HNN Poll: Did Historians Rush to Judgment?


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Read the excerpts below and then answer the following question:

"In the second week of the war, when events did not go as the Pentagon had planned, some historians chastised the administration for failing to heed the 'lessons of history.' Did historians rush to judgment?"


Martin Stuart-Fox, Professor of History at the University of Queensland, commenting in the Australian Financial Review (April 4, 2003):

What is remarkable about the extent of Iraqi opposition is not that it is happening, but that this should occasion some surprise. After all, this is a regime with its back to the wall and no alternative but to fight. Since it is massively outgunned, it must resort to whatever tactics will even the balance. If the American leadership did not expect such resistance, why not? Is the experience of Vietnam so distant that the US army failed to take account of the possibility of guerrilla warfare? This seems incredible, now that the first flush of naive optimism has passed, and as the spectre of Vietnam begins to loom over Iraq.

The US took certain lessons from Vietnam, which Colin Powell applied in the First Gulf War. These were, from a military point of view: to amass an overwhelming force and unleash it without political restrictions; to keep US casualties to a minimum; and to limit adverse press reporting. Two corollaries of these lessons were: the value of maximising international support to share the burden of war, both military and financial; and the importance of propaganda in an age of global communications. And the recipe worked so well that the defeat in Vietnam could be laid to rest.

There were, however, two other lessons that should have been learned from the Vietnam experience, but which did not affect the First Gulf War. These were that nationalism, not communism, provided the most powerful political motivation for the Vietcong; and that, in the face of superior military force, guerrilla warfare was the most effective response. Incredibly, these lessons of Vietnam, both military and political, are precisely the ones that the Bush administration has failed to heed.

Let us look again at the lessons of Vietnam for the Second Gulf War in the light of the First, beginning with political considerations. The Vietnam, or Second Indochina, War was fought in the international context of the Cold War, as a war to contain communism. Yet the US was able to convince remarkably few nations to join it. Apart from Australia and New Zealand, all were client Asian states (South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines). Among the states that refused to join the US, the most significant were Britain and France, both fellow members with America of the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation. Both had fought communist movements in Asia (in the Malayan Emergency and the First Indochina War respectively), and so should have been America's most experienced allies.

What the British and the French clearly understood, and what the US did not appreciate (though it should have, in the light of its own history), was that the wars in Indochina were fought in the name not of communism, but of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism. Communists might be leading that fight, but they did so in the name of nationalism. This the French knew at their cost. Yet the French experience was of slight interest to the American military, for, as one US officer put it, the French had lost.

The lack of international consensus and support from its closest allies weakened the American position in Vietnam. Yet those same allies were steadfast in their support for the US in the Cold War. In retrospect, the US lost the battle in Vietnam, but won the Cold War, in which it led a much broader international coalition....

In the street fighting that lies ahead as coalition forces drive into Baghdad, most of their opponents will not be in army uniforms. The more resolute will fight street by street; the more fanatical will adopt the suicide tactics that have already claimed several Americans and one Australian. The result will inevitably be more coalition and civilian casualties. The Iraqis are keeping a count of their "martyrs". Perhaps we shall end up compiling daily body counts in a war of urban attrition. For even after Baghdad is taken, guerrilla activity is likely to continue.

If the spectre of Vietnam begins once again to haunt America, it will be because, as George Santayana reminded us, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Even if Saddam is killed and his regime overthrown, opposition to American control of the Arab heartland is unlikely to evaporate, any more than Palestinian opposition has in response to the Israeli seizure of Arab land. Even Iraqi opponents of Saddam have made it clear they will also oppose any attempt by the US to remain in control of Iraq. And the Shia will not look kindly on infidel occupation of their shrines in Karbala and Najaf. Pacification, as opposed to regime change, may yet prove as elusive for the US in Iraq as it was in Vietnam.

Norman Davies, author of Europe : A History, commenting in the Independent (London) (April 4, 2003):

The Battle for Baghdad is about to begin (is beginning/has begun). Everyone asks whether it will bring a swift end to the conflict. The answer, almost certainly, is "no".

