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Lessons of Vietnam

Gary Sudborough | 19.09.2004 20:06 | Anti-militarism | World

Lessons learned by the US military during the Vietnam war and their application to the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with particular reference to casualty figures.

Considering the rapid acceleration of American casualties in Iraq, isn't it interesting that the US corporate media seem mainly concerned with a war that happened more than thirty years ago and in debating which man, John Kerry or George W. Bush, served more honorably during the Vietnam war? John Kerry admitted in testimony before a Congressional committee in 1971 that he and other soldiers committed war crimes in Vietnam, and George W. Bush was using his daddy's influence to avoid risking his life in that war. There is no honor anywhere in this sordid history. We now have the sad spectacle in American politics of an election between two war criminals. Forget Iraq, Afghanistan, the elusive or dead Osama bin Laden, depleted uranium poisoning, health care, unemployment, poverty and global warming and its relationship with the powerful, violent, destructive, hurricanes. The US corporate media would rather divert our attention to the Vietnam war, scandals, celebrity trials, and various trivialities and frivolities.

However, lessons were learned by the ruling class and military of the United States in the Vietnam war, which are now being applied to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The factors which turned the American people against the Vietnam war were the high US casualties and the television news reports showing the actual carnage in Vietnam. For example, there were the pictures of the little Vietnamese girl running with napalm burning her naked body, American soldiers using cigarette lighters to burn villagers' huts, the My Lai massacre and many other atrocities. One could also see the body bags containing deceased American soldiers and the numerous flag draped coffins returning home.

The Pentagon, with the servile cooperation of the US corporate media, decided that in future wars a considerable change was necessary in the depiction of the war, the management of the war and in news reports of US casualties. First, they decided to predominately or exclusively use US air power to achieve objectives, if possible. Obviously, this limits US casualties because ground troops are not being used and technology has progressed to such an extent that it is extremely difficult to shoot down American aircraft. The United States achieved its objectives in Yugoslavia when Serbia capitulated to the unrelenting three month bombardment of their country from the air using depleted uranium weapons. Also, pilots from high altitude do not see the carnage on the ground, and if no reporters are present, it can be claimed to be a precision air strike on some official demon like Al-Zarqawi or Osama bin Laden. Any civilian casualties can then be denied or excused as "collateral damage." Actually, civilian casualties are the main objective because it is necessary to spread terror and intimidate the civilian population who are supporting the resistance fighters. That is why numerous cluster bombs are utilized, as well as radioactive depleted uranium. It is unimportant if children pick up the unexploded cluster bombs and are blown to bits or if they suffer cancers and birth defects from radioactive uranium. In Iraq the civilian population is superfluous and dispensable. It is the oil underneath the ground which is of maximum importance to American capitalists.

Besides relying on air power to a great extent, the Pentagon also decided not to allow American reporters to roam free and report on what they observe, as they did in Vietnam. Now, they are so-called embedded reporters who give the official version of events as desired by the US military. Independent reporters like those of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are intimidated and in certain instances shot at and killed or injured by US forces. Offices of news agencies which might give an alternative perspective of the war are closed down by force. Despite US assertions that the deaths of Al-Jazeera reporters are all accidents, these "accidents" happen with such frequency that one has to be very gullible to believe such nonsense.

US casualty reports are very slow in coming, particularly now with George W. Bush seeking reelection, or perhaps I should say reappointment, as President. It is often days or even weeks before the Defense Department releases the names of deceased soldiers. There are news reports of fierce clashes between resistance fighters and US troops, and then, US military spokespeople claim that there were no US soldiers killed or wounded. Are we dealing with immortal US soldiers here or what? When Iraqi resistance fighters attack from ambush with machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, it is only logical there are going to be some US casualties. I realize that vests worn by US soldiers protect to some extent, but their arms, legs and faces are still exposed and vests are not adequate protection from exploding shrapnel. The Iraqi resistance gives their own reports of US casualties on the web site  http://www.iraqwar.mirror-world/ru and needless to say, their account of the war and that of the US military conflict dramatically.

It is interesting that one US military spokesman claimed it was not US policy to comment on casualties as it might give encouragement to the enemy or indicate how effective enemy operations had been. In other words, casualty reports are part of psychological warfare, just like many other events of this war in Iraq such as the admitted US staging of the toppling of Saddam's statue and the faked Jessica Lynch rescue, which occurred when Iraqi forces had already pulled out of Nasiriya and Iraqi doctors who cared for Jessica were desperately trying to return her to American forces.

If the US government is willing to lie about weapons of mass destruction, uranium from Niger, and a series of faked incidents in Iraq, why wouldn't they also lie about US casualties? What are the true casualty figures? Is it just slightly more than one thousand dead American soldiers, as reported, or is it two thousand, five thousand or even ten thousand? People argue that such casualties could not possibly be hidden. Why not? No one can see anymore the number of coffins coming home, as they have prohibited the media from covering it, saying that it is too distressing to military families. The United States is a large country with a widely scattered population. Unless all military families got together and compared their experiences, no one could check on true casualty figures. They have effectively hidden from military families the hazardous effects and even the use of radioactive uranium. They have concealed the fact that five hundred thousand veterans of the wars in Iraq are now receiving disability payments from the government. What mother or father would want their son to go to Iraq if they knew that even if he survived the war, he would very likely come home disabled from depleted uranium or some other hazard? With the cooperation of the corporate media, I believe they could cover up the actual casualty figures as well.

It is obvious that the billionaires who control most of the wealth in the United States and increasingly the world and their servants in the military have learned valuable lessons from the Vietnam war. Unfortunately, the majority of American citizens have not learned that much in the same time period, or we would not be mired in the present predicament. The lesson which should have been learned by the American people is that war is a racket. Major General Smedley Butler, who fought in many US wars of aggression, described it as such. Wars are fought for the enrichment of corporations. The British used war to enhance the profits of the East India Company and the US uses war to enhance the profits of Halliburton, Bechtel, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrup-Grumman and General Electric to name just a few. US wars have absolutely nothing to do with spreading democracy and freedom across the world, but are instead an enlargement of a US empire and a continuation of over 500 years of the exploitation of the land, labor and natural resources of the Third World. What Columbus and the early Portuguese explorers started continues to this very day. That is the true lesson which Americans should have learned from the great tragedy of the Vietnam war, but obviously didn't.

Gary Sudborough
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