Vietnam, Iraq and Cognitive Dissonance
Copyright 2007 by James Craven
The parallels between Vietnam and Iraq are striking and mounting every day. Some of them (A to Z) are listed here.
What is really at stake in Iraq, and the main reason Bush will not leave (in addition to his monstrous ego, malignant narcissism and megalomania and not wanting to “lose” an illegal war he started–on “his” watch and to an “inferior” enemy) is what was at stake in Vietnam: The DEMONSTRATION EFFECT of a U.S. loss revealing to many potential victims and adversaries of U.S. Imperial system exactly how weak, overextended and vulnerable the U.S. imperial system really is.
Once a given war is clearly illegal by even U.S. laws and standards, there is no “optimum” or “orderly” way to end it but IMMEDIATELY and without any conditions.
“THIS WILL BE THE FINAL MESSAGE FROM SAIGON STATION…IT HAS BEEN A LONG FIGHT AND WE HAVE LOST…THOSE WHO FAIL TO LEARN FROM HISTORY ARE FORCED TO REPEAT IT. LET US HOPE THAT WE WILL NOT HAVE ANOTHER VIETNAM EXPERIENCE AND THAT WE HAVE LEARNED OUR LESSON. SAIGON SIGNING OFF.”
Last message of CIA Saigon Station Chief Tom Polgar April 29, 1975 quoted in “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA” by Tim Weiner, Doubleday, NY, 2007, p.343
“Chutzpah” used to be defined as “Killing one’s parents and then pleading mercy of the court on the grounds that one is now an orphan.” The new definition of “Chutzpah” is Chickenhawk and Deserter-During-Wartime Bush and Chickenhawk Cheney speaking to a VFW audience–and, speaking on the need for “Staying the Course” in Iraq as “WE” should have “stayed the course” in the Vietnam War they both worked so hard to avoid. What is also disgusting is some of those patently stupid and backward types found in the VFW and American Legion, (the older they get the bigger “heroes” they used to be) actually sitting and listening to the lies and rationalizations of failure of both of them and even applauding.
There are indeed many parallels between Vietnam and Iraq Wars. And there are also many parallel myths born of cognitive dissonance: the naked contradiction between the BELIEF vs EMOTION, BELIEF vs FACT or EMOTION vs FACTs.
The same cognitive-dissonance-reducing myths and rationales of Vietnam are surfacing again in Iraq–with the same disastrous results.
The parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq Wars are numerous:
a) Both wars were preemptively planned, launched, executed and widened on the basis of lies, phony pretexts, contrived intelligence;
b) Both wars involved illegally (top-down, outside-inside) setting up and maintaining puppet regimes and puppet forces with no mass legitimacy and no military effectiveness;
c) Both wars involved military strategy, doctrine, tactics, equipment, force structures and criteria/definitions of military “success” and “victory” totally inappropriate to the natures of the environments, wars and enemies being fought;
d) Both wars involved ongoing lies to the American Public (that the enemies knew to be lies) about the real causes, status and prospects of the wars and attempts to engineer “manufactured consent” on a mass level;
e) Both wars involved massive, unchecked and even treasonous war profiteering and waste; they involved high rates of no-bid-patronage-based military contracts.
f) Both wars involved public support from known Chickenhawks who, along with their carefully protected children, never served in any of the wars they were actively supporting or even in the military anywhere;
g) Both Wars involved a lot of cognitive dissonance on the part of those who served in those wars as well as on the part of those who planned and launched them: “If your Cause was so just, your training and weapons so good, your forces so heroic, your enemy so “backward” and “exploited”, why did you lose?”
h) Both wars involved ongoing intelligence sycophancy, corruption, lies and failures born out of partisan political interests behind and running–and defining criteria and definitions of “success” in–the respective wars;
i) Both wars involved massive ignorance, on the part of those who planned and launched the wars, along with many involved in executing them, of the cultures, geographies, histories, languages, philosophies, intentions, alliances and capabilities of the enemies they proposed to face;
j) Both wars had a lot of bipartisan support, collusion and treachery behind them;
k) Both wars involved puppet regimes installed and legitimated top-down and by foreigners that summarily recognized them even when other U.S. allies did not; regimes that had no real indigenous support and grass-roots origins when they were installed.
