With a husband in the Army and currently on his third deployment to Iraq, I am often asked how I think this war is different from past wars. In order to answer this question properly, I found that I needed to do a little bit of research and acquaint myself with some war history. As I learned about previous wars that Americans have been involved in, I learned that only two wars have had a great deal of controversy.
The Vietnam War and the Iraq War, while almost identical are vastly different in their own right. In this paper, I will discuss the similarities and differences between two of our most recent wars. Even though there is a twenty eight year difference, there are many similarities between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Both Vietnam and Iraq are called wars, even though neither had a formal declaration of war. The “actions” claimed legitimacy per a Congressional vote authorizing the Presidents to send troops.
The Vietnam War was packaged as a crucial front in the Cold War; and Iraq was packaged as a crucial front in the War on Terrorism. Vietnam is seen as Texan President Lyndon Johnson’s war, although he saw it as carrying out military commitments made by his predecessors Eisenhower and Kennedy. Iraq is seen as Texan President George W. Bush’s war, although he saw himself fulfilling the stated goal (Iraq Regime Change) of his predecessors George H. W. Bush and Clinton. The excuse for major combat operations in Vietnam was a perceived attack on the Gulf of Tonkin.
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The excuse for major combat operations in Iraq was a perceived attack on the Persian Gulf. Elected on a promise to end the war in Vietnam, Nixon expanded it into Laos and Cambodia. During the midterm election, Bush learned that the voters wanted to end the War in Iraq, but instead, he sent more troops. President Johnson left Vietnam unresolved for his successor, Nixon, who had no connection to his administration; President Bush left Iraq unresolved for his successor, Obama, who also had no connection to his administration.
The escalation into Vietnam and the invasion of Iraq are often seen as consequences because of events that happened in America less than two years earlier; the assassination of JFK and the September 11 attacks. Prior to the Vietnam War, the United States had military advisors in South Vietnam for about twelve years. After the Gulf War, the United States had combat troops in Iraq for about twelve years and kept them close by in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Both Vietnam and Iraq involved the United States accusing a powerful neighbor, Russia, China, and Iran, of aiding its enemies.
Vietnam and Iraq were largely supported by the public until the Tet Offensive and Abu Gharib put gruesome images of hard-won victories on American’s televisions. Soldiers of both Vietnam and Iraq found themselves being criticized for what had been happening, although they were just following orders given to them by the higher-ups. Opponents of both Vietnam and Iraq found themselves being branded as traitors for simply exercising their right to free speech.
With all the similarities of Vietnam and Iraq, there are vast amounts of differences too. When the villain in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, was captured at Saigon, his name was put on the city and it became Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. When Saddam Hussein, the villain in Iraq, was captured, he was executed after having his name removed from just about everything in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. The United States got into Vietnam to keep the south from falling to communist dictators, though in the process they cancelled or rigged democratic elections.
The United States went into Iraq with the intentions to stop terrorism, but in the process provided fodder for new terrorist groups. The loss of Vietnam was supposed to cause a “domino effect” of nations falling to Communism. The victory in Iraq was supposed to cause something of a reverse domino effect of other Islamic states yearning for democracy. The Vietnam War ended with the unification of a country formerly divided, while the end of the Iraq War brought with it the partitioning of a country formerly unified.
American involvement in Vietnam began after the French stopped fighting; while American involvement in Iraq began after the French refused to fight. When the generals told President Johnson that they needed more troops to win in Vietnam, he refused to provide them and moved to end the war. When the generals told President Bush that they needed more troops to win in Iraq, he refused to provide them and moved to start the war. Vietnam’s fighting force was four times the size of Iraq’s.
Vietnam had a draft that was eventually abolished, while Iraq had an all-volunteer military that eventually led to talk of reinstating the draft. The War in Vietnam was a long fight to expel an invading army. The War in Iraq was a short fight by an invading army to expel Saddam, followed by a long fight to expel local militias. If a soldier joined the National Guard in the Vietnam era, they would have avoided getting shipped out, but if a soldier joined the National Guard during the Iraq era, they probably would not have avoided being shipped out.
Some people say that America gets involved in wars just for the revenue created, while other people say that without unification of the world, there will never be true peace. As a military wife in a time of war, I find myself often torn between my feelings. There is no doubt that given the choice, I would choose to have my husband home and safe, however, without being needed by the Army, my husband probably would not have a job or be able to support our family. As I did research for this paper, I found myself very grateful that I was not a wife during the War in Vietnam.
With the lack of communication, ammunition and support from other countries during the Vietnam War, I would most likely be a widow. Being a military wife during the Iraq War is not easy, but there have not been near as many casualties and while my husband still is not entirely safe, I am able to communicate with him almost every day and have no doubt that he is provided with everything that he needs. There are a great number of similarities between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, but there are also a great number of differences.
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