Published on Friday, September 27, 2002 in the Boston Globe
A Replay of Vietnam in Iraq?
by Derrick Z. Jackson
HIS TELEGRAPHED war on Iraq belongs on a cineplex trailer. ''An obedient son, mopping the floor for his father (1991 clip of fleeing remnants of the Republican Guard) ... a defense secretary trying to annihilate the 1960s (clip of Kent State) ... a secretary of state frozen out in a Cabinet Cold War (clip of a black man being passed by taxi cabs) ... a vice president who has not been seen since the Florida recount (clip of an empty chair) ... a security adviser who could scare Cleopatra Jones out of her Afro (blaxploitation clip of Jones gunning down criminals).
''Four men. One woman. Five visions. Brash. Bellicose. Blind with ambition. Bound by their hatred of the Axis of Evil. Their mission: to drive a madman away from critical oil supplies for sport utility vehicles. Which one of them will go mad first?
''Coming on Christmas Day: `Regime Change.' Directed by Martin Scorcheasy. Special effects by George Nukas. Special rap by JA Rule (John Ashcroft). Special reunion soundtrack of Michael Jackson and the all-star cast who sang to end famine in Ethiopia in 1985: `I am the world, Who needs the UN? I am the one to make a brighter day, so let's bomb Baghdad.'
''Starring George W.W. (World War) Bush. Costarring Donald ''Weapons of Mass Destruction'' Rumsfeld. His credible evidence is so incredible no one gives it credibility; costarring Colin ''Reluctant First Striker'' Powell and Dick Cheney. He'll kick your posterior - if you can find him; And introducing Condoleezza Rice. Never tell her you will do nothing.''
One person who might not have given this flick four stars was James Thomson. Thomson, who died this summer at the age of 70, was the curator for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University from 1972 to 1984. In the 1960s, Thomson was an Asian foreign policy adviser in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Thomson was noteworthy for being an early dissenter from President Johnson's mass destruction in Vietnam and for wanting better relations with China. Thomson quit in 1966.
Two years later, Thomson wrote ''How Could Vietnam Happen?'' in the Atlantic Monthly. Much of that essay, which won an Overseas Press Club award, applies to the push by President Bush to mount an attack Iraq.
''The key here is domestic politics; the need to sell the American people, press, and Congress on support for an unpopular and costly war in which the objectives themselves have been in flux,'' Thomson wrote.
''Once you have said that the American Experiment itself stands or falls on the Vietnam outcome, you have thereby created a national stake far beyond any other stakes. Crucial throughout the process of Vietnam decision making was a conviction among many policy makers that Vietnam posed a fundamental test of America's national will.... These are not men who can be asked to extricate themselves from error.''
''There is a final result of Vietnam policy,'' he wrote, that ''holds potential danger for the future of American foreign policy: the rise of a new breed of American ideologues who see Vietnam as the ultimate test of their new doctrine. I have in mind those men in Washington who have given a new life to the missionary impulse in American foreign relations, who believe that this nation, in this era, has received a threefold endowment that can transform the world. As they see it, that endowment is composed of, first, our unsurpassed military might, second, our clear technological supremacy, and third, our allegedly invincible benevolence (our `altruism,' our affluence, our lack of territorial aspirations).
''Together, it is argued, this threefold endowment provides us with the opportunity and the obligation to ease the nations of the earth toward modernization and stability, toward a full-fledged Pax Americana Technocratica. In reaching for this goal, Vietnam is viewed as the last and crucial test. Once we have succeeded there, the road ahead is clear.''
Today, Bush tells us that Iraq is the crucial test. With a sagging economy and surrounded by ideologues, he is succumbing to the missionary impulse. If he cannot get Osama bin Laden's devil horns to hang over his mantle, Saddam Hussein's will do just fine, even though Hussein, regardless of his own evils, has not been tied to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
''What can be said of the men `in charge?''' Thomson asked. ''It is patently absurd to suggest that they produced such tragedy by intention and calculation. But it is neither absurd nor difficult to discern certain forces at work that caused decent and honorable men to do great harm.''
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company