When Saddam Hussein was first transformed from a useful client into an evil dictator, the western media was eager to call him a new Hitler. More recently, he is thought to be more like Stalin. (Even his moustache is more like Stalin's than Hitler's.) This should cause no surprise. Saddam's regime was not set up in an advanced industrial country like Germany, but in a traditional Arab society which he set out to modernise, secularise and militarise by brute force. Saddam's Baath Party, which stands for "Renewal", boasts a heady brand of so-called Arab socialism where extreme nationalism is fused with communist-style party control. Most importantly, since Saddam's military and security systems were largely designed by Soviet advisers, the tentacles of the ruling party penetrate into every corner of every state institution, ensuring that embedded political officers give all the orders at all times and at all levels. If this calculation is correct, the generals do not command the army. They defer to political colleagues, who may be dressed up as generals and sit in on staff meetings, but who do not answer to the army command. One may be equally sure that the military/security forces form an elaborate chain of interlocking services where every watchdog organisation is itself watched over by another watchdog. The regular army is kept in check by the Revolutionary Guard. The Revolutionary Guard is guarded by a Special Revolutionary Guard. And the Special Revolutionary Guard is run by high-ranking officers from the Security Department, whose agents will oversee every other unit.

In addition, the ruling party will have organised its own armed services. There will be "blocking regiments" to shoot any soldier who thinks of retreating. (There will also be blockers of the blocking regiments.) There will be assorted militias and specialised corps of bodyguards, frontier troops, desert rangers, prison guards, and internal troops, each positioned to crush the least sign of dissent. By now, there must be a specialised corps of suicide bombers.

Washington's idea that it can swiftly "decapitate" this sort of hydra by removing Saddam, by rounding up the "death squads", or by replacing a few ministers is unconvincing.

In the short term, however, the most urgent question concerns the dictator's ability to persuade his troops to fight. Some American analysts think that armies ruled by fear will melt away when attacked. One cannot be so sure. Indeed, if Stalin be the model for this war-game, the conclusions must be rather worrying. By 1941, Stalin had already killed many millions of his own subjects. Yet, when the Soviet Union was attacked, the Red Army put up a heroic fight that surpassed all expectations. To the amazement of the German invaders, who had been told they were removing a wicked regime, Soviet troops contested every inch of land, irrespective of losses. Anyone who imagines lack of democracy means lack of fighting spirit needs to think again.

The simple fact is that the soldier defending his native soil will fight better than an invader. But other psychological and cultural factors are at work. On Stalin's eastern front, for example, observers noted something akin to "the bravado of desperation". Soldiers who had been maltreated at home, who had seen their relatives tortured or cast into the Gulag, but who were powerless to protest, had nothing to lose. So they charged at the enemy with the Motherland on their lips in the one last act that could restore their pride and dignity.

Of course, when tested, Saddam's troops may not die willingly. In that case, one might argue that Saddamism, unlike Stalinism, was not brutal enough.

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More Comments:

Homer Simpson - 4/23/2003

Bet you guys didn't think a Homer would know those kind of words, did you?

Do you have to give up thumb sucking to be a historian? Do you have to progress beyond adolescence and nostalgia for 1968?

What in the world do you guys do anyway?

Homer Simpson - 4/23/2003

Bet you guys didn't think a Homer would know those kind of words, did you?

Do you have to give up thumb sucking to be a historian? Do you have to progress beyond adolescence and nostalgia for 1968?

What in the world do you guys do anyway?

Rod McCaslin - 4/22/2003

From what I can tell, when historians attempt to forecast the future it is inevitably and possibly unconsciously shaded by their ideological standpoint. This is natural, since the same is true of their portrayal and interpretation of the past. Where historians, especially those interested in influencing opinion and policy, stumble is when they fail to remember that the study of history only serves to enlighten our conversation about the present. Dogmatic assertions about the way the future will play out (like those of Dr. Davies) when spouted by a historian should always be treated as suspect. Humility amongst historians in regards to the interpretation of current events would serve the profession better. Shouldn't the failed forecasting of Karl Marx serve as a model? He developed a useful interpretive model for history but was lousy at predicting the future.

Stephen Tootle - 4/20/2003

I would like to second the comments of Derek Catsam. Here here.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/20/2003

Every time we vote, we are making predictions: this candidate will be better, or at least not worse, than the other one. In a democracy, everyone is a fortune-teller and a predictor. Plumbers and historians get one vote each. And anybody, under a free speech regime, can make predictions: just look at the blogging out there, by all kinds of people with no professional training in predictionology.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/20/2003

The kind of hyper-specialization you describe would be absurd. Am I incapable of discussing current policy and the possibilities of future developments because I'm not trained in political science and astrology? All of the so-called social sciences rely fundamentally on a historical approach for any predictive power they may have. How much more powerful is the predictive power of actual history?

