Tuesday, October 03, 2006

WWII versus Vietnam

One of my sons had mentioned awhile ago that the competing analogies of Iraq = Vietnam, Iraq = WWII used by the left and right in America, were actually an effort to shortcut the debate rather than engage in it. If you can make people mentally accept either analogy, you no longer have to make any argument. The analogy does it for you.

I suggested that analogizing to other wars might break the logjam, or at least move the debate to more discussable territory. Ben's solution was to relate everything about Iraq to the French & Indian War, or King Phillip's War, or something like that, just because it would be puzzling and humorous. Which actually is a good way of moving thought forward.

The WWII/Vietnam battle for Analogic Supremacy obscures an important point. To the jihadists, neither of those wars is much in their mind. Bin Laden's benchmark is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and he is viewing our actions through that prism. It's not just what we consider winning and losing that matters, but what they consider winning and losing. Most simply, if the Muslim world believes the jihadists have lost, it doesn't matter whether things were conclusive or satisfying by our standards. Similarly, if we think we have won by our standards, but the jihadists believe they have played to a stalemate, as in Gulf War I, then they will continue fighting.

I don't agree entirely with the assessments in this article over at tcs daily, but it has some very good correctives to American ways of viewing the GWOT.


Anonymous said...

Why would you employ a puzzling analogy to try to support your position? Wouldn't you want to use an argument that will resonate most strongly with your audience, and not the weakest, most tenuous example you can find?

People who try to be too clever can be very tedious and are often rightly ignored. As O'Reilly would say, "Don't be a popinjay."

Ben Wyman said...

It's not so much employing it as a working analogy as it is using it as a topper. When someone points out that Iraq is "just another Vietnam," you follow with "well, I see what you're saying, but wouldn't you agree that Bush's strategies in this war much more closely echo the plans followed by the British regulars against the French settlers in the 1750's?" They can't follow up, of course, and even if they shrewdly ask "how so?" - you only need one more little bit of information about the pounding tactics of Edward Braddock, plus an offhand mention of guerrilla fighting of the French and Indians during some of the more disasterous battles.

Of course, you run the risk of finding someone who actually knows what they're talking about, but I think it unlikely that anyone who does would be comparing Iraq to either Vietnam or WWII.

Anonymous said...

I thought the post was about trying to move a debate forward, not about playing games so that you can feel smug.

If I were trying to be a wise guy and you brought up your French Indian War analogy, I'd reply by thanking you for admitting we are an imperial power fighting to establish colonial rule over Iraq and were using the Iraqis as pawns just like the British and the French used the Native Americans during the French Indian Wars.

cakreiz said...

AVI- the use of historical analogies is a fascinating one. Here's a comment from The Walrus in a discussion thread on the same topic. I thought was instructive:

"I certainly agree with you that historical analogies can be tricky and even misleading. However, historical parallels can be enlightening, as they make us think about the underlying causes and mindsets, as the comments to this post illustrate so well. As long as we don't fall into the trap of thinking that everything will unroll in the same way as it did in the past. There are way too many variables at play. . . . In other words, it's a good tool for understanding, and a rotten one for predicting.

Thought that the last line was particularly insightful.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, excellent. All real situations have many threads, each of which might have legitimate analogs. I have seen our current jihadist enemies compared convincingly to the Mediterranean pirates of the early 19th C and the anarchists of the early 20th C, and the insurgency to the Malay States and communist groups in the Caribbean and South America. Victor Davis Hanson compares many situations to ancient Mediterranean history. All have some validity, but reliance on any one is likely to lead astray.

GraniteDad said...

Thanks, Nash. A self-righteous politically-slanted reply is always better than a humorous one attempting to find common ground across the aisle.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

But I like self-righteous politically slanted comments.

I mean, that's pretty clear, innit?

Anonymous said...

if the Muslim world believes the jihadists have lost, it doesn't matter whether things were conclusive or satisfying by our standards.

The last sentence spoken in the Control Room documentary about Al-Jazzera Control was telling. I don't remember it exactly anymore, but it was like this: "the arabs will respect a winner".

That "winner" could be the USA or the terrorists.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

It is actually a good question. There are elements of both. The analogy to VN is fighting poor people somewhat idealistically in a hell hole. As Iraq the Model points out the Iraqis have a paranoid belief that we want something of theirs; 'Do they want our dark eyes?' As a British friend says, 'There is no oil in Darfur.' But we don't want their oil at least not w/o paying for it; we just don't want some murderer making WMD supported by it. Since VN was the 'last quagmire' we tend to extrapolate to 'the present quagmire is very optional.' The analogy to WWII is that our loss position is: choose your body of water. We have already been attacked ouside the confines of any jihadist controlled nation state.