Monday, November 28, 2005

Iraq a "Reverse Vietnam"

Glenn Reynolds first offered that the Valerie Plame affair may actually be a reverse-Watergate "with the press, not the White House, keeping the important secrets about what happened" in comments he made on CNN's Reliable Sources. Reviewing the transcript, he then thought it possible that the Iraq war may be a reverse-Vietnam. In particular, this exchange struck him:

Pam Hess, during Vietnam U.S. officials were often accused of distorting or even lying to the press to try to make it look like the war effort was going better than it was. When you were in Iraq did you feel like you were getting the straight story?

HESS: Certainly from the militarily I did. They have no interest in cooking the books, as it were, they -- they understand that they were blamed for Vietnam and what happened, and they don't want that blame again.

They want people to understand the kind of enemy that they are facing and how long it's going to take. And frankly, most of them said to me, "Please go back and tell them not to pull us out because we are finally at a point where we have enough people here now on the ground between soldiers and Iraqis that we can actually start doing some good and start turning things around. And if you pull us out, we're just going to be back here three years from now."

KURTZ: More optimistic, at least than some of the journalists.

HESS: Yes.
He received feedback, including this corrective from one of his colleagues, Tom Plank.
I saw your post on Reverse Vietnam. I am deeply skeptical of the claim that the military misled the press or the American people about the Vietnam War. It may be that the top political leaders downplayed the costs of the war, and perhaps senior military officers went along with this, but I thought the reporting on the war was nevertheless much more negative than what was actually going on. The idea of the press reporting objectively on the war is I think another urban myth.

Two classic examples: the 1968 Tet Offensive, reported as a great defeat for the US, but which was a victory for the US and which was a devastating loss for the Viet Cong and NVA (essentially resulted in the destruction of the indigenous South Vietnamese Viet Cong).

The second example is the seige at Khe San. This was reported as a defeat for the US, with lots of comparisons to Dien Bien Phu, but the several month long seige at Khe San resulted in the destruction of several NVA divisions at the cost of several hundred US troops. By 1970, the US had defeated the NVA (the indigenous Viet Cong had long been pretty much out of the picture).

The real failure in Vietnam was not to invest in the development of a truly representative democratic government in the south and commit to protect that government from invasion from the north. Of course, then we were primarily interested in fighting communism instead of developing democracy and self determination. In Iraq, I think we have learned to foster self determination, local style.
It's an interesting theory. I wonder if many historians have remarked upon the gap between the events as understood by those closest to the action and how those same events were interpreted and passed along to the public at large by journalists. To tie to the practice of history, it also points to the hazards of over-reliance on journalistic accounts for historical sourcing. Private accounts need to be considered as well. To conclude, it seems that there is a similarity between Vietnam and Iraq: the willingness of many people, including historians, to take journalistic accounts at face value and to give short shrift to other accounts, especially postive ones, from the military and others.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Goldberg: Bush is no FDR

Jonah Goldberg wrote a column recently in which he compared contemporary anti-war, Bush-"haters" (moonbats) to FDR nemesis Clare Booth Luce. Both Luce and the anti-Bush crowd claimed that the object of their contempt lied the nation into war. As Goldberg explains, Luce probably had a much stronger case:
Charles Beard, arguably the most influential historian of the 20th century - and a very liberal progressive - dedicated the last years of his life to writing about FDR's lies and "Caesarism." Richard Hofstadter, another of the great liberal historians (and a sharp critic of Beard's), also conceded FDR's "undeniably devious leadership" in the months and years before the war. Hofstadter, like countless other historians, had to agree that FDR's diplomacy and politics were designed to push the United States through a "back door into war."

Roosevelt won his unprecedented third election on the vow that he wouldn't send American boys to war: "While I am talking to you mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." This was almost surely a lie.

"Roosevelt repeatedly deceived the American people during the period before Pearl Harbor," writes the historian Thomas A. Bailey. "He was faced with a terrible dilemma. If he let the people slumber in a fog of isolationism, they might fall prey to Hitler. If he came out unequivocally for intervention, he would be defeated" in the 1940 election. This view was seconded by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in a rave review of Bailey's book in 1949. Schlesinger now spends his time lending gravitas to the moonbattier "Bush lied" table-thumpers at Arianna Huffington's Web site.

