01. July 2005 · Comments Off on Quagmire!!! · Categories: General, GWOT, Iran, Media Matters Not

It looks like all the channels in the basic TV package are on repeats, and of stupid, intelligence-insulting, mind-numbingly boring programs that looked like twenty years of repeats even upon first airing; watching them in repeats one more time would be like root canal work with not much in the way of painkillers. Sooo… this summer, it looks like I am watching stuff on VHS and DVD, things I bought because I liked them, or taped off the broadcast channels— odd-ball things like “Due South”, various impeccably written and filmed stuff from “Masterpiece Theatre”, “Crusade” and “Babylon 5”…. And if my science fiction jones really gets bad, I have all of “Blake’s 7” (taken from the KUED, the Utah Public TV channel, in the early 90ies, when the broadcast that and Dr. Who at midnight on Saturdays. Note: “Blakes’ 7 was the British analogue to the original “Star Trek”, but with better writing, more interesting characters… but special effects that were…ummm… even more cheesy, and trust me, this is possible. And the dramatis personae only added up to 7 on occasion and only if one counted the computers, but against that… Paul Darrow, brooding in black leather and studs. Yum. Trust me on this. Yum.)

Oh, where was I? TV nostalgia. Back on topic. In the interests of 60ies nostalgia, a topic in which a great many of our media and duly elected officials seem lately to be mired down, I revisited my own memories, and some of my televised Vietnam memorabilia, a number of movies like “84 Charlie Mopic”, and the complete runs of “Tour of Duty” and “China Beach”, as they were broadcast on EBS-Zaragoza, complete with EBS TV identifiers, and a selection of cheesy AFRTS spots. Both programs were enormously popular among overseas military audiences at the time, to judge from the feedback that I remember, and from the number of small boys who borrowed BDUs, fatigues and flight-suits from their elders for the yearly Halloween parade at the DODs school. Those with first-hand memories of the Vietnam experience had more complicated reactions, like the husband of one of my friends in Korea. At that time he was the deacon of the Episcopal congregation, but he had served a combat tour as a very young infantry officer. His wife commented once that she always knew when he had watched “China Beach”, or some such, while she was out at choir practice, because he would be so white-lipped and silent for the rest of the evening.

But equating Vietnam to Iraq is a terribly strained analogy, and there are more differences than similarities. Some of them small and seemingly insignificant, some are written off as trivial, but to military veterans those differences posit a gulf of enormous difference… and some are just… well, differences. In no particular order;

1. Vietnam: a long, narrow south-east Asian country, once known as Cochin-China, or French Indo-China, of which practically no one in America had ever heard of, prior to about 1950. After WWII, we let the French take back their colony, although we could just as easily have pressured them into giving the Vietnamese their independence. A bad decision, but exactly how bad would not become apparent for many decades.

Iraq: a large, centrally located Middle-Eastern country, also known as the “Cradle of Civilization” (western division), Mesopotamia or the Land Between Two Rivers, the Fertile Crescent. It encompasses the birthplace of Abraham in the city of Ur of the Chaldees, of ancient cities, and the first recorded set of laws, the Code of Hammurabi, the earliest written epic, the story of Gilgamesh. The tower of Babel was supposed to have been built there, and the wonder of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The ancient names of cities, Ninevah, Babylon, Ur… resonate in western history and religion, a fountain-source, and a wonder.

2. Vietnam, to judge from the memories of friends like Xuan-An, and from the cameras of everyone who turned away from war and atrocity, and recorded the countryside itself is— from the mountains to the seaside and in the tended farmlands and the forests between— mainly green, lush and achingly beautiful.

Iraq— to judge from pictures posted by pro and amateur photog— is…. Ummm. OK. With careful lighting and creative shooting, Iraq can look… umm, interesting. Striking, even. Certain bits of it can grow on one, if one has a taste for the austere, and an appreciation for contrasts— which can also be said of much of the American West.

3. There doesn’t seem to be much impenetrable jungle in Iraq. Lots of desert, though; wide-open, no-much-of-a-place-hide desert, with excellent lines of sight.

4. The American troops are not draftees, this time. I will repeat this for the benefit of Prof. Churchill and the other SDS wannabees, milling around in the back and passing around… yo! Ward Baby! No smoking, ‘kay! You want to relive the glory days of 1968, you round up a bunch of your dopey friends and form a re-enactors’ group, just like normally nostalgic people do! THERE IS NO DRAFT! THEY ARE VOLUNTEERS! ‘KAY! Some 18-year olds choose to serve, others elect to sit in your classroom and pay for a couple of years of educational malpractice by flipping burgers at Mickey D’s. Free country, Ward… and that had better be a regular tobacco cigarette.

5. Which brings me seamlessly to the fact that the military has been… umm, rather stern for the last thirty years as regards the ingestion of mind-altering substances. They screen for it, at random, regularly and persistently… and they aren’t all that indulgent about alcohol, either, even outside of the Middle East. This isn’t Oliver Stone’s Army, and hasn’t been for years, although he himself is probably too whacked out to notice this.

6. American personnel rotate in-country as a unit, and rotate home again, en masse. They are not coming and going as single replacements… which makes it very difficult (not to say dangerous) for those who would hang around in international airports spitting on solitary members of the military. The old baby-killer accusation still gets traction, however.

7. Jane Fonda has yet to go over to the Sunni Triangle and pose with insurgent weapons. Yet, anyway.

8. The Ho Chi Minh Trail, skirted South Vietnamese territory as much as possible, running through neighboring countries, safe from interdiction, until the very last leg. The insurgency’s supply trail is vulnerable all the way from the Iraqi border.

9. The Viet Cong swam among the Vietnamese population, especially in the countryside like fish in a pond of water. The Iraqi pond seems distinctly unwelcoming to the insurgents. The fact that the most recent suicide bombers are either foreign jihadists, or local citizens either blackmailed into driving a car bomb or handcuffed to the steering wheel suggests that they are a considerable distance from the “winning the hearts and minds” ideal of a popular insurgency. It was supposed to be the Americans committing brutal atrocities on a innocent and defenseless population that would drive ordinary Iraqi citizens into supporting the insurgency; instead, it looks like the insurgents are committing the atrocities, and driving ordinary citizens away.

10. American troops in Iraq are armored-up, to a degree that makes their predecessors in Vietnam look positively undressed. And they seem to be amusing themselves without the local version of the “ville”, those notorious local districts just outside the gates of American bases which in days of yore provided loud music, cheap alcohol, and cheaper floozies to those members of the American military who were young and dumb and full of… erm, whatever. Mind you, any one knowing the location of a suitably Vietnam-style “ville” anywhere in Iraq will earn popularity undying by sharing that intelligence immediately… with members of the international press.

Feel free to add your own then-and-now observations in the comments.

Sgt. Mom

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