Theory Goes Splat!

May 3, 2004

Trevor Matich


Theory is fun.  But sometimes a nice-sounding theory runs smack into the brick wall of reality.  

In this time of war, there are a number of theories that make perfect sense -- except for inconvenient realities that debunk them in real time.  Some contenders:  "The Iraqi war is diverting resources and focus from the war on terror."  Or, "Anti-war protestors are using methods that are healthy for our country.  And besides, they support our troops."  

As you can imagine, a big "splat" is on the way...

It's interesting how the history we are making mirrors the history we have made.  Vietnam is continually being raised, so let's look to that war to find comparisons to this war on terror...

The anti-war movement of Jane Fonda was in full flower  at a time when American and South Vietnamese troops were annihilating the enemy.  Put another way:  We were winning, the Communists were losing.

The Tet Offensive of 1968 was a crushing defeat for the Communists.  According to UPI Editor at Large Arnaud de Borchgrave, who covered Tet for Newsweek:

Vietcong units...lost some 50,000 killed and at least that many wounded...Tet was an unmitigated military disaster for Hanoi and its Vietcong troops in South Vietnam.

After the war, North Vietnamese Supreme Commander General Vo Nguyen Giap wrote in his memoirs that from a purely military standpoint, he should have surrendered.  

The question is:  Why didn't he?

Again, de Borchgrave:  

Bui Tin...served on the general staff of the North Vietnamese army...In an interview with the Wall Street Journal after his retirement, he made clear the anti-war movement in the United States, which led to the collapse of political will in Washington, was "essential to our strategy."

Visits to Hanoi by Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and various church ministers "gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses."

America lost the war, concluded Bui Tin, "because...through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win."

Tet occurred in 1968.  The final departure of US forces occurred in 1972.  

It is reasonable to express dissent in times of war, but it is obligatory to express that dissent in a way that does not give aid and comfort to our enemies.  Those anti-war protestors thought that they were saving American and Vietnamese lives.  In reality, their methods emboldened the enemy to continue the war for years, contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands on both sides.

They didn't think that they were encouraging the North Vietnamese Communists' will to fight.   But do you know who did think that?  

The North Vietnamese Communists did.  Expressed in their own words.

Theory meets reality.  

Vietnam was a media war as much as a shooting war.  Daniel Ingham writes in

According to Giap, the North Vietnamese government played to our media... Anti-war statements by famous politicians, film stars, and media figures also were thrown in the faces of American P.O.W.s in order to break their will to resist.

After he was released from the Hanoi Hilton in 1973, Sen. John McCain...wrote of this in the May 14, 1973 issue of U.S. News & World Report..."All through this period [they were] bombarding us with anti-war quotes from people in high places back in Washington. This was the most effective propaganda they had to use against us."

It is the method of protest, not the existence of protest, that was at issue.  Those "famous politicians, film stars, and media figures" didn't think that they were contributing to suffering of our soldiers and POWs.  But do you know who did think they were?  

Our soldiers and POWs did.  Expressed in their own words.

That is the reality.  

Today we again find ourselves divided over the course of war.  It is reasonable to express dissent and debate alternatives.  But such reasoned discourse is being overwhelmed by the same rhetoric that we saw 35 years ago.

Senator Edward Kennedy has been particularly energetic, calling Iraq "President Bush's Vietnam."  I presume that by "Vietnam," he means "unwinnable, immoral quagmire."

Again, Daniel Ingham in

Terrorists watch the news, too. In fact, Senator Kennedy's attacks on President Bush are so popular that radical Imams are quoting him in sermons meant to encourage attacks on our soldiers. Shiite terrorist leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been stirring up trouble in Iraq and recently called for the killing of U.S. soldiers, likes what Senator Kennedy has to say so much that he is using it in his speeches:

"Iraq will be another Vietnam for America and the occupiers..."

Senator Kennedy doesn't think his rhetoric is encouraging radical Islamists.  But do you know who does think that?

The radical Islamists do.  Expressed in their own words; they're using Kennedy's rhetoric to make their own points.

Reality bites.

(Years ago, I met Senator Kennedy at Fenway Park, and found him to be a man of immense warmth and charisma.  Given what Bui Tin said after the Vietnam War about the effects of some Americans' methods of dissent, I would dearly love to hear Senator Kennedy explain why it's different this time.)

One of the main arguments against the Iraqi war is that it "is a distraction from the war on terror," that we should be using our resources to chase Osama and al Qaeda.  

People with that point of view think that Iraq is not the critical front line in the war on terror.  But do you know who does think it is the critical front line?

Foreign terrorists in Iraq do.  Expressed in their willingness to die there.

If not, then why attack America where we are strongest, where we have soldiers armed and armored, who have no worries about Miranda rights or habeas corpus or search warrants?  Why fight where they will be engaged by Apache helicopters armed with Hellfire missiles, rather than police helicopters armed with searchlights?  Why not attack softer targets in other parts of the world, and live to terrorize another day?

The question answers itself:  Terrorists are willing to fight and die in Iraq because they know that if they lose there, dominos begin to fall against them all over the Middle East and the world.  

So with all the theories bouncing around the airwaves, it would be well to focus on reality. 

The sound of theory meeting reality:  Splat!





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