l) Both wars, the military and police forces of the U.S. and its allies, in Vietnam as in Iraq, were heavily infiltrated and carefully monitored by their enemies;
m) Both wars involved only token contributions by only a few of the main allies of the U.S. despite repeated attempts to multilateralize the Wars.
o) Both wars involved massive overt and covert state surveillance of and repression against popular dissent; and both wars involved creating and/or exacerbating threats to “national security”, and “it’s-either-over-THERE-or-over-HERE” rhetoric then used to subvert and suppress civil liberties and Constitutional Rights.
p) Both wars exposed the real impotence and imperial overreach of U.S. imperial power in dealing with multiple, distant, protracted and unconventional insurgencies.
q) Both wars exposed the fallacy of high-tech-weapons warfare being decisive over a determined enemy whether in conventional or unconventional wars. Both wars showed low-tech can defeat high-tech weapons and tactics under varied conditions.
r) Both wars exposed the fact that the imperial U.S. state ultimately has no loyalties to puppets and allies if and when push comes to shove. In both cases, literally hundreds of thousands of former collaborators with U.S. forces, allegedly highly vulnerable to reprisals against themselves and their families, were simply and summarily dumped with no loyalty to them.
s) Both Wars, War Criminal Henry Kissinger, sensing ultimate failure, covertly urged “Decent Intervals” before ultimate troop pull-outs (while publicly urging continuation of the War and claiming victories) in order to “save face”, and to be able to place ultimate blame for failure on other parties and regimes who would be handed the Wars with less and less resources and popular support with which to fight them.
t) Both wars involved predictable and predicted quagmires and both wars led to a fear of a “demonstration effect” that loss of the War would signal other potential rivals just how much of a Paper Tiger” the U.S. Imperial War machine really is, and, that it can effectively be taken on by relatively weak but determined insurgent forces.
u) Both wars involved ultra-quantification and indices for every aspect of the wars as if coming up with operational definitions and yardsticks were equal to actually measuring and coming up with real data, and, as if actual measurements were equal to–or even capturing–actual results. Considerable resources were tied up in producing paper and “official statistics” to give the illusion of quantifiable and quantified successes and progress on the ground when real facts on the ground said the opposite of what was being produced on the official paper. Despite the ultra-quantification on certain levels, not even estimates of deaths of civilians as “collateral damage” were ever kept and even deaths of U.S. Forces and civilian contractors were not complete or accurate.
v) In Vietnam there were 44 PICS (Provincial Interrogation Centers run jointly by CIA and locals) that operated with the same torture techniques, secrecy, lack of accountability, cover-ups, cowboys, and bogus/enemy-nurturing results–torture does not work–as their counterparts like places like Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
w) Both wars involved successions of puppet regimes directly installed and managed by U.S. Pro-Consuls and their Administrations through highly problematic elections; and in both wars, the supposed “sovereignty” of the nation in which regime change and nation building was going on, was only selectively, opportunistically and situationally recognized by the U.S.
x) Both wars involved lack of any operational definitions of “tactical success” and/or “strategic victory” or contingency planning for or even recognition of the possibility of: protracted military conflict; a protracted occupation and “civil affairs” campaign; a protracted quagmire; military defeat; political defeat; an exit strategy in the event of military and/or political defeat.
y) Both wars, in-country, involved selected, selective, superficial and highly censored news media coverage by highly embedded, beholden [on U.S. Forces for their safety] and largely sycophantic reporters and reporting operating mostly in relatively secure areas.
z) Both wars involved extensive use of privatized (non-accountable to UCMJ or any law) surrogates for and in conjunction with U.S.Forces including NGOs, ex-pat mercenaries, missionaries, charities, foundations, false-flag operatons, etc. These privatized surrogates allow, as they were intended and designed, the committing violations of various UN Conventions and international law by the privatized contractors that are not traceable to, and are plausibly deniable by, U.S. forces paying and directing them.
