Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Fog of Nam and the Media Mist of Iraq

I love military history. Beginning with my trusty Daisy at the age of five, crouched behind a rock wall as arrows zinged overhead, I was entranced by the glory of warfare. As I was galloping to victory on my Shetland pony, Saigon fell. Inevitably, as one matures, the exposure to the less glorious aspects of war chinked away at my young enthusiasm. Especially in my early teens, after viewing the chilling documentaries about the Holocaust. But then curiosity grows to sincere investigation, and one wants to understand more deeply war. Yet, even through my undergraduate days, I avoided Vietnam. At first I didn't understand why, I just knew that something about that war was disjoint.

Most of the formative impressions of my generation's (conceived in the late sixties) view of Vietnam comes from mass media. We have all seen MASH reruns. I remember the pictures on the news as we pulled out of Saigon. Added to this is Hollywood's interpretation with Full Metal Jacket, Born on the Fourth of July, Rambo, even one of the finest movies of all time is here, Apocalypse Now. But what did we learn from this information? A true picture of the war? Did we even get a clear view of what the media felt about the war? Yes, its clear they were against it, but not for any reason driven by salient argumentation.

The deconstruction of the history of the Vietnam war continues on, and will forever be unclear. Why? I believe it is one of the few modern instances where the fog of war drifted beyond the battlefield and permeated throughout our whole country. I have immersed myself in this topic three times in my adult life, and each time I come away with the same conclusion. Yes, there are many lies and political views that were veiled, and those continue to be exposed. But the execution of the war, and the principal motivating that process, quickly becomes obscured in the time-line, and reconstructing the context does little to validate specific actions and policy.

From the purely military perspective it was a betrayal by the political process. Yet even this is not complete. The initial strategic action of sending into the field our modernized Special Forces was probably the one decision that needs no second guess. Even those who disagree with the action, can perceive its intent and in any honest evaluation of the initial results, will find many areas agreeable. To provide education and training to an at risk population and assist them in developing their commerce and security, as well as providing medical care and training, sounds like a modern humanitarian project. Even if the strategic goal of containing communism was not well defined, our Special Forces was the closest thing to practical execution of those goals.

Here is where the difficulties arise, and competing interests distort the definition of success in regards to our national security and the threat of communism in Asia. Once there are US troops on the ground to protect our 'advisors', the outcome of open battle is almost predetermined. With this commitment, the defining of the goal and the communication of the goal become pinnacle hurdles, which we can look back with hindsight and see, were not scaled. Much of the rest we can call history. I won't rehash it, and since the propaganda war is still a open wound, I can not give conclusive opinion without resorting to contentious philosophical viewpoints.

If you seriously do not agree with my assessment, ask ten random people over the age of fifty, whether in the 60's there was a global communist threat. Read a few academic histories of the war, then read a few personal histories of those who served or were involved politically. Then come back and explain in clear detail what the purpose and nature of the conflict was. Even with this sparse exercise, you will not reach a consensus. If the scope of research is expanded, clarity is still not achieved. That is the complete fog of war in action.

Some will bristle at my apparent spreading of the blame for our 'loss' in Vietnam. I intend no such thing. Yes, the media influenced the outcome of that conflict, and did so in a manipulative and systematic way. But the concept of limited engagement is just as complicit in the outcome. Furthermore, the definition of success was unclear. Yes, we could have militarily prevented communism's expansion, yet in that was the threat of possible future engagement of Chinese forces. Could we have created reform in South Vietnam? Probably, but if that was one of the goals, it was reduced in importance quickly in the time-line.

Even these observations will get me in trouble, and cause argument. The specifics do not matter, the principal is evident. So lets move forward a third of a century and see if there are any instructive parallels. Since we began with impressions of a historical war, it would be prudent to ask what is the public's impression of war in general. I believe this has changed for Americans from the visible horrors and shock of the media war during Vietnam, to the expectation in modern times of almost sterile warfare due to our overwhelming military superiority. This is a unfortunate expectation, and I don't mean that in a way where I endorse the increased sacrifice our finest citizens must make. My intention is to show that we no longer have a political connection, a collective will as it regards our actions militarily. The average American (if there is one) does not feel connected in purpose to our institutions of defense and the actions they take.

The majority of us can vote in support of our actions (and did), yet we have a disconnect with the mission. What is very interesting in regards to Iraq is how similar the follow on mission is to the initial Vietnam one. Our whole military is now engaged in a Special Forces type of action. We are training new forces, education doctors and medical personnel, providing security for commerce and government functions. We are facilitating the self sufficiency of an at risk population. In this regard the modern US military is absolutely amazing. Our only weakness is the lack of police forces. However, its doubtful that we would ever try to meet that need, as training and retaining a large contingent of police forces is inefficient, and not the military's commission.

With this perspective we ask why is the public not connected with the goals? Well, the media refuses to acknowledge that goal, and actively propagandizes against it. If one investigates clearly the activities of our forces right now in Iraq, you can come only to the above mission, with the benefit of the continued extermination of some terrorists. But if you form a opinion of the execution of the war based on western media, you get transported back to a contentious reminiscing of the late sixties. Despite the imaginative perception of the western media, the factual parallels end at the mission comparison.

Iraq has no state backed underground army. We have no outside political restriction on our actions. Our military actions are not a 'response' to a foreign threat. Our military efficiency is unimaginably better than thirty years ago. Our finest citizens have all volunteered for service. There is no political chess match perverting the execution of the mission and hobbling the civilian and military leaders of such. The most key ingredients present in the Vietnam conflict which created the confusion are not present in Iraq. And the one ingredient, insurgent propaganda, is so perverse in its goal of Fascist world domination that obviously its not a contributor. But the imaginary propaganda of the western socialist journalist has caused confusion. Just enough confusion to create some doubt in the will of the American people. Fortunately this Media Mist has no corresponding factors of degeneration, and is in no way indicative of the Fog of War.

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