Letters

Readers respond to "'Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President'," by Jessica Kowal, and "Why the Antiwar Left Must Confront Terrorism," by Mark Follman.


Salon Staff
November 20, 2003 8:14AM (UTC)

[Read "'Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President'," by Jessica Kowal.]

If comparing Iraq to Vietnam gets us to a more rational foreign policy or, better yet, gets rid of Bush and his gang, I'm all for it. But the comparisons miss the point and we'd do better to see the current situation in the current global context.

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Iraq is not Vietnam because we are not engaged in a full-blown shooting war with an organized enemy and the casualties in Iraq on both sides are a tiny fraction of those in Vietnam. Most military experts agree that the U.S. lost Vietnam to the North Vietnamese army and not to the Viet Cong. There is simply no analogy to this situation in Iraq.

On the other hand, in many ways, Iraq is actually worse than Vietnam -- especially in terms of the culpability of our leaders. Vietnam happened in the context of the Cold War, which was, in fact, unavoidable. It was a tragic mistake, but one we were gradually drawn into for the best intentions, and it was part of a larger 50-year confrontation with the Soviet Union. The "War on Terror" is nothing like the Cold War. It's an amorphous concept that can be trotted out to justify anything, from holding American citizens without counsel or trial as "enemy combatants" to invading a sovereign nation in defiance of the entire world community. North Vietnam was arguably a part of the Communist Bloc, but Iraq had less to do with terror than Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan or even Indonesia. It's a side trip that only increased the root cause of terror: hatred of U.S. Mideast policy.

In short, the Iraq war is nowhere near Vietnam in terms of death and devastation -- but as a bad idea, it wins hands down.

-- Fred Maslin

I closely associate my thinking about the invasion of Iraq with that of Lt. Caputo, who declared this "war" a fraud. Although I don't consider the invasion of a country that posed virtually no threat to the U.S. a war in the usual sense (i.e., two countries in armed combat over a dispute of some magnitude), therein lies the comparison to Vietnam.

Though I was only a high school/college student during the Vietnam conflict, I could never accept the strange case that if the Commies took South Vietnam, there goes Western civilization. It didn't make sense then, any more than invading Iraq over phony WMD, mushroom cloud B.S., etc., justified our action in Iraq.

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I taught English as a second language for years to immigrants and in the early years of teaching, most of my students were Vietnamese. A more kind, bright, durable people would be hard to find. The horrific stories that quietly spilled out over the years I taught them broke my heart and opened my eyes to the unspeakable, useless evil done in the name of American arrogance and political hubris.

With that in mind, despite the obvious differences between the two conflicts, I see a definite parallel.

-- Victoria Sansbury

I suspect that claiming Bush believes promoting democracy in Iraq will cause it to spread in the Middle East as a whole (a "reverse domino effect") gives the man too much credit. Bush's speeches and statements reflect a far more simplistic worldview, where "freedom" is the virtue of anyone who sides with the U.S., and "the enemies of freedom" are anyone who does not, whether or not they actively oppose the U.S. from a military or guerrilla standpoint. The man thinks in terms of white hats and black hats; our own little cowboy thinks he's battling the forces of Mordor.

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-- Benjamin Kuhner

[Read "Why the Antiwar Left Must Confront Terrorism," by Mark Follman.]

I applaud Amnesty's William Schulz and the long overdue critique of the left, and I hope meaningful discussion of this issue continues. I do disagree with him on one point, however. With Saddam and his closest advisors voicing their appreciation of the peace movement's antiwar efforts -- including Tariq Aziz at his sickening visit to the shrine of St. Francis -- a "stop terrorism" march of 50,000 Amnesty members would be a stunning message indeed to the still deadly Saddam and tyrants the world over.

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-- Patricia Ducey

This enlightening article is about three years overdue, but better late than never. The left, as the article stated, which used to be concerned about human rights, gay rights, women's and children's rights, seems to have forgotten all about them, in its rush to condemn Bush. When the left calls for Israel to back off from defending her citizens, and overlooks the deaths of children on the frontlines as travesties, they need to take a hard look at who and what they are supporting. A country that would use its own children as weapons or human shields should be criticized. Countries that hang homosexuals and drag their bodies through the streets should be criticized. Countries that kill thousands of their own citizens and bury them in mass graves should be criticized.

If Amnesty International is finally waking up to the dangers of terror, it is because they see, finally, that bloodshed for the purpose of jihad is unacceptable -- and that they, like anyone else in the free world, are on the target lists of al-Qaida. We must all realize that this is not a war that can be stopped with verses of "Kumbaya." We need to stand together, and defend the rights of freedom, humanity, democracy and the freedoms we all share.

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-- Allyson Taylor

What the left needs to do is stop letting people on the right, left and middle call it "antiwar." Repeatedly those of us who supported the war in Afghanistan but oppose the war in Iraq are called, "antiwar." This is true regardless of the relative political views of the speaker.

Many of us on the left, in the middle and on the right oppose this war in Iraq for various reasons. It was done without a declaration of war, for one. It was essentially unilateral. It was done preemptively and without provocation.

To oppose a war that is unjust is not to be antiwar, and by allowing others -- and our own -- to call us antiwar, marginalizes us. We become straw men for the administration to kick around. While there are liberals who are vehemently antiwar under all circumstances, the vast majority of us opposing the war in Iraq still believe there can be a just war and would support the right war. But for some reason the press and politicians insist on calling us the liberal antiwar movement. We are essentially being negatively categorized and demonized as unthinking, reactive ideologues.

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Not everyone who opposed the war in Iraq is liberal, with Pat Buchanan being a prime example. But no one talks about the conservative or right-wing antiwar movement. We on the left must assert our positions forcibly and accurately. At the same time, we must not allow ourselves to become such scarecrows.

-- Nathan Rudy

I don't know how accurate Follman's analysis is; I think that the American political left's current policies are much more anti-terrorist than the right's. The problem is that the right seeks to use military intervention to treat the symptoms. It's like scratching at chicken pox -- it's satisfying for a while, but it makes the problem worse. The left tends to want to treat the root causes of terrorism: poverty, lack of education, exploitative labor practices.

But every couple of years or so, the Americans seem to bomb the hell out of Joe Third World. My problem is that the right's measures to "combat" terrorism really increase it. Bush has made three errors that have lead to the worsening of terrorism.

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1) He has failed to find the root causes of terrorism and fix them.
2) He has enacted policies that exacerbate the root causes of terrorism.
3) He has wasted the resources we do have that could fight terrorism in wars that don't have anything to do with terrorism.

The American left, simply by wishing to eliminate the Bush doctrine, seeks to ameliorate the last two of the errors. And the root causes of terrorism can be fixed by a foreign policy that tends not to screw people over, and a much more rigorous policing of multinational mega-corporations. Currently, the U.S. bombs a lot more than it feeds.

The truth is, the "terrorist threat" really came about as a response to the policies of the right ... and if the country were to shift gears, to a left viewpoint, the terrorist problem would be severely lessened. There isn't much we can do to stop al-Qaida. There is a lot we can do to stop Joe Islam from deciding that the best thing he can do in his life is try to blow up some of the people that ruined his.

-- Brian Boyko

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I thought it was absolutely comical how the director of Amnesty International waxes prophetically about the danger of the political left being unable to formulate a policy against terrorism while himself proving unable to do just that during the entire interview. Priceless.

-- David Batlle


Salon Staff

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