Badtux the Snarky Penguin

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a penguin.

Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Dolchstosslegende, Vietnam, and Iraq

The word Dolchstosslegende in German roughly translates to "stab-in-the-back myth". This originated amongst the right-wing generals and aristocrats of Germany in the years after WWI to explain their loss of the war. As they were fond of pointing out, at the time the Armistice was signed, Russia had been defeated and there were still German soldiers on French and Dutch soil. It was the leftists -- the Communists, the socialists, the labor unionists, etc. -- who literally "stabbed the nation in the back" and signed the humiliating Treaty of Versailles and lost the war for Germany.

When the last helicopter lifted off the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, shortly followed by Pol Pot's final takeover of Cambodia, the same basic dynamic came into play. We were winning when we left, the right wingers said. It wasn't the Communists who defeated us in Indochina. It was the leftists -- the socialists, the labor unionists, dirty unwashed hippies, radical peace and civil rights movements, etc. -- who literally stabbed the U.S. war effort in the back and made victory impossible. It wasn't Communist bullets that placed those 58,195 names on the Wall. It was Jane Fonda.

The same dynamic is currently in play in Iraq. When we inevitably leave in Iraq, it will not be because our soldiers found themselves in a situation where they were too few in number and not properly trained and equipped. It will not be because we have no definition of "victory" that makes any sense given the culture and history of the region. No. It will be because "the left" has stabbed the U.S. war effort in the back and made victory impossible.

One thing I would warn you about, however, is making a direct comparison between Iraq and Vietnam. In Vietnam, the South Vietnamese government that we supported had a clear external enemy, i.e., the government of North Vietnam, which in turn was supported by a clear existential threat to the United States, i.e., the Soviet Union. There were clear and achievable goals stated, including the overriding strategic goal of a non-Communist government in South Vietnam capable of maintaining its territorial integrity, a strategic goal that the majority of the American people supported even after support for U.S. troops in Vietnam collapsed, a goal the public supported until 1974 when the majority of Americans decided that the costs of maintaining such a government in South Vietnam outweighed the benefits to America.

By contrast, in Iraq there has not been a clear attainable strategic goal stated -- the stated goal of "a pro-American democratic government in Iraq" is as achievable as human flight via flapping of arms. Might as well wish for a pony. Furthermore, there is no external enemy in Iraq. We are fighting the Iraqi people, not an external threat to the Iraqi people. Worse yet, we are fighting factions of the Iraqi people, factions that support us, factions that oppose us... and factions that support us one day and attack us the next day (and vice versa) as required to attain their factional goals. We are basically sitting in the middle of the Lebanese Civil War writ large, except even bigger and with more factions making it even harder to keep track of who is your friend and who is your enemy on any particular day. When Ronald Reagan got us into that situation in 1984, it took only a few months and one barracks bombing to convince him that these people were effin' nuts and then he got the Marines out of there. Even Ronald Reagan wasn't dumb enough to pop us into the middle of an Arab civil war and expect miracles to happen.

Furthermore, there is just enough of a factual kernel to the Dolchstosslegende regarding the Vietnam War to render it not entirely ridiculous: Congress cut off military assistance to the South Vietnamese government just as the North Vietnamese were preparing a massive military invasion with hundreds of tanks and hundreds of thousands of troops. But this merely hastened the end. The end would have happened eventually anyhow, sooner or later. North Vietnam was larger than South Vietnam and would always win a war of attrition. . It is possible for a small highly educated state with a competent military leadership class and a committed populance to hold off larger states lacking said competent military leadership and committed populance, Israel has done it since 1948, but South Vietnam never had many highly-educated people and its top military leadership was incompetent and corrupt politicians appointed by the civilian government rather than being professional highly-trained military men who rose through the ranks by merit. Furthermore, South Vietnam's population as a whole was not heavily committed to the notion of fighting off North Vietnamese aggression. When I read the accounts of South Vietnamese who later fled after the war as refugees (as vs. those who left before the final collapse), one thing that strikes me about all of these accounts is their passivity. In no cases did they ever think of taking up arms themselves and going and helping fight off the North Vietnamese. No. They simply sat around their drugstore or beauty parlor or whatever business they ran and waited for the North Vietnamese to take over, "just another government, no better or worse than any other", they thought. They found out differently, but only after being sent to "re-education" camps for the crime of being a shopkeeper or beauty parlor operator or whatever.

The only way to save South Vietnam, given the qualitative equivalence of its armed forces with those of the North Vietnamese and its smaller population base, was to either a) provide U.S. troops or b) take out its external enemy -- North Vietnam -- and doing that would have risked WWIII. Re-fighting the Vietnam War is like re-fighting the American Civil War -- in the end, the North always wins unless some foreign power sends troops to help the South. And the American people, in the end, decided that the overall strategic goal of deterring Communism in Southeast Asia simply did not provide benefits to America that would justify the cost of sending troops to help the South.

