IN ADDITION to examining the Vietnam War from a post-Cold War perspective, one of the purposes of this book is to set the historical record straight. I address the major myths about Vietnam disseminated by the radical left and liberal left at the time of the war and repeated for three decades afterward....SOURCE: Vietnam, the Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America's Most Disastrous Military Conflict, by Michael Lind (Simon & Schuster, 1999), pp. xvi-xviii
To a remarkable extent, anti-Vietnam War activists recycled both Marxist and isolationist propaganda from previous American antiwar movements. For example, much of the anti-Diem and pro-Ho Chi Minh propaganda echoed the left's vilification of China's Chiang Kai-shek and South Korea's Syngman Rhee and its idealization of Mao Zedong; only the names of individuals and countries were changed. Various "missed opportunity" myths about U.S.-Vietnam relations were first spread in the context of relations between the United States and communist China in the 1940s. The influence of the generations-old isolationist tradition in the United States is clear in the arguments that Johnson and Nixon were treacherous tyrants whose foreign wars endangered the U.S. Constitution--arguments almost identical to those made against previous wartime presidents, including Polk, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Truman. The ease with which Francis Ford Coppola could turn Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a parable about European imperialism in Africa, into the movie Apocalypse Now illustrates the extent to which much anti-Vietnam War literature and art has been generic antiwar propaganda that could be illustrated by imagery from any war in any country in any period.
In the section of this book dealing with domestic politics, I demonstrate the extraordinary continuities between the anti-Vietnam-War movement and other antiwar movements--both earlier ones, like the movements opposing U.S. intervention in World Wars I and II, and subsequent ones, like the nuclear freeze campaign and the opposition to the Gulf War. Most remarkable of all is the continuity in regional attitudes toward U.S. foreign policy. The Democratic party's abandonment of the Cold War liberalism of Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson for the neoisolationism symbolized by George McGovern and Frank Church can be explained almost entirely in terms of the shift in the party's regional base from the promilitary, interventionist South to Greater New England, the region of the United States associated throughout American history with suspicion of the military and hostility to American wars.
LET THERE BE no doubt: There will be "Vietnams" in America's future, defined either as wars in which the goal of the United States is to prove its military credibility to enemies and allies, rather than to defend U.S. territory, or as wars in which the enemy refuses to use tactics that permit the U.S. military to benefit from its advantage in high-tech conventional warfare. The war in Kosovo fits both of these definitions. Preparing for the credibility wars and the unconventional wars of the twenty-first century will require both leaders and publics in the United States and allied countries to understand what the United States did wrong in Vietnam--and, no less important, to acknowledge what the United States did right.
This political tract aimed to drive a stake through the ghost of Vietnam in order to justify and guide a centrist Democratic U.S. administration's intervention in the Balkans (and possibly elsewhere). It's doubly provocative in hindsight, but its polemical tone gets a bit tiresome. After one more excerpt debunking the mythical Uncle Ho, I'll give Lind a rest.