One, Two, Three...What Are We Fightin' For?
At this point it's probably cliched, but I keep thinking that Country Joe and the Fish's "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag"
is pertinent once again. Historical analogies are seductive and dangerous, and it's still way too early to call our misadventure in Iraq a quagmire. Despite some uncanny similarities, these clearly are two different wars. That said, here are some comparison points:
In May 1965, 61% of people under 30
approved of the war in Vietnam according to Gallup. In November of that year, approval peaked at 75%. By August 1968, the number had dropped below 50% for the first time, to 45%. In May 1971, only 34% supported the war. Currently, Fox News reports
53% of Americans think the invasion of Iraq was "worth it", down from 64% a couple months ago. On April 10, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll
showed 76% thought the war was worth it as we approached Baghdad, up from 67% the week before, and higher than the 53% figure in January. An ABCNEWS/Washington Post Poll
on March 3 indicated 59% supported our Iraq policy.
We spent 494.3 billion (in 2002 dollars) from 1964-72 in Vietnam. That amounted to 12% of GDP. Today, we've budgeted 60 billion already for GWII, and according to Wolfowitz and the JCS vice-chair
, we're going to need 3 billion more per month for maybe a decade or more. That's a total of 420 billion dollars, or about 4% of GDP (I'm ignoring the costs of our Afghanistan operations).
In Vietnam, there were 58,202 (battlefield and other related) deaths
from 1962-73, peaking at 16,511 in 1968. I'm not being precise here, but that's a little over 14 deaths a day. Our peak troop strength was 543,482 as April 30, 1969. In Iraq there's roughly 150,000 troops deployed, we've lost 188 since March 19
, and have been losing an average of just over 1 soldier a day since Bush's "Mission Accomplished" stunt on May 1.
Behind the Stats
Numbers are one thing, but we can't lose sight of the fact that there is a real human element to all of this. At the USAirways check-in counter in Buffalo, I chatted with the agent as she got me on an earlier flight home, and learned her son is in Baghdad. She's on vacation now, but not travelling anywhere just so she can be at home in case her kid calls. Our government has put her child in harm's way, put him in a position maybe to kill Iraqi children
as the situation grows more intense.
During Vietnam, the soldiers didn't know what they were fighting for. It appears today it's much the same
"What are we getting into here?" asked a sergeant with the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division who is stationed near Baqubah, a city 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. "The war is supposed to be over, but every day we hear of another soldier getting killed. Is it worth it? Saddam isn't in power anymore. The locals want us to leave. Why are we still here?"
Why indeed? Those of us who didn't want us to be there in the first place have had to wrestle not only with our own consciences, but also accusations of treason, jibes that we somehow support Saddam, etc. And as the crowing began with the quick end to the warmaking, we still hope we can get all our sons and daughters out of Baghdad and Fallujah and Mosul with no more American or Iraqi blood spilled. I hope that will take not years, but months.
However, I am realistic. Iraq in many ways is more similar to post-WWII Germany than Vietnam, and Germany did not gain its full sovereignty until May, 1955
. Unfortunately, I think we're stuck there for the duration. I've moved beyond outrage at the reasons we got in this mess. I'm simply saddened by it all. I just hope we are successful after we have invested so much treasure and blood.