Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Declare victory and go home

Via Pulp Serenade.
Apparently it was that old-school Republican New Dealer George Aiken of Vermont—the oldest Republican in the Senate, though not yet the Dean all round—that said that, or rather:
Actually, what he said was that "the United States could well declare unilaterally ... that we have 'won' in the sense that our armed forces are in control of most of the field and no potential enemy is in a position to establish its authority over South Vietnam," and that such a declaration "would herald the resumption of political warfare as the dominant theme in Vietnam." 
This was in October 1966, a year that began with Operation Masher (some bright spark eventually noted that that did not sound very nation-building-ish and it was changed to the prettier "Operation White Wing") and the Fulbright hearings, where the Senators were told,
"If there is a God, and he is very kind to us, and given a million men, and five years, and a miracle in making the South Vietnamese people like us, we stand an outside chance—of a stalemate"
and was culminating, as Aiken spoke, with Operation Prairie (for a nation-building exercise in which every valley would be exalted, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain?):
Operation Prairie continued well into October with continuous heavy contact between Marines and the 324B Division, causing the enemy well over 1000 men killed. The north Vietnamese were prevented from establishing a major operating base in northern Quang Tri, although intelligence sources indicated that the 341st NVA Division had replaced the 324B Division in the area.
I imagine that even as early as that, if President Johnson had followed Aiken's advice, the declaration of victory would have been, even in Aiken's cautious sense, a lie. I even thought so then, though, truth to tell, it was only out of some proto-hippie intuition; I was a pretty profoundly ignorant kid.

And now we're getting do-overs, first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan. It's pretty horrifying, of course; the death doesn't stop. I've been reading the beginnings of the analysis unfolding at Down with Tyranny and a couple of great links. I gather there are some people on the side of peace who are upset with Obama because when he says we have "achieved our objectives" it isn't true. Well, duh.
Operation Prairie. Photo by Larry Burrows.

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