Cognitive Dissonance and the Comforting Myths of Vietnam
How to explain that not only was the world’s largest and most lethal war machine defeated militarily by a poor “backward” nation like Vietnam, but, also, how it was that the U.S. soldiers, supposedly the best armed and motivated and trained in the world, with the best logistical support known, were defeated by [relatively] poorly armed and poorly supported guerrillas of the NLF and regular troops of the so-called “NVA”? The cognitive dissonance (disharmony and dissonance caused by a naked contradiction between FACT vs BELIEF, BELIEF vs EMOTION–INTERESTS, EMOTION vs FACT) is just too much for many who served in Vietnam (VFW types) as well as those involved in planning it.
Myth Number ONE: The U.S. never “lost” any battles; the War was lost due to pinko protesters, coupled with an impatient public unwilling to sacrifice blood and treasure for long run strategic gains, who gave aid and comfort to the enemy and emboldened their resistance.
The FACT is that in Vietnam, as in the case of Iraq, one cannot or could not, in unconventional wars, define “winning” or “losing” on the basis of conventional definitions and criteria in conventional wars: territory taken/held, body count, “pacification campaigns”, prisoners taken etc; The Vietnamese did not need protests around the world to embolden them to stay the course until victory; it was in their over-2000-year history of resistance to foreign invasions that the U.S. hierarchy never bothered to study and digest. At the time of the “Fall of Saigon” there were three NVA divisions outside of Saigon and a NLF Regiment inside that could have easily killed every last American instead of letting them dump their allies, scramble to exit and to “save face”.
The same applies with Iraq now. In both cases, the forces faced by the U.S. understand well and are well prepared, for the kinds of sacrifices in the immediate that are necessary for long-run strategic advances–and unlike the U.S. are prepared to pay whatever costs.
Myth Number Two: If the puppet regimes in the “South” of Vietnam installed by the U.S., all of them dictatorships with no real popular support, had just been fully and not partially supported, if the War had been Vietnamized earlier, the forces of the so-called “Republic of Vietnam” could have and would have become more effective and able to undertake their own defense and eventually win the war.
The Fact is that none of the puppet regimes (installed from without instead of arising from within and from truly indigenous grass-roots) and few of their military and police forces had any real popular support for various–and some of the same– reasons in Vietnam as is the case in Iraq. In both wars, where “success” is really about winning hearts and minds on the ground, the methods and military tactics used, resulting in massive “collateral damage”, wound/wind-up creating more new enemies from former friends that new friends from former enemies.
Myth Number Three If U.S. forces had just been allowed to do whatever was/is necessary, use whatever force structures available, engage in whatever military operations imperative, the war can be/could have been won.
The fact is that many military operations in Vietnam, as in Iraq were restrained not to protect the enemy, but to protect U.S. forces from casualties at rates that would further compromise any popular support for the wars at home. Other targets and operations were restrained because attacking unclear targets can wind up creating more enemies than friends and/or cause massive casualties and body bags coming home that an “I-Want-It-All-And-I-Want-It-Now” culture could not/cannot handle.
So now we get more rationales, lies, equivocation and cognitive dissonance with some of those pot-bellied vets at the ol VFW, with empty lives partly filled with their own grandiose notions of what they used to be, listening to a Deserter-During-Wartime not qualified even to be in the VFW, joining in and helping them with their own cognitive dissonance problems:
“How is it that these “heroes”, so well-armed, well-trained, well-fed, well-motivated, well-supported”, etc (conventional BELIEF/EMOTION) managed to lose in every possible way (FACT) to what they arrogantly viewed with demonizing, dehumanizing and marginalizing epithets like these “little” and “backward” “Dinks”, “Slopes” and “Gooks” in Vietnam?”
And today, as then, some U.S. forces are presently having trouble, in Iraq, with what they often privately–and sometimes openly–call these “backward” “Hajis”,”Ragheads” and “Sand Niggers”. Why, if they are so well armed, supported, led and motivated, are they unable to put down–and instead are fueling and expanding–a relatively poorly armed insurgency?