Tom Skusevich - 4/19/2003

Briefly - History will record this " Second Gulf War " as an
astonishing success - militarily. Three weeks and American and
British casualties inder 200 ?????? Come on - now......! Marty
Davis and and Norm Davies, like their hero Mark Lane, rushed
to judgement on this military excursion of the United States and its coalition allies.Have a Happy Easter and a Great Day !!!!!!

Wesley Smart - 4/18/2003

I thank David Harvey for his thoughtful post.

One point he brought up, however, has raised a question in my mind about a larger analytical discrepancy in examining the events of the 18 months:

"First, while Saddam Hussein is clearly a bad guy, nothing suggests he had anything to do with the September 11 attacks, the ostensible reason for this conflict."

I have come to perceive two growing interpretations on the nature of the war on terrorism, and the discrepancy between the two is a core element, I believe, of the anger or confusion that some have over this current campaign in the war on terror.

There are those who believe that the war on terror is an ongoing effort directed solely at the perpetrators of the attacks of September 11, 2001, namely Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda organization, and the states which lent him sanctuary or assistance.

The second interpretation is that the war on terror is more broadly defined than just aimed at those responsible for 9.11.2001. Instead, the war on terrorism is aimed at terrorist groups broadly defined. Al Qaeda was the first, but not the only. Included in that as well are the states which sponsor terrorism and the states from which terrorist groups can seek financial or logistical assistance. Because no strategy which focuses on everything can succeed, this administration is being selective about which terrorists or supporters it next goes after. The decision-making process by which those targets are selected will be part of the historical debate in time.

Now because there are these two interpretations, there has arisen confusion as to why Iraq was suddenly on the radar screen. In reviewing my notes on the affair so far, culled from a variety of media sources, I believe it is beyond question that this administration is following the second line and not the first. Thus Iraq was a campaign directed not at the perpetrators of 9.11 or of terrorist groups per se, but against a state which had the ability (and the potential inclination) to support terrorism. Iraq was part of a larger picture.

I do not intend this analysis to be an argument in favor or in opposition to the Iraq campaign. Rather, I seek to suggest that there should be an effort to see the Iraq story as part of the larger war on terrorism a la the decision in 1942 to commit resources against Germany as well as Japan when the greatest attack had come, to that point, from Japan. Only when we understand this can we move to the next level of analysis.

David Harvey - 4/18/2003

I would agree with the comments on both sides of the issue that historians are not, and should not claim to be psychics, nor do we necessarily have more insight than the average educated observer when it comes to issues beyond our immediate fields. What historians can perhaps offer to the broader debate, however, is a sense of history as an ongoing process, a web of actions and reactions that never ends. While armchair military strategists and war buffs might talk about "winning" the war, as if that would bring some kind of finality, like the baseball game analogy mentioned in one of the comments posted here, historians know that the game is never really over. Francis Fukuyama notwithstanding, history will continue, and no empire, no great power, no international order, is eternal.
I cannot speak for all of those who opposed this war, but my own opposition to it was not based on the assumption that the United States would lose, at least in a conventional military sense. Rather, it stemmed from the following concerns, neither of which has been dispelled by recent events. First, while Saddam Hussein is clearly a bad guy, nothing suggests he had anything to do with the September 11 attacks, the ostensible reason for this conflict. I felt, and still feel, that this war, regardless of its outcome, will further inflame hatred of the United States in the Arab world, and will make us more, not less, vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Second, there is no such thing as a clean, painless war. I am appalled at the self-censorship and lack of critical discourse on this point by the American media. Because I receive international TV, I have witnessed the horrible casualties that this war has brought to innocent Iraqi civilians, especially the children--pictures that are being shown on newscasts in every country in the world but this one. Americans should think of the suffering of the Iraqi people, and temper their celebrations accordingly.
How will history ultimately depict the Second Gulf War? I don't know any more than anyone else does, and anyone who claims to have the answer is presumptuous. I fear, however, that this period will retrospectively be seen as a horrible lost opportunity, a post-Cold War era in which the United States chose to abandon the democratic internationalism which it had invented after the First World War, and put into practice after the Second, in order to pursue an arrogant and ultimately meaningless quest for global empire, alienating longtime allies and potential new partners with a shockingly cavalier attitude. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt would be appalled.

