Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bush Mangles History at VFW Convention

I don't know which is harder to believe: that George W. Bush reads Graham Greene, or that he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam caused the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia:

The argument that America's presence in Indochina was dangerous had a long pedigree. In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called, "The Quiet American." It was set in Saigon, and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. He was a symbol of American purpose and patriotism -- and dangerous naivete. Another character describes Alden this way: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."

After America entered the Vietnam War, the Graham Greene argument gathered some steam. As a matter of fact, many argued that if we pulled out there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people.

In 1972, one antiwar senator put it this way: "What earthly difference does it make to nomadic tribes or uneducated subsistence farmers in Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos, whether they have a military dictator, a royal prince or a socialist commissar in some distant capital that they've never seen and may never heard of?" A columnist for The New York Times wrote in a similar vein in 1975, just as Cambodia and Vietnam were falling to the communists: "It's difficult to imagine," he said, "how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone." A headline on that story, date Phnom Penh, summed up the argument: "Indochina without Americans: For Most a Better Life."

The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.

Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. There's no debate in my mind that the veterans from Vietnam deserve the high praise of the United States of America. (Applause.) Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like "boat people," "re-education camps," and "killing fields."

Bush also compared the Iraq war, again, to World War II and to the Korean war, and 9/11 to Pearl Harbor; used the post-WWII occupation of Japan to justify the occupation of Iraq; and declared that Shintoism used to be a fanatical religion, just like Islam; but the American occupation of Japan turned it into a peaceful, freedom-loving religion.

The only question now is whether there will be any 20th century conflict left, by January 2009, to which Pres. Bush has not compared Iraq.

Here is some blogger reaction:

John Amato at Crooks and Liars:
Bush’s speech today tried to re-write our foreign policy disasters from Korea to Vietnam to try and justify his position on the Iraq war. I guess by using the author Graham Greene as some sort of example, Bush wants us to believe that he actually reads books or something….

Never in his speech did he address the millions of people that were killed or had their lives destroyed while we were fighting. That’s why “war” is such a monumental decision for any president to make and the American people can’t be lied into such a situation. Leaving a conflict will always result in more death and destruction. Bush left out so many truths in this speech that it’s repulsive. Here’s the full transcript. In this piece, Nir Rosen says that Iraq No Longer Exists. Why should it matter to the warmongers. To them it’s all just collateral damage.
NIR ROSEN: Iraq has been changed irrevocably, I think. I don’t think Iraq even — you can say it exists anymore. There has been a very effective, systematic ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad, of Shias –from areas that are now mostly Shia. But the Sunnis especially have been a target, as have mixed families like the one we just saw. With a name like Omar, he’s distinctly Sunni — it’s a very Sunni name. You can be executed for having the name Omar alone. And Baghdad is now firmly in the hands of sectarian Shiite militias, and they’re never going to let it go. ...

At Mahablog, biggerbox takes a stab at the historical ignorance:
I’ve written before about our president’s poor understanding of history. I’ve noted repeatedly that he will often use a historical reference that not only doesn’t actually support the point he thinks he’s making, but makes the opposite point instead.

But today he’s just gone too far. It actually hurts my brain. It’s not merely egoistic grandiosity anymore, it’s frankly aggressive, abusive treatment. It’s like he is actually trying to damage the minds of anyone who knows their 20th Century American history, or is old enough to have lived through it themselves.

How is it possible to withstand such an elemental force of bizarre rhetoric? How are we, who are limited by a lingering memory of sanity, a habit of believing in consensual reality, and an inability to wake each day and accept that everything we knew previously is wrong, to confront such an assault?

For years, Vietnam has served as the icon of American military failure. In fact, as long as Bush has been talking about invading Iraq, critics have been comparing it to Vietnam as an example of a misguided, strategically questionable, poorly planned, expensive military misadventure, where thousands of lives were lost and billions wasted for no apparent long-term value. So, what did Mr. Bush do today?

He alluded to Vietnam to support his war in Iraq.

No. Really. He did.

I know.

Sit down, it’ll begin to pass in a few moments.

Sputtering? Good, good. That’s a sign. You’re recovering. (Some can’t get over the initial catatonic shock and just dissociate.)

‘How?’ ‘Wha?’ Indeed.

It’s a frontal assault on the rational mind.

The collision of the concepts ‘George W. Bush’ and ‘Vietnam’ might lure you into recalling that Bush avoided service in Vietnam, choosing to defend the skies and bars of Alabama when his generation was called to war. Some particle of an obsolete sense of decency might make you wonder how he could dare to stand before the Veterans of Foreign Wars and make a reference to his own cowardice, and Deferment Dick’s, that way.

But before your mind can fully process that conundrum, it gets buffeted by other absurdities.

