June 08, 2008
A LOT OF McCAINÂ’S fellow veterans in Washington seem confounded by what they see as his obvious failure to absorb the lessons of Vietnam. Jack Murtha, the Pennsylvania congressman and decorated Vietnam vet who became an early and outspoken critic of the war, told me that watching Iraq unfold convinced him, for the first time, that American troops could never have prevailed in Vietnam, no matter how long they stayed. Â“These kinds of wars cannot be won militarily,Â” he said flatly. Another Democratic congressman with a Purple Heart, Mike Thompson of California, told me that promises of victory in Iraq sounded painfully familiar. Â“When I was in Vietnam, the members of Congress knew that we werenÂ’t going to be there forever, that we would have to redeploy, and in the time between when they knew that and when we redeployed, a lot of boys were injured and killed,Â” Thompson said. Â“I think Senator McCain has been an outstanding public servant, but I think heÂ’s wrong on this.Â”
In McCainÂ’s mind, however, there is a different kind of symmetry linking Vietnam and Iraq. Talking to him about it, you come to understand that he has, indeed, applied lessons from the first war to the second Â— but they are the lessons that he learned not in combat or in the Hanoi Hilton but in the pages of the books he read at the National War College in the 1970s. To McCain, the first four years of the Iraq war, as prosecuted by the Bush administration, seem strikingly similar to the years in Vietnam before Creighton Abrams arrived on the scene.
I think it's pretty darned amazing that he can set aside his emotional attachment to Vietnam and look at it scholarly and theoretically. And after I read this segment, I did notice that it seems people like Kerry,Murtha, etc. still feel the emotions of Vietnam while John McCain has tried to study it, like one would study ancient military battles.
I just thought that was really interesting.
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