Mark - 4/18/2003

In an earlier "poll" of historians....I questioned if these people who posted these statements are actually historians. If they are then the quality of academia certainly has reached a new low.

What these people did was substitute their own political views for historical analysis. Instead of looking to the past to form hypothesis about future events they used their political hatred of George Bush to create scenarios that were utterly wrong. Their inherent bias against the United States led them to believe the propaganda coming out of Iraq, Arab TV, and liberal media outlets rather than press releases from embedded sources and military commands.

Too bad for them. These people, along with all of the anti-American left have become laughingstocks. Why they continue to make statements and anyone listens to them is beyond my comprehension. If I was this wrong my own shame would keep me quiet, but I guess these people have no shame.

Suetonius - 4/17/2003

Hmm...and now the top of the twelfth.

Suetonius - 4/17/2003

I write this as I watch the end of baseball game, the epitomy of contingency in daily life. All manner of experts can pontificate about whether this or that pitcher is good, or whether this batter or that batter is best in the upcoming game.

But when it all comes down to the game itself, the answer is that you cannot predict the outcome of a game. You can guess one side or another will win, and you can make guesses about what the point spread will be or how many runs one side or another will get.

For historians, the lessons of this affair, as with all wars, is that it is the height of arrogance to assume that somehow they can 'predict' the course of the war. They, like others with some experience of past events, can make informed guesses. But there is so very very much that has gone on that it is beyond our powers at present to 'know' what really happened. Remember that it was not for decades after WWII that we learned of the Double Cross system or the use of Ultra decrypts in the naval war in the Atlantic...both facets of the war that had a significant impact on key moments.

In short, this is all meaningless. CENTCOM is barely aware of all the aspects of the war that were significant. Its analysts and those of the Department of Defense will spend the next two years pouring over the details to see what worked and what did not. Historians will come to learn of these conclusions in time, and will compare them with other documents and sources of information, and only then, in time, after much consideration, will we begin to approach the barest hints of what really happened.

Until then, all of this blather in the name of 'history' and 'historical analysis' is meaningless. It is a first take. It will necessarily have to be set aside. For us to debate back and forth about whether these historians made good guesses or bad guesses--in the absence of either being on the ground or having god's-eye views of the CENTCOM and Iraqi command centers--is a fruitless endeavor. Its only use has been to wage partisan warfare in the ongoing cultural wars in our universities and in our society.

And wholly unexpectedly, this game has now gone into extra innings. How will it end? No one yet knows.

Arch Stanton - 4/17/2003

Do a google search, find out who Miss Cleo is, and post again. Learning is good.

Scott Rausch - 4/17/2003

As an college instructor teaching the History of U.S. Foreign Relations, I was one of those historians who (privately) predicted the worst. That my worst predictions have so far not come to pass does not mean that the Bush adminsitration planned correctly -- it may simply have gambled and "guessed right." I was unconvinced because I saw no administration spokesman truly addressing the possibility of guerrilla warfare, long resistance, anti-American sentiment, etc., in an occupied Iraq. Many attempts at "spreading democracy" have failed or never really had support in the first place. I think the historical record in this case provides far more ammunition for skepticism than optimism. I found the administration's case unconvincing in its optimism. I was hoping for more than just blind confidence that things will work out okay. Certainly that approach can work occasionally, but it is not a sound basis for foreign policy or military operations.

In fairness, I do have to admit some degree of double standard, even hypocrisy. One day recently I told my students that the "lessons of history" are very subjective, always ambiguous, never absolute, very difficult to transfer, and frequently plain wrong. A few days later I watched the developing war and was livid that the Bush administration was ignoring all the "wisdom" that policy makers like Powell had "learned" from Viet Nam. Those chickenhawks (excluding Powell) have no true understanding of history and no real military experience, I thought to myself. So, my students are supposed to be skeptical about "lessons," but I wanted the current administration to be governed by these same lessons.

I found myself similarly surprised in 1999 when I predicted that air power would not solve anything in the Serbia/Kosovo conflict, that the U.S. could bomb Belgrade forever with no result. Didn't World War II and Viet Nam both demonstrate that infantry still must occupy, and that the U.S. military has frequently overestimated the power of air strikes to solve problems?

