Vietnam and Iraq: Looking Back and Looking Ahead
"You cannot win against an insurgency that springs from the population," said Jack Valenti, former special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson. "There's never been an insurgency that doesn't prevail against a mighty power."
"How much reform can you do," former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger wondered later, "simultaneously with fighting a war?"
The banner on their dais read "Vietnam and the Presidency" -- ostensibly, the subject of a high-powered conference that brought historians and former policymakers to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library for two days ending Saturday.
But, as the speakers talked about anti-American insurgents and faulty U.S. intelligence and the search for an honorable way out in Southeast Asia, nearly all found bitter parallels to the current conflict in Iraq.
"It appears to me we haven't learned very much," said Alexander M. Haig Jr., Kissinger's assistant in the Nixon White House and secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan.
The conference's stated subject -- Vietnam's history -- was captivating and wrenching enough on its own. Timothy Naftali, director of the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia, played recordings of Johnson's conversations, including one from 1965 where he asked Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara how the war was going.
"The current battle is going very well," McNamara said, and then continued with a sentence whose Catch-22 logic made the audience laugh. "The problem is that it's not producing the conditions that will almost certainly win for us."
comments powered by Disqus
- It’s a national historic site, but hardly anybody visits the Idaho internment camp where thousands of Japanese Americans were incarcerated in WW II
- Big-time Hollywood director makes a movie about Stonewall
- HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later
- A salute lost to history
- Here’s Why The 2016 Republican Presidential Primary Could Make History
- High school senior credited with debunking book by Professor Richard Jensen
- Historians at loggerheads over the AP standards
- Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
- U.K. Released Hundreds of Nazis After the Holocaust, Says Leading Historian
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?