Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Iraq Echoes Vietnam

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Iraq Echoes Vietnam

Article excerpt

This war in Iraq is beginning to look enough like Vietnam to bring back memories of those turbulent years from long ago. The Vietnam War stretched through the administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

Eisenhower's involvement was mostly symbolic. US military forces had a token presence and few advisers. Kennedy had a few more, but unrest was beginning to simmer. Kennedy sent Army Gen. Matthew Ridgway and civilian adviser Walt Rostow to Vietnam to report. Their separate reports disagreed so sharply that the president asked if they'd been to the same country. Quarrelsome religious sects appeared in Vietnam as well as some political violence. The prime minister of South Vietnam was assassinated shortly before Kennedy was in November 1963. Johnson came to office suddenly and devoutly wishing to get out of Vietnam but not knowing how. He feared being charged with having led the "only war America ever lost."

Then came the Gulf of Tonkin incident. On Aug. 2, 1964, the US destroyer Maddox reported that it had been attacked while it was on what the Navy described as a routine patrol off the North Vietnamese coast. It was joined by the destroyer C. Turner Joy, and both ships reported further attacks Aug. 4. There was no damage to the destroyers, nor casualties to their crews, but Johnson ordered air strikes against North Vietnam. He also asked Congress for a joint resolution authorizing him to "take all necessary measure to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to repel further aggression." Congress passed the resolution, nearly unanimously, within two days. (Both Presidents Bush received similar authority before attacking Iraq in 1991 and 2003, respectively.)

One reason the Vietnam resolution got heavy Democratic support was that the 1964 presidential race was shaping up between President Johnson and Sen. Barry Goldwater, the conservative Arizona Republican who was talking about "bombing Vietnam back to the Stone Age." Compared with that, the Johnson response to Tonkin looked moderate. But it led to increasing troop levels, to more bombing of the North, to more casualties, draft calls, and protests on campuses. …

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