As I also tell students, applying "lessons" to current problems can itself be a dangerous affair -- U.S. involvement in Viet Nam was itself an application of "lessons" from World War II and the Korean War.

Scott Rausch

Derek Catsam - 4/17/2003

Hugh High has in two consecutive messages thrown out the red herring of historians as plagiarizers in posts that had other broad but not substantiated indictments of historians. The overwhelming majority of historians are scrupulous with their research methods, are committed to the integrity of their scholarship, and if anything are far more concerned with plagiarism than those who do not write books can ever imagine -- we fear that OUR work could be stolen. I'm not sure what Mr. High's problem is with historians, and I have no idea what profession he is engaged in that allows him to sit in the high seat of judgment, but there are several thousand professional historrians in the US alone. I challenge him to substantiate his charges of plagiarism being rife in my profession and to cite evidence.

Don McArthur-Self - 4/17/2003

In agreement with Mr. Chartrand -

YES, historians DID rush to judgement.

Too many were/are captive of a general anti-Americanism and a tendency to see all applications of force by the United States as wickedly imperialistic, and all non-Western groups as overly-romanticized innocent victims.

And, as another response has pointed out, too many were drawn into the frantic media-driven frenzy for passionate and immediate commentary.

The noisy commentators and prophets of doom might not even reflect the views of most historians, for all I know, but they certainly gained a lot of attention for themselves and the profession as a whole - representative or not.

While historians may not be able to distance themselves from their ideological biases (though it would be nice if they tried!), they should at least be able to think and speak in more measured, cautious, reflective tones.

Having said that, it is worth remembering, too, that the reconstruction of Iraq has barely begun, and that while grim, Armageddon-like prognostications for the war did not come to pass, no one should yet become overly optimistic about the difficulties in patching together a (hopefully) free nation out of the remains of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Some tempered realism and a few deep breaths on all sides of this issue might help us all.

Robert L. Miller - 4/17/2003

The one-sided display of left-wing bias at OAH as shown on C-SPAN was very disturbing. That no dissenting voice was heard or seen on that visibly radical extremist panel and audience made me remember some communist rallies in France in the 1960s -70s where it was impossible to offer, display, or voice a dissenting view without the risk of being trampled or seriously injured. US universities appear to have become dominated by radicalized faculty that ostracizes opposing views. This is unacceptable both to history, to the students and to this country that one way or the other subsidizes those salaries! It is indeed infuriating and I can predict backlashes and retaliation in the future if balance is not carefully nurtured at every level. Sincerely. Robert L. Miller

Hugh High - 4/17/2003

Scott O'Brien wrote, regarding my earlier submission in which I said historians should 'do' history, i.e. the past, and not attempt to do that which they cannot, and are not trained to do well, i.e. forecast, that "To circumscribe the role of historical knowledge in this way is to damn it to nothing more than antiquarianism."

Precisely !!!!

If historians want to do something else, and in doing so assert especial credentials not possessed by the rest of us, then they must demonstrate that they have such special abilities -- which they clearly do not, as measured/tested by their track
record(s). Otherwise, one should pay as little (or much) attention to their 'predictions' as one pays to those of plumbers, barbers, or others who at least have the humility not to assert especial abilities in forecasting.

Personally, I think taxi drivers are at least as likely as historians to have the ability to 'predict' and extrapolate into the future -- and are, as a group, more interesting ( despite the lively debates/issues which have recently arisen among and about historians regarding plagarism. )

Scott O'Bryan - 4/16/2003

Mr. Hugh High's attempt to draw an analogy between physicists, who should do nothing but physics, in High's estimation, and historians, who should do nothing but history, is a false one. Physicists and biologists study nature, not human society. Historians are, indeed, "doing" history when they try to bring historical knowledge to bear on current events and on the directions in which those might lead us. Mr. High's argument would have been better served, perhaps, if he had focused his attention solely on a distinction between the efforts of historians to say something about human experience in the past and their attempts to estimate what current human choices might be leading us toward in the future. But the idea that the present marks the boundary beyond which historical knowledge should play no part in our thinking strikes me as silly. To circumscribe the role of historical knowledge in this way is to damn it to nothing more than antiquarianism. The rush to invoke Vietnam as soon as Iraqi resistance was met in the war was not wrong because historians tried to use knowledge of the past to understand the present--and even to make educated predictions about the future--but rather because these predictions were made too rashly, participating in the minute-by-minute swings of opinion that the media feeding frenzy surrounding the war helped fuel.

