Lessons of Vietnam War are relevant to Iraq war
Annoying or not, comparisons between the Iraq war and the Vietnam War convey a message that President Bush needs to understand.
When lawmakers and activists seem determined to make the comparison, as did Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., over the weekend, the temptation is to say, "So what?"
Whether we like the war or not, we are in the middle of it. Vietnam comparisons might have been helpful before we invaded, but now they are demoralizing.
The so-what temptation, endemic in most legislators in either party, needs to be overcome. Vietnam provides important lessons that remain relevant to the war effort.
In April 1975, U.S. forces left Vietnam in desperation as Communist troops marched into Saigon. Despite heroic efforts by U.S. troops, the chaotic helicopter escape made clear that we had not won the war.
The casualty numbers were horrible. A quarter million South Vietnamese troops died. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died. Almost 60,000 U.S. troops died.
Most Americans understood the hopelessness of the war effort long before U.S. troops escaped. Thousands died as politicians tried to prove America never loses a war.
And this is where the Vietnam lesson is important. If it becomes apparent we are losing the war in Iraq — and it still may be too early to know — we need to drop the bravado and get out.
Expending U.S. lives is a sad but necessary sacrifice if we have a realistic expectation of winning the war. Expending lives after we know a successful conclusion will evade us is tragic and wrong.