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Going back to an old lover. . . - Chronarchy

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March 29th, 2007


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06:31 pm - Going back to an old lover. . .
I find it interesting that, according to everyone I've spoken to in the military, Bernard Fall's Street Without Joy is no longer read in either OCS or ROTC courses. It was required reading in my Vietnam War class, and I picked it up again because I just didn't have the time to really absorb it the first time through.

And all I can say is, "Wow."

I understand better now, my father's constant insistence that this Iraq war is nothing like Vietnam. He's completely right. Reading about the destruction of Groupement Mobile No. 100 (GM 100) alone shows the relief sharply. (Of course, this doesn't make Iraq right, but I expect that comparisons to Vietnam are going to bug me worse than Sept. 11th's comparisons to Pearl Harbor.) Road 19, Mang Yang Pass, and Chu-Dreh Pass are like nothing we have seen in Iraq.

When we became involved in engagement in Vietnam, after the French left, Street Without Joy was required reading. It described the French debacle perfectly, explaining why better armoured and armed troops were at a serious disadvantage to an army that walked everywhere, carried everything on its back, and had few outside sources of supply. "The picture he draws is not a pleasant one," the foreward to the book reads. "He presents for critical inspection two widely divergent military philosophies, one built on the mobility of the individual soldier, the other resting on the mobility of armies." And there was the central, pivotal point that Fall makes.

Had Fall not died in 1967, victim of a Vietcong explosive on the Street Without Joy, I wonder what he would have said about the fall of Saigon in 1975.

I know it would not have been kind, regarding our policies.

But I find myself happy to have picked this book up. I've been in religious studies, a love of mine that has come from my need and want to understand what I'm doing as a priest, too long. I needed to get back to my roots, my love of military history, a love long forgotten and gathering dust on the shelves.

It is, of course, just a past love, one that will return to the shelves soon in favour of more religious studies work. But for now, I needed it.

Now, the object is to finish the last 150 pages of this book before next Thursday, so I can take something lighter and easier to carry to Greece.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Current Music: "Live is Just a Tire Swing", -JB

(12 comments Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:gothicdruid
Date:March 29th, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC)
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The Iraq comparison I find compelling...esp. in terms of lessons appearing not to be learned...is with the Algerian war of independence. Iraq's not our "colony" in a literal sense, but the behavior of the American government vis-a-vis the Iraqi support for the insurgency (which is to say its determined denial that there was significant support) is very reminiscent of the French attitude toward the nationalists in Algeria. (And the nationalists' insurgency tactics are, I think, a template for what we see in Iraq to a large degree.)
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 30th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
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The Algerian war became a template for the Vietnam War, too. The Algerians learned how to trap and destroy helicopters, and the evidence that they were spreading the tactics could be seen in Vietnam bare months later.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about the Alergerian war, mostly just what I've learned in terms of parallels with other wars.
[User Picture]
From:shes_unreal
Date:March 29th, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC)
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I have made the comparison myself, but only to point out that this isn't the first time the bigwigs in the U.S. have underestimated their enemy. I honestly can't remember if I read that book or not because I took the Vietnam class too and we had options... if I did I only skimmed it, I ought to give it a closer read.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 30th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)
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I think when I took the class, only sections were required. I know I bought all the books for that class I could afford, and a number were optional.

I can see that, yeah, we've underestimated our enemy. I'm not sure how this becomes different, though, than other wars we've fought here and there (or, should I say, "incursions" or "police actions"?). Korea's a good example of that, as are Vietnam and the Indian Wars (you'd think that we'd have learned from the First Indochina War, but, well, that's too much to ask).

Fall's book is a good read. If you still have it on your shelf, it'd definitely be worth the read. Of course, I think that the utility of the read is mostly available to those interested in either warfare in general (me) or interested in the Indochina theatre or French actions in particular.
[User Picture]
From:wishesofastar
Date:March 30th, 2007 02:11 am (UTC)
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I think the Vietnam comparison has less to do with the military techniques involved than with the effects it has on our country. The mass of public not wanting us to go into it in the first place, the government's refusal to leave, and now us being stuck in a big mess in that hellhole.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 30th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
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It's a rather superficial comparison, if that's the case, and that comparison probably holds up less well. I mean, I don't see demonstrations like the ones that resulted in the 1968 Democratic Convention or Kent State, nor do I even see the beginnings of such movements or outrage.

Curiously, our government seems quite willing to leave. It's the president who doesn't want to. The McGovern-Hatfield amendment, the most noticeably similar amendment of the Vietnam era to the recent one that passed in the senate recently, failed 55-39 in 1970. The amendment the senate passed a few days ago went 50-48. It's a small difference if you just compare the numbers, but the main difference is the simple fact that the bill passed. Add to this that most people think the legislature is afraid of Bush, and the passage is all that much more significant to me.

I could actually see a better argument for military techniques than I could for social likeness. Hell, the vast majority of people even support our troops, for the most part, whether we agree with the war or not. Vietnam didn't even have that social aspect.
[User Picture]
From:wishesofastar
Date:March 30th, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)
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Good points. Frankly I'm not very up on my Vietnam history. It's always good to hear the analysis of a military history major. :)
[User Picture]
From:rfunk
Date:March 30th, 2007 05:05 pm (UTC)
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"Vietnam didn't even have that social aspect."

Why do you say that?

Do you buy into the myth of spitting on returning troops? http://www.rlg.org/en/page.php?Page_ID=95
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 30th, 2007 05:19 pm (UTC)
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People claim troops were spit on?

I don't think I've ever heard that one. Then again, this may be because by the time I took my class, the info in this article had been around for nearly 10 years. But I've talked to soldiers who had jobs denied them, were cursed at and called "baby killer", and felt shoved to the edges of society because they had gone to fight in a war that they were drafted for (not one they signed up for). It's also interesting to hear them talk about Americans who they feel worked to undermine the support from the homefront, like Hanoi Jane.

But no one ever indicated to me that soldiers were spit on.

I'm kinda amused by the article linked, though. I wish I could write something so grad-school-esque. This may be why I haven't gotten in yet. . .

"It is this misogynous equation of women=nature, sexuality, wetness, engulfment, deeply etched in the our culture, that is the basis for the myth of women spitting on defeated soldiers."

That's an amazing quote. . .
[User Picture]
From:erienc
Date:March 30th, 2007 03:23 am (UTC)
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Hmmmm...
Now can we get everyone else in the country to read it?
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 30th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
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Heh. Unfortunately, my blog just doesn't reach that many people :)
[User Picture]
From:road_trip_judi
Date:April 3rd, 2007 01:18 pm (UTC)
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Interesting. I read it (*ponders*) about 20 years ago. Perhaps I too should revisit it.

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