Left Justified: Why Iraq is not like Vietnam

I am a Vietnam veteran who served in the United States Army stationed just outside DaNang with the 67th Medical Group. Yes, I did commemorate my fallen comrades on Memorial Day.

I can quite unequivocally tell you that Iraq is not like Vietnam. Vietnam is a jungle. Iraq is a desert. You see, it rains much more in Vietnam, so much more they have a season called monsoon, which meant a god-awful deluge. So while the Viet Cong could hide in the jungle, the Iraqi insurgents can only hide in the city.

And those cities look a lot different. In Vietnam, they were either villages of bamboo huts or French colonial-style buildings. (Remember, the French were there before us.) In Iraq, the inner cities look much more modern, and the poor villages look like they’re built of mud and brick. Still, there are lots of poor people in both countries. And they have a similar hue to their skin.

While I was in Vietnam, I don’t remember the population celebrating whenever an American was killed. I don’t think the Vietnamese ever dragged American bodies through the streets of the cities.

I believe that in Vietnam, there was a large percentage of the population who, though they did not support American troops, were wary of the Communist way of government. So the American soldier in Vietnam, I think, may have had a little more security than the American soldier in Iraq, although in both places there were a lot of booby traps, sniper fire and terrorist-type bombings. Then again, there were armies of Viet Cong backed up by North Vietnam regulars. I don’t think Iraq has such an organized resistance. Yet.

Muslim countries surround Iraq, whereas in Vietnam, they had an ocean on one side. In Vietnam, we wore a dark green camouflage outfit, while in Iraq they wear tan and light brown.

The differences between the two countries are obvious: geographic, physical, religious, etc. But the military strategy is vastly different. Whereas in Vietnam, the United States first supported the French war from 1946 to ’54, and then sent advisers and built up the military forces in secret; in Iraq, the American forces were sent in all at once and are trying to occupy the whole damn country. Both, though, apparently were built on lies. In Vietnam, the war was kept secret from the American population for a long time until the body bags started piling up. In Iraq, the reason for going to war was either a lie or a god-awful mistake, and the politicians won’t let us see pictures of the body bags stacking up.

In Vietnam, the American soldier had more of a chance of dying. They were used almost as bait to attract enemy fire. In Iraq, the technology is much greater, and the rate of death is much lower. So, yes, there is a great difference between Iraq and Vietnam, but why do the two wars feel the same? Why do the two wars smell like disaster?

Here’s another similarity: war makes somebody rich

And speaking of being outgunned, our forces in Iraq need some help. When soldiers are overstressed, innocents are apt to die as rules fall by the side of the road.

And no amount of money will help. The conservatives always complain that the liberals just “throw money at a problem.” Well, it seems that the Republican administration is trying to throw money at the terrorist problem. They’ve spent more than $150 billion just in Iraq, and they are asking for more money, which they say is “for the troops.” If this new money is “for the troops,” what was all that old money for?

Oh, yeah, I know what all that old money was for. It was for Halliburton, WorldCom and a lot of George Bush’s old oil buddies. Is anyone keeping track of all this “defense” money? Is there oversight of where the bucks finally stop?

If it’s like the oversight of the Iraq prisoners, then we’re gonna get tortured.

During most wars, money is stolen from the budget. During World War I, cases of theft included weapons that were paid for but never delivered, or equipment that arrived on the front with a price tag but was never asked for nor needed. “War profiteers” took on an ominous tone, especially when the Great Depression struck.

In World War II, President Harry S. Truman got his notoriety from dragging defense contractors over the coals. He caught enough graft and corruption to fund a third front.

While I was in Vietnam, I remember running around giant supply depots full of everything from ping-pong balls to beer to every sundry item under the sun all bought and paid for by the American taxpayer.

So who’s keeping track of all these billions in the War on Terrorism? Don’t forget, these thieves wrap themselves in the American flag and expect us to salute instead of reading the fine print. The War on Terrorism is a bigger boondoggle than the casinos, and it hurts more people.

So yes, in some cases, the War in Iraq is like the war in Vietnam.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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