Just three days before Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 4, 1941, the Chicago Tribune and Washington Star-Ledger broke the story that FDR had already drafted a plan for war with Germany, a plan that entailed a 10-million-man army invading Germany by the middle of 1943. Democrats and Republicans alike saw this as further proof that FDR had been lying all along. Some suggest that a U.S.-flagged schooner sent into Japanese waters that same day was intended to provoke a fight. Roosevelt got Pearl Harbor instead, which was a surprise but nonetheless "rescued" the president, in Hofstadter's words, from the "dilemma" of needing to start a war the American people opposed.
Goldberg concludes that this does not make FDR a bad president because he recognized that WWII would have to be fought sooner or later. In general, he continued, leaders have to venture into "duplicity" all of the time. In short, the "neocon" Goldberg is espousing realpolitick. Imagine that. He also delves into the History vs. Memory debate:
Now, you might say that Iraq was no WWII, Saddam was no Hitler, and 9/11 was no Pearl Harbor. Those are all fair arguments with varying degrees of merit. But WWII wasn't "the good war" in our hearts until after Pearl Harbor and even until after the Holocaust, and a lot of Hollywood burnishing.
And concludes by remarking on the rather focused criticism of Bush.
The Bush Doctrine is not chiefly about WMD and never was. Like FDR's vision, it balances democracy, security and morality. Still, the media and anti-Bush partisans have been bizarrely unmoved by the revelations of Hussein's killing fields, his torture chambers for tots, and democracy's tangible progress in the Middle East.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

History of the Iraq War

Mudville Gazette has a post up about the Iraq War, 1990-2003.
The goal of this effort has been to provide a list of facts and quotes, without bias or interpretation. There are those who will see such things as exactly that, and those who will claim it's exactly the opposite. So it goes.
I wonder how it'll stand up to the scrutiny of historians.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rule America?

Just thinking out loud. In "Rule America?" Jonathan Last lays a substantial portion of the failure of the British Empire at the feet of liberal elite's unwillingness to buy into patriotism and draws a parallel to contemporary America. There is something to his argument, but I think a comparison of the "patriotic" attitude of the average Brit to that of today's average American would also be useful. I'm not at all familiar (in a scholarly way) with British history and wonder if the ideology of British Empire was thought to be as transferrable as today's "average" American (whatever that means) thinks the ideology of Democracy is. In contrast, it seems that there eventually was no motivation for promulgating and propogating the British Empire other than for its own sake. Isn't there some difference between being patriotic about a hierarchical, top down, colonizing "empire" (the British) and being patriotic about a nation that is "imperial" in it's belief in the spread of democracy? I suppose there are some similarities in that each believe(d) that their form of government was superior. Anyway, there's a lot to chew on!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Cliopatria Award: Nominated

Well, I see that my series Introduction to Historical Method has been nominated for Best Series of Posts for the Cliopatria History Blogging Awards. I must say, I'm honored to have been nominated, though I suspect that's as far as that will go. There are some other worthy candidates, to say the least. I nominated "The Geographical Turn" series by Nathanael at Rhine River and also liked "The Canon of Military History" by Prof. Mark Grimsley. But back to me ;) I don't expect any other nominations to come my way, but I do think that my post "Christianity as a "Founding Religion" Disavowed" was pretty good.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Crusading against The Crusades?

This is how the New York Times' Anita Gates describes the History Channel's two-part series The Crusades: Crescent and the Cross:
Sometimes, when history repeats itself, the tables turn. This has never been clearer or more disturbing than now, especially when considering the HISTORY CHANNEL's two-part documentary "THE CRUSADES: CRESCENT AND THE CROSS" (Sunday and Monday at 9 p.m.). Roughly 900 years ago, some Christians, inspired by POPE URBAN II, got the idea that their religion was superior to everyone else's and set out to conquer the Muslim world. These re-creation-style documentaries have a tendency to concentrate on the details, battle by battle and general by general. Some meaning would be good, too.
Granted, this was part of a general "WEEK AHEAD" entertainment column and not an extended review, but could the sweeping and misinformed generalization be any worse? As Andrew Stuttaford stated:
Wouldn’t it have been better, Anita, to have begun your little analysis with the Muslim conquest centuries of the ‘Holy Land’ before, or is that just too, too difficult to fit into contemporary orthodoxies?

Starting the story with Urban II, even in a brief summary, is like describing World War II without mentioning, say, the invasion of Poland.
Obviously, Gates didn't catch much of the series--maybe she didn't have access--but it was made clear that the First Crusade was launched as an attempt to RE-capture the Holy Land. Now, the Crusades did sort of devolve in each iteration, but Gates' mischaracterization of the series was irresponsible. There are plenty of books on the Crusades, but here is a responsible summary and some primary sources. Perhaps Ms. Gates should avail herself of them.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

History Carnival 19

(a)musings of a grad student hosts History Carnival 19 this time around. Good stuff!