Starting at the beginning of his speech, the pummeling begins. Did he really draw an equivalence between the militarists of WWII Japan, the Communists in Korea, the Communists in Vietnam, and “the terrorists who wage war in Iraq and Afhanistan”? Yes, yes he did. Did he actually say that the “lesson of Asia’s development is that the heart’s desire for liberty will not be denied?” Yes. (He does know that North Korea is still in Asia, right? And China? Are you sure?)

Wait, what? He’s seriously suggesting the experiences of two culturally and ethnically homogeneous nations like Japan and Korea, both of whom experienced American troops in completely different contexts, hold an example for what we can expect in diverse Iraq after an unprovoked invasion? Ow. Ow. Ow. Headache!

No. He didn’t just refer to the culturally-sensitive actions of the post-war occupation forces in Japan as an example. He did. He really did. He’s going for it: he’s actually suggesting that the way the US handled Japan and Korea are comparable to the way we handled and are handling Iraq.

Read the whole thing. Well worth it, as they say.

Via Steve Benen, one of Josh Marshall's readers challenges the Korea analogy:
I think if people want to make the Korean War analogy, they should do it right. Bush sees the Korean War as a symbol of our commitment to fight aggression and lay the groundwork for development and, eventually, democracy, in South Korea. But we had achieved the liberation of South Korea by October 1950, mere months after the war began. We then made the disastrous decision to push into North Korea in an effort to topple the communist government there. That triggered Chinese intervention, and the war developed into a stalemate that dragged on for three more years. The eventual ceasefire returned things essentially to the status quo ante, an outcome we could have achieved at much lower cost had we not chosen to expand the war.

So, yes, the Korean War analogy is quite apt. Just not in the way Bush means it. The decision to invade Iraq in March 2003 looks a lot like the ultimately futile decision to invade North Korea in October 1950.

Think Progress picks up the despairing response of historian Robert Dallek:
In his speech to Veterans of Foreign Wars today, President Bush declared that the lesson of Vietnam is that we must not withdraw from Iraq. UCLA historian Robert Dallek, who has written about the comparisons of Iraq to Vietnam, says Bush is “twisting history” with his new analogy:
“It just boggles my mind, the distortions I feel are perpetrated here by the president,” he said in a telephone interview.

“We were in Vietnam for 10 years. We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II in every theater. We lost 58,700 American lives, the second-greatest loss of lives in a foreign conflict. And we couldn’t work our will,” he said.

“What is Bush suggesting? That we didn’t fight hard enough, stay long enough? That’s nonsense. It’s a distortion,” he continued. “We’ve been in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. It’s a disaster, and this is a political attempt to lay the blame for the disaster on his opponents. But the disaster is the consequence of going in, not getting out.”


Joan said...

Hey There!

Geez, Kathy, you have sure chosen to chase a red herring. Nobody is in Iraq to prevent mass genocide and you know it. BOTH American political parties believe the USA has the right to enter and occupy ANY foreign country (but preferably a third world one without many military resources, that threaten's its (American) business interests. Neither party has intention of leaving the middle east. BOTH parties believe in keeping military bases in the middle east. Bill Maher pointed out that some Americans lined up for days to be the first to get an Ipod phone or an X-Box or some absurd thing like that. No Americans will line up to protest the foreign policy that is advocated by both political parties. That is the REAL problem. That is the REAL issue. It really doesn't matter what Bush says about Cambodia.

Are you going to be posting again at Shakespeare's Sister? You seemed to enjoy that.

Take Care

Kathy said...

Geez, Kathy, you have sure chosen to chase a red herring.

I happen to think the truth is important, and that lies should be challenged. As John Lennon said (and as you can see from the blogger reaction I quoted), I'm not the only one.

Are you going to be posting again at Shakespeare's Sister?

No, I'm not posting at Shakespeare's Sister anymore.

Joan said...

Hey Kathy!

Well I agree with you that keeping the record straight with repsect to the truth of historical facts is important. But it must be equally important to address the real issues of this war, or you guys will be in Iraq long enough for your grandchildren to enlist.

Why aren't you posting at Shakespeare's Sister anymore? Are you finding it too much to handle two blogs? I thought you did pretty well there and you got good response.

Take Care
The Quilter!

Kathy said...

Why aren't you posting at Shakespeare's Sister anymore?

It wasn't my choice. If you want to know the details, I would suggest you e-mail Melissa McEwen, the owner of Shakespeare's Sister.

This is not meant to blow you off at all. I just feel that the responsibility of telling people who ask why I'm not posting there anymore should be Melissa's and not mine.

Thank you for asking. It means more to me than you probably know that people who read me there would notice my absence and ask about it.