Meanwhile, nobody has even defined victory (or defeat, for that matter) in Iraq. If you define "victory" as "no armed resistance to U.S. rule of Iraq", that's attainable, but we're not acting like that's our goal. Defeat of the insurgency via conventional military means is not possible given our military's abysmal lack of knowledge of the culture and language, a lack of knowledge that is far more dire than anything that ever confronted us in Vietnam where at least we had a reliable anti-Communist satrap class to handle the hard work. We could defeat the insurgency the same way the Brits defeated the Boers in South Africa or the same way we defeated the Filiponos in the Filipino-American War where we "liberated" them from their own rule, but concentration camps (a central aspect of those anti-insurgency campaigns) got sort of a bad rap after Hitler's abuse of them during WWII. And while we've tried to Chechnya a few places (Fallujah is a pile of rubble much like Grozney now), we just don't seem cut out for that genocide bit. We could withdraw like in Vietnam and simply send massive amounts of military assistance to the government but the "government" in Iraq isn't even as capable as Thieu's shaky military junta in South Vietnam was, not even controlling its own capital city (something that never happened during Thieu's rule of South Vietnam, with the exception of a brief period during the Tet Offensive when VC guerillas took over a few buildings). In short, Iraq is not Vietnam, and if there were ever any grain of truth underlying the Dolchstosslegende in Vietnam, conditions in Iraq are such that the whole notion of the war effort being "stabbed in the back" by liberals and leftists is utter nonsense. The war effort was "stabbed in the back" by a Bush Administration incapable of formulating clear achievable strategic objectives and a workable plan for achieving them, not by organizing a few thousand people to demonstrate in the streets.

Not that this will stop the right wingers from revving up the Dolchstosslegende machinery once again on the day the last American soldier departs Iraq. You can see it at work already. Just turn on Fox News.

- Badtux the History Penguin

Labels: , ,

Posted by: BadTux / 4/25/2007 06:47:00 PM  


Oh, come on Tux.

We just need a little more time to see this strategy work.

We just need a little more time to see this strategy work.

We just need a little more time to see this strategy work.

We just need a little more time to see this strategy work.

We just need a little more time to see this strategy work.

We just need a little more time to see this strategy work.
# posted by niCk (Mem Beth) : 26/4/07 4:26 AM  

And, don't forget a few more troops.

And, don't forget a few more troops.

And, don't forget a few more troops.

(ad infinitum)

# posted by Anonymous : 26/4/07 7:55 AM  

Yes, despite what the administration says, it's a civil war. It may not be a flaming hot civil war yet (and, it may never reach that stage), but it's certainly a civil war. That's what you call a war where the civilians are fighting each other.

I'm afraid that there's nothing we could do to stop that. Oh, sure, it could be stopped. But, I really doubt that the politicians (and the people) would stand for the measures it would take. And, even if we did manage to calm things down, unless the installed government maintained those oppressive techniques, it would go right back to being a civil war as soon as we pulled out. I'm afraid that they hung the only guy who had a chance to putting a lid on it (and, I really doubt if even he could have closed that Pandora's box).

Oh, and as for your comment about the south needing foreign troops to have won, I dispute that. The troops the south had were adequate. It's just that the resources they had were seriously lacking (weapons, transportation, food, etc.).

# posted by Anonymous : 26/4/07 8:01 AM  

I once did some numbers and discovered that a full 25% of the adult white male military age population of the core states of the Confederacy were either killed or injured during the American Civil War. The South never lacked for guns or gunpowder to arm its armies. Indeed, Southern gunpowder was produced in large quantities in the world's most advanced powder mill all the way up to the war's end. The South did run out of food at the end, but primarily because of General Sherman ripping the heart out of the Confederacy with his March to the Sea. But when you have a smaller population base to begin with, a war of attrition is not on your side.

As it was in 1865, so it was in 1975. With the difference that in 1975, the North had received massive foreign military aid and the South had not, but the result would have been the same in the end -- the South simply would have run out of men. Short of massive foreign intervention the South always loses, whether we're talking 1865 or 1975.
# posted by BadTux : 26/4/07 9:15 AM  

OT, but go see this.
# posted by Gordon : 26/4/07 10:00 AM  

baby bushes strategy is and always has been::

to wait until the demos take control of the white house and then have them responsible for our failure in Iraq..his hands will be clean then - NOT!
# posted by azgoddess : 26/4/07 10:53 AM  

Yeah, Gordon. Those of us on the KLR lists are following the new 2008 KLR with bated breath. Or in my case, baited breath.

-- Badtux the Herring-breath Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 26/4/07 12:05 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

 My Photo
Name: BadTux
Location: Some iceberg, South Pacific, Antarctica

I am a black and white and yellow multicolored penguin making his way as best he can in a world of monochromic monkeys.

April 2004 / December 2004 / January 2005 / February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 /

Bill Richardson: Because what America needs is a competent fat man with bad hair as President (haven't we had enough incompetent pretty faces?)

Cost of the War in Iraq
(JavaScript Error)
Terror Alert Level
Honor Roll
Technorati embed?
Liberated Iraqis

"Keep fighting for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce." -- Molly Ivins, 1944-2007 "The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."

-- Plato

Are you a spammer? Then send mail to my spamtrack mailbox to get permenantly banned! Remember, that's (hehehhe!).

More blogs about bad tux the snarky penguin.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?