My Turn: Iraq invasion is more like World War II than Vietnam

Posted: Wednesday, November 30, 2005

It is sophomoric to assume that Iraq is more like Vietnam than it is like World War II. While the vote for war against Japan and her Allies was one vote short of unanimity, the vote for war against terror was unanimous.

In both World War II and the war on terror, America was sucker-punched by an enemy whose identity wasn't made apparent until after the attack. These two most infamous dates in American history forced the United State to acknowledge a war that we didn't start. While Japan insisted that it was forced to attack because of our strong hold on oil and trade in the Pacific, the terrorists attacked because of our strong hold on oil and trade in the Middle East. In World War II we were fighting an enemy who would rather crash a plane into a carrier than surrender. Ring any bells? Muslim extremism and Nipponese imperialism are both totalitarian philosophies rooted in anti-Western conviction. Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops surrendered often and their communist doctrine was borne of Western ideologies.

The occupation of Iraq is comparable to the occupation of Guadalcanal in 1942-43. In Guadalcanal, the military assaulted the island with superior firepower and numbers. There was sporadic and fierce opposition, yet we had the aid of the local people. Once the airstrip (Henderson Field) was captured, a new surge of resistance targeted the occupying Americans. The Japanese still on the island began a guerilla/suicide campaign against the Americans as well as the new colonial authorities and locals. This campaign lasted longer than military intelligence expected.

I am very concerned with the stop-loss policy that our government has enacted because soldiers are put into harm's way well after their contractual end-of-service date. The natural consequence of this policy is lower recruitment numbers. I understand that stop-loss is in place to avoid certain problems that happened in Vietnam. Between 1969 and 1972, more than 50 percent of the combat troops were on a 360-day rotation cycle. Combat units always had inexperienced soldiers mixed with experienced "short-timers." This rotation-based policy reduced a combat unit's cohesion, camaraderie and morale. Such was not the case in World War II where a soldier could expect to be attached to the same company, even the same squad, for the entirety of the war.

The most taxing campaign of the war on terror is undoubtedly Iraq. This campaign has provoked many people to compare Iraq to Vietnam. There are some comparisons, but they are weak in the light of the similarities to World War II. "Quagmire" is the buzzword of the Vietnam War and is now being used to describe our involvement in Iraq. A local resident has even tried to liken a flag-draped casket protest in Fairbanks to the Kent State massacre. If I had compared my jalopy '89 Subaru to a modern Ford Mustang, I might've been able to con some American to buy it for twice the price I had sold it.

I am incensed by my government for some of the petty things they do during times of both peace and war that put Americans in danger. Just as Roosevelt and Nixon had, George W. Bush has accepted a job where he is responsible for the life and death of every single soldier abroad. I am not happy with how long this war is taking, and that more than 2,000 servicemen and women have already died. However, I would probably be just as unhappy towards the end of 1944, with World War II in its third year with 200,000 casualties. It is much easier to justify or condemn a war in hindsight, yet it's always difficult to justify death. I believe our best exit strategy has already passed us by (once we captured Hussein we could have started slowly turning over control to the United Nations). However, even with all of the previously mentioned misgivings, I will not accept the rhetoric of this war being analogous to Vietnam.

• Michael Heiman is a veteran in Juneau.



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