Everybody’s Talkin’ . . .

. . . about Vietnam analogies. I remember hearing back in 2004 that Iraq was different from Vietnam. I was told more than once that because Iraq had sand whereas Vietnam has jungle that we'd be able to "win." The nasty "moral black hole" [see Rick Perlstein link below] of the word "win" in this context went largely unnoticed & unremarked. (The dismissal of the Vietnam analogy was particularly vehement on the right, though I also heard it from liberals.) Until now. Now everybody is talking about Vietnam. From the inception of the Iraq quagmire the American right has been denying the relevance of the American War in Vietnam. We have been told endlessly that Iraq is not a do-over of Vietnam, but the vehemence has been necessary, not just to "cage & frame"* discussion of the Iraq War, but as a technique of self-delusion by supporters of the current war. All the noisy piety about "the troops" is just misdirection. This phenomenon becomes clear in Rick Perlstein's ultimate deconstruction of the right's self-delusion & intellectual incoherence. It is, however, an incoherence that has affected every possible discussion of the war. Turns out that Vietnam is both relevant to the Iraq War & not relevant, depending on what is being argued. After reading Perlstein's piece in The Nation, I picked up the NYRB & read "The Turning Point" -- excerpts [subscription required] -- written in the mid-1960s -- from the Journals of Arthur M. Schlesinger on the subject of the Vietnam War. Chilling. Of particular interest was the further confirmation that Robert McNamara already knew in 1966 that the Vietnam War could not be won -- just as many American policy makers know now that the Iraq War cannot be "won" but continued to provide public support for the war until he left the Johnson administration. ___________________________ *Steve Gimbel's definition of "cage & frame" rhetoric: " . . . the idea behind cage and frame is to take a set of related issues that you don't want discussed and place them in a rhetorical cage, allowing only one -- the one that is most easily framed in your favor -- to be placed front and center in public discussion. Like a magician's misdirection in which he calls attention to his right hand with a flourish while sticking something in his pocket with his now unnoticed left hand, the passionate, divisive, and most of all LOUD debate that surrounds the issue allowed out of the cage will give the impression to the general public that free and open debate is occurring -- after all we see people yelling at each other over a controversial issue -- all the while the actual collective deliberations that are needed for a functioning democracy have been stifled."

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.