Stop with the World War II Analogies Already
In making his case for the American military invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush relies upon historical analogies and examples from his father's World War II generation.
For example, the president argues that failure to use force against Saddam Hussein will render the United Nations an impotent and meaningless organization just as the League of Nations collapsed before the aggressive expansionism of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Using the rhetoric of such World War II figures as Winston Churchill, Bush maintains that providing more time for weapons inspections was a policy of appeasement similar to that pursued by France and European powers when confronted by the rise of Adolph Hitler.
This is not the first time that the president has evoked imagery from the "Good War," branding the nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as the contemporary "axis" of evil in the world. A new element from the Second World War has been added to the Bush history lesson and this is America as liberator. When the president asserts that the hour of Iraqi liberation is at hand images of American soldiers landing on the beaches of Normandy and later being embraced by grateful populations come to mind.
But is history really this simple? A healthy respect for the ambiguity and paradox involved with human motivation and historical causation seems missing from the Bush analysis. The League of Nations collapsed, but it should be pointed out that this organization was weakened at its inception by American refusal to join. Similarly, the unilateralism of the Bush administration may be far more destructive to the United Nations and global cooperation than Iraqi delays in complying with UN resolutions, and American plans for postwar reconstruction in Iraq apparently call for a more reduced UN role than contemplated by British coalition partners.
Also, efforts to portray the Iraqi dictator as a contemporary Hitler ring hollow. Any expansionist plans of Saddam Hussein have been contained through UN weapons inspections, a model which might be useful for the upcoming crisis with North Korea. And the Bush administration has been unable to link the Iraqis with the Al Qaeda terrorist network. The best that Washington is able to offer is an apparently clairvoyant doctrine of preemption. The Hitler and appeasement analogies ill served Americans during the Vietnam War era, when President Lyndon Johnson insisted that an American failure to halt Ho Chi Minh would be comparable to the British and French appeasement of Hitler at the 1938 Munich conference.
Nor should American troops assume that they will be welcomed as liberators despite clever operational slogans. While it is true that many Iraqis have little love for Saddam Hussein, it is naïve to believe that bombing will win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Instead of the historical analogies of World War II liberation, it might behoove us to recall the Philippine insurrection of 1899-1902 and the Vietnam War. Filipinos were glad to see the end of Spanish colonialism in 1898 but did not welcome inclusion into the American empire which resulted from the Spanish-American War. American marines fought a bloody and ruthless war to suppress the Filipino insurrection. Returning to the jungles of Asia in the 1960s, Americans encountered a fierce resistance from the Vietnamese people, including guerilla combat and the difficulty of distinguishing friend from foe, a problem which is already becoming tragically apparent in Iraq. It should also be noted that the Iraqis, especially the Shiite population of the south, have a legacy of distrust for the United States dating back to the first Bush administration which they believed betrayed them in the initial Persian Gulf War.
In conclusion, perhaps the Cold War rather than World War II offers a more fitting analogy for the current conflict. During the Cold War, American foreign policy polarized the world in an anticommunist crusade. However, an overly zealous United States often ended up supporting authoritarian regimes and being drawn into peripheral conflicts such as the one in Vietnam. In a similar vein, the Bush doctrine has divided the world by enunciating you are either with us or the terrorists. Again these efforts to polarize the world have earned the United States considerable animosity and drawn American troops into a conflict tangential to its central purpose of combating terrorism.
In addition, during the 1950s as the United States devoted valuable resources to the Cold War, social problems were neglected which exploded during the ensuing decade. The current estimates for the war in Iraq, along with massive tax cuts, assure that the nation will incur high deficits which will make it exceedingly difficult to deal with needed health care and educational reforms.
The current war also evokes images of McCarthyism. One of the greatest casualties of the Cold War was freedom of thought, and we are already seeing this with the assault on civil liberties proposed by the revised Patriot Act and the failure of the war-oriented media to allow time and space for antiwar opinions. MSNBC has cancelled the liberal Phil Donahue Show, radio stations are refusing to play the Dixie Chicks because of a statement criticizing the pij resident, and teachers have been disciplined for hanging antiwar posters in their classrooms. The world was a scary place in the 1950s, and Soviet espionage was a fact of life, but the far greater threat to the American way of life was Senator McCarthy and his legacy. The first casualty in war is truth, and in considering historical parallels with the war in Iraq, we had best forget about the Second World War.
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Mark Helman - 12/14/2003
Yea we may be #1 in military Superiority and Financial strength, but with that title of being a lone super power comes responisibility. Responsibility seems to be a word lost to we Americans. We allowed Bush to have a blank check. THAT WAS WRONG. We should have stood up and opposed his Imperialist movement. And now we are found with our pants around our ankle's as we try to explain why we invaded a soverign country. "We we deposed an evil dictator". Funny i could have sworn that there are many more dictators in all parts of the globe, SOuthern asia, Africa, etc. But we allow these dictatorships because they don't control oil or other natural resources. But they do produce things cheap because of forced labor, so we allow these countries to remain under the fists of these dictators which are probobly worse than Saddam. Why? Because American investors and buisness men can grow fat off thier nearly free labor. This is why we now have the problem with Exportation of American Businesses. So in conclusion think before you speak freind, yes we may be #1 statistically but then again so was Germany after they recovered from the First world war. And we all know what happended when thier citizenry fell into the pit of blindless Belief.
Once again thank you for listening to me vent
Marj - 12/14/2003
I've just read over your article, and it is very scary to think of the parallels that link the world war II situation to ours. For example, Hitler used a similiar cause to invade soveriegn countries as the one bush used. Hitler's motive was to drive out the communists, which at the time in germany many felt the communists to be terrorists especailly after the supposed burning of the Riechstag. Bush used the same mode in naming that Iraq to national security, and to drive out Al Quada which was supposedly in Iraq( when we all know that was a lie). So in finishing I feel that we are now faced with an enormous problem in Iraq as well as at home. Censorship was huge in the 1950's and now we're seeing it again just like in Germany. Once again the intellectuals and the ones who are smarter than to trust this "reat"beuracricy are once again being muzzled for expressing thier truths.
Thank you for taking the time to read my response.
Mark Helman-Us Citizen
Danny - 12/11/2003
Shutup man. Your just made because were number 1#.
Josh - 9/17/2003
I really hope your painstakingly obvious political bent here doesn't show up in your classroom.
Mike Gowie - 9/16/2003
.. never have I seen it so profound.
The number of 'own goals' in Iraq, 2003 .. speaks for itself.
4% of the world's population using 25% of the resources speaks for itself.
The fiasco of the presidential election speaks for itself. Bush had no right to speak on behalf of the UN. And now, we know he was wrong anyway.
American arrogance speaks for itself.
American culture speaks for itself.
If I never visit that country again or see another American again, I won't be sorry. What does 'already' at the end of a sentence mean anyway?
So what's my point?
I used to adore America. Now I hate it. My heart goes out to every family in Iraq who never wanted to be on the Saddam side or the side it finds itself now.
And all because of a Turkey. An idiot, frankly. Someone who should never, never have been elected. And most AMericans know that.
Perhaps the UN got it right after all. Negotiation, for the civilised, violence for the incompetent.
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- Bernard Bailyn’s influence on the profession is hailed in the WSJ