Memory's revenge

Mother Jones
by JoAnn Wypijewski


The Pentagon's recruitment crisis is only the latest evidence that the authors of Operation Iraqi Freedom forgot something on the way to war: the adamant memory of Vietnam, and not in the usual sense. There's a truism among military strategists that 'the war before' colors the one you're fighting. World War II corporatized the military, in everything from management style to procurement to the seemingly permanent draft, even as it helped make the middle class and valorized combat experience as the ultimate manly credential. The Vietnam War was born of all that and then convulsed on it, transforming the draft into political dynamite and restructuring the Army to make wars like the one in Iraq unthinkable, or so almost everyone on up to Colin Powell once thought. Now retired Army officers will say openly that there's no precedent for running a full-scale war with a volunteer army; they will cite the Powell Doctrine -- prescribing war only on condition of mass public support, swift and overwhelming force, and a clear exit strategy -- as the lost lesson of the war before, the thing that Bush and Cheney, with no experience of Vietnam, were mindless of, and that Powell, whether too weak, too ambitious, or too loyal, failed to impress upon them. Such critiques miss the fundamental lesson, which is that soldiers forced to become criminals for old men's ambitions won't all come home quietly...


Informant: Thomas L. Knapp


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September 2005

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