War Protesters aren’t Worried about Losing
IT WAS INEVITABLE. As soon as things started
to go wrong in Iraq, you just knew the war party would start fighting
Vietnam all over again. We are now involved in a time-travel war,
a bloody Back to the Future sequel in which Michael J. Fox
revisits the 1960s to rescue our country from the media-induced defeatism
it experienced during and after the Vietnam War. In this movie, Robert
McNamara is George McFly; he kisses the girl at the Tet Offensive
and 30 years later gets his book deal.
Of course, this is impossible, because McNamara was on his way out the door—before
Tet even took place—after expressing concerns about the prospects
for victory in Vietnam. This and about a million other facts are being
overlooked by a chorus of conservative commentators who claim that
Tet was a victory for American forces, and that only negative media
coverage of the 1968 offensive was what derailed our otherwise inevitable
victory in Indochina.
This idea has been popping up on afternoon talk radio and on conservative
websites for months, but has been gaining steam since the Abu Ghraib
torture scandal broke. Previously just idle bullshit, it became official
Bullshit with a capital B this week when that wonderfully demented
bitch Ann Coulter wrote a piece called "Tit for Tet."
"Abu Ghraib is the new Tet offensive," wrote Coulter. "By
lying about the Tet offensive during the Vietnam War, the media managed
to persuade Americans we were losing the war, which demoralized the
nation and caused us to lose the war. And people say reporters are
Coulter went on:
"The immediate consequence of the media's lies was a 25 percent drop
in support for the war. The long-term consequence for America was
12 years in the desert until Ronald Reagan came in and saved the country."
It would be easy to dismiss this as the insane crap that it is, were it
not for the fact that Coulter's central point—that we actually won
Tet and that a drop in support for the war after Tet was what caused
our defeat there—is gaining traction in a variety of news outlets.
You see it mentioned casually all over the place, stated as a matter
of fact. In the Daily Telegraph, Michael Barone recently wrote:
"Plus, as we know now, the media's analysis of Tet was wrong:
Tet was a huge defeat for the Viet Cong and largely cleared South
Vietnam, for a time, of Communist fighters."
Former congressman Bob Barr wrote similarly in the Washington Times:
"By all objective criteria, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, from
Jan. 31, 1968, to April 6, 1968, was a smashing loss for the North
Vietnamese, and a major victory for the United States and its South
Vietnamese allies… Yet, many historians and most observers at the
time, identify the Tet Offensive as the beginning of the end for the
U.S. effort in Vietnam... Why? What was it that turned what should
have been a major victory into an embarrassing defeat? One word—perception."
UPI editor-at-large Arnaud de Borchgrave went one step further, managing
to turn the VC storming of the U.S. embassy in Saigon into a cheap
parlor trick that might have been accomplished by a few hookers who
knew a back way into the compound:
"Vietcong units not only did not reach a single one of their objectives—except
when they arrived by taxi at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, blew their
way through the wall into the compound and guns blazing made it into
the lobby before they were wiped out by U.S. Marines."
Forget for a moment that Tet was a surprise to most Americans because for
years the media had credulously reported the Johnson administration's
idiotic claims that the Viet Cong were on their last legs. Forget
for a moment that the reason we were fighting a war in Vietnam in
the first place was because the press had bought the official version
of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which history has proven false. One
can even forget that the entire justification for the war was propped
up on a series of preposterous fallacies enthusiastically repeated
by the media, among them the idea that South Vietnam under Diem and
Thieu weren't brutal police states, and that the U.S.—which had urged
the cancellation of elections in Vietnam in 1956 and had signed off
on the assassination of the nominally democratically elected Diem
in 1963—was interested in promoting democracy in Vietnam.
Forget all of that. The real reason that these new "let's not make
the same mistake in Iraq that we made after Tet" arguments don't
hold water is because they mischaracterize the feelings behind popular
opposition to the Vietnam War. Writing with a straight face, here
is how Barone put it:
"Americans will tolerate very high levels of military casualties if
they believe that their leaders are on the road to victory. They tolerated
them in Vietnam from 1965 to 1968, and ceased to do so only when their
leaders seemed no longer to be seeking to win."
Let's get something straight. The people who marched against the Vietnam
War were not holding signs that said, "We Can't Win!" They
called for withdrawal, both before and after Tet, because they came
to believe that the war was wrong. They protested not because our
saturation bombing of the North and our Phoenix assassination programs
and our toxic defoliating campaigns in the South were ineffective.
They protested because they were effective, because
they killed so many people so efficiently. FDR's America did not give
up after Market-Garden, and Johnson's America would never have considered
giving up after Tet if Vietnam had been a moral war. We would have
fought to the last man no matter what setbacks came our way. We would
do so now in Iraq.
As for the high officials who gave up on Vietnam long before the public,
they were not getting their information from the media. McNamara and
George Ball and McGeorge Bundy all privately believed the war in Vietnam
was either wrong or unwinnable or both before Walter Cronkite threw
in the towel after Tet. Ball, who as undersecretary of state was presumably
not cribbing from the New York Times, wrote to Johnson as early
"The South Vietnamese are losing the war to the Viet Cong. No one can
assure you that we can beat the Viet Cong or even force them to the
conference table on our terms, no matter how many hundred thousand
white foreign (US) troops we deploy."
In the coming months, we are going to hear a lot of shrieks from various
quarters that the media is once again causing America to lose its
stomach for victory. It was a lie then and it's a lie now.