I can't count the number of times someone has told me that the antiwar movement is going great because it's so far ahead of "where we were in Vietnam." That is, the notion that we should compare the timeline of US intervention in Vietnam and that of Iraq.
It's a thought designed to make one feel good, to say that there is progress when a closer examination would indicate otherwise. A big problem with this line of reasoning is that it implies that the U.S. government attack on Iraq began in 2003. Of course it didn't; you had the U.S. bombing of the infrastructure of Iraq and imposition of sanctions in 1990-91. The sanctions were maintained throughout the first Bush administration, through two Clinton administration terms and remained virtually invisible through 9-11. But somehow activists in the U.S. are supposed to be happy with how much better we're doing than "during Vietnam."
The self-congratulations is also dubious when bearing in mind these words of Martin Luther King Jr. in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech:
"The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality...and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing 'clergy and laymen concerned' committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God."
The sad fact is that the Vietnam War happened, and seemed to end, but that there was no serious addressing of the deeper malady; it festers and grows and is even invisible as we pretend to congratulate ourselves.
[originally published at husseini.org on Jan. 16, 2006]