Bernie Dehmelt - 4/16/2003

Oh Tacitus, your slip (Toga?) is showing: Clio, not Cleo -- at least according to my "sources" (a dictionary )-- but I agree with your reminding us all of the "fortunes of war", so necessary in the "fog of postmodern battles".

Hugh High - 4/16/2003

Historians, or at least those who are not engaged in plagarism and related questionable ethical matters, are often good at what they do -- history, or, events, etc. past.

BUT, just as physicists, biologists, and assorted other experts have no especial expertise in 'forecasting' or in extrapolating the past into the future, neither do historians. The problem is not that they are not able to do so -- one can surely not condemn them for their errors in this regard. Rather , the problem is that all too often their arrogance, or illusion of forecasting expertise, induces them to assert such expertise.

At least most -- though not all, of course -- physicists, biologists, etc. do not assert such abilities and display such arrogance. Physicists should do 'physics'; biologists biology -- and historians should stick to history. Their too frequent desire for fleeting fame and their hubris has often led, and regretably continues to lead , them to be, and appear, often foolish.

Al Johnson - 4/16/2003

I didn't know that historians are supposed to be fortune tellers. The former write about the past. The latter try to predict the future. Jusging by results, neither are very good at their vocations.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/16/2003

Of course historians rushed to judgement: everyone does when the situation is developing and information is scarce and prediction is popular. Any judgement under these circumstances is rushed.

But when historians rush to judgement, it is generally based not on trusting pseudo-expert flacks, but rather on comparing the situation as we know it with past situations and finding the most relevant analogies. Then we qualify it with "when tested" or "it may be that" or "the situation is not perfectly analogous."

The fact that a few historians made their best guess but that the worst-case scenarios discussed did not develop, does not change the fact that those scenarios were plausible and important to consider. Conservatives and Republicans are now claiming some sort of moral superiority based on being right about one thing (and wrong about several others) but it's hard to take the Bush administration's contradictory and obfuscatory rhetoric too seriously. Inevitably, they would have been right about something....

And any group of intelligent and informed people are going to produce errors when trying to predict the future. I don't think historians have anything in particular to be ashamed of. Quite the contrary.

Frank Chartrand - 4/16/2003

Yes !

Tacitus - 4/16/2003

I'm afraid that Miss Cleo could do a better job. I wonder if this isn't wishful thinking on the part of some. "Such are the fortunes of war....."

mark safranski - 4/15/2003

Many historians, deeply influenced by their heady college years in the 1960's and distrustful of American power, have a tendency to see every American military conflic as Vietnam revisited - even to the point of recycling the same phrases. It doesn't help either that a large majority of the historical profession detests the President with a manaical intensity once reserved only for Richard Nixon.

That being said, much of the " Rush to judgement " is an effect of 24/7 live news coverage of a war zone from a multitude of unintegrated local perspectives. The " eagle-eye " view of war that the news media once provided was a function of time-delayed reporting as distant editors collated and repackaged for newspaper readers stories into a more comprehensive mental " picture " of the war. Accuracy was sacrificed but arguably the public's sense of realistic proportion of the actual importance of each event was increased. TV coverage of this war was dominated by extremely powerful live images of tactical situations rather than a strategic overview. The effect was an emotional roller-coaster and no small degree of confusion as to the direction of the war. (From a strictly military standpoint, it was going amazingly well within the parameters of the assets deployed in a theater the size of California )

Psychologically, the relative importance of a breaking TV news event tends to get lost without a larger context - particularly when " experts " are pressed to force-fit the event into an instant-analysis category before it has even finished unfolding ! It sometimes takes commanding generals hours to assess the effects of an attack or manuver yet the media races to proclaims the results , broadcasting them as " fact" to millions of viewers without having any clear confirmation of what actually happened.

The Iraq War was not Vietnam; nor was it Afghanistan or a " cakewalk" but it was a lot closer to the latter two descriptions than to the war in Southeast Asia. Historians when confronted with the next stream of consciousness reporting barrage should try to do what they are trained to do - step back, look at the evidence that actually exists and try to piece together what happened. Prognostication is not yet their strong suit.