they wouldn’t be recycling the same old cold war material.

  6. Ginny,

    I am a boomer also, but a part of the boomer second half (born 1958). I supported the Vietnam War effort (I had an uncle and a brother-in-law in it). I always thought that the elite (LA/San Fran/New York) early boomers were the ones with the self-righteous anti-war, leftist/communist sympathizing ideologues were the ones that pushed the cut and run policy after Watergate crippled President Nixon. We did not lose the Vietnam war on the ground. We lost it in Washington, even though the far-left candidate McGovern lost in a landslide.

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