Friday, July 27, 2007


Iraq versus Vietnam: Inferences From History

Lessons from Military History

What can History contribute to our issues and conflicts of today? This question has bothered me since I have observed many of my favorite bloggers struggling to make comparisons between a current situation and one from the past—sometimes from the very far past.

Almost from the start of any discussion today, the argument turns from the situation at hand and what to do about it, to an argument about whether some past situation is a proper analogy from which to draw lessons. A cogent example is the attempts to compare our situation in Iraq with that of Vietnam in the latter part of that war. All immediacy is quickly lost in the fuzzy memories of an old conflict, spiced by the over 30-odd years of not so well-honed points of view and biases of the participants in the discussion.

Meanwhile, we are at war, and need to make many hard decisions about where we are going, what we are willing to do, and how to go about it. I get the feeling that some people had much rather win the argument about the analogy than to win the real war going on under their noses, especially if their main conclusion quite obviously fits their preconceived notions of the answer.

Misuse of historical analogies is a game anyone can play if they have the evil motives and unprincipled mindset of charlatans. Ignoring inconvenient facts is often used, for instance, to make a shady point. Again, the example of Vietnam: many claim we were defeated militarily in Nam, when by all accounts, we were extraordinarily successful militarily, to the point that later on Minh admitted that they were considering disengagement and suing for peace just at the time we announced our withdrawal. Political defeatism by our people and our elected leaders snatched the victory from us in the nick of time for the North Vietnamese.

Still, there must be value in perusing history for its relevance to today. Why should we repeat the mistakes of the past if by realizing that the past situation is sufficiently analogous that we must heed that lesson from history? The answer lies in accounting for the constants and variables in each situation, together with the strength of the general inferences and conclusions that can be drawn from the current and past situations.

Constants include: human nature; geography; topology; terrain and vegetation; population centers; road and rail system; general or average (expected?) weather conditions; types of warfare, including classic opposition of forces, and asymmetrical warfare;

Variables include: Existing political situations; actual weather conditions; current dispositions of forces; morale; will to win of the troops and of the civilian populations; relative strength of forces; quality of leadership; weapon and equipment advantages and disadvantages; logistics; strategy and tactics; mobility and speed; training and experience; command and control; communications; computers; intelligence; attack versus defense; the fog of war; adherence to the rules of war; and just plain luck.

Inferences and conclusions: In this maze of constants and variables, it is easy to abstract the wrong inference or conclusion from a situation.

Again, Vietnam is the prime example. We withdrew from Nam after building up the ARVN forces massively. The withdrawal was a politically-driven decision because of the publics view that we had lost, which in turn was driven by the mainstream media's biased portrayal of the war. We had promised the SV government that we would supply them until they had gotten well on their feet. However, our Congress refused to give them any support whatsoever, so when the NV attacked two years later, the SV quickly ran out of critical ammunition, fuel, and other ordnance items, and were overrun by the well-supplied NV. We did not lose militarily. In fact, we weren’t there! Those who say that we did lose militarily are charlatans looking to make a leftist point. This is a war that we won militarily and lost at home politically.

The inference I draw from all of this is that one must beware of loose inferences from history that are without substantial factual backup. Then too, is the effort to properly substantiate the analogy really worth the effort, as opposed to simply applying intelligence, common sense, and experience to the situation?

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Here's some history to chew on.

Drug crusader claims that "Social ills [caused by drugs] will not go away" after drugs are legalized and regulated shows abysmal ignorance of history and a complete lack of knowledge of the effects of eliminating drug prohibition in Switzerland.

If prohibitionists studied some history instead of dreaming up new lies to justify a long failed drug crusade they would know that there was no such thing as "drug crime" before there were drug laws.

Search the archives in vain seeking a pre-prohibition theft, robbery, assault or murder connected with drug addiction. Addicts were not robbing, whoring and murdering to get drugs when they could buy all of the heroin, morphine, cocaine and anything else they wanted cheaply and legally at the corner pharmacy. A legal heroin habit cost less than tobacco addiction (50¢ per week) and "drug crime" was unknown. The term "drug crime" is an invention of prohibitionists trying to hide the effects of their failed drug policy.

Unintentional opiate overdose deaths were extremely rare before drugs were outlawed. Almost all drug deaths before the Harrison Narcotic Act were suicides. Nowadays, Drug Czar John Walters tells us there are more than 30,000 accidental drug deaths every year. The term "drug death" is an alibi to cover the lethal effects of drug prohibition.

Drug prohibition cannot cure these problems because it is the cause of these evils.

Proof that hard line drug prohibition causes drug crimes and drug deaths comes from the Swiss Heroin Maintenance Programme where addicts are supplied with cheap, pure heroin and cocaine. The Swiss have not had a single overdose death in the program and injection-transmitted diseases (HIV/AIDS, Hep C etc) are now a rarity in Switzerland.

The success of the Swiss Heroin Maintenance Program in causing a 97% reduction in addict crime in Switzerland demolishes the claim there would "law-enforcement agencies would have the same problems they face today" because no one buys bootleg drugs when a source of cheap guaranteed pure legal drugs is available. There are no outlaw drug dealers dealers in Switzerland anymore. The criminal drug black market has vanished since the Swiss began providing addicts with cheap legal drugs.

Swiss policy has also resulted in an 82-percent decrease in heroin addiction since 1990. Besides these concrete benefits, the Swiss report saving over $100/day/addict in lower police, incarceration and health care expenses. The Swiss are so pleased with the results of Heroin Maintenance that they made this their national drug policy.

Using jail cells to treat addicts has not achieved similar success anywhere in the world since 1914. Anyone truly concerned about the victims of drugs, will work to end an immoral drug crusade that murders more than 30,000 people every year and spawns a multitude of criminal activity.

Ignorance and good intentions are no excuse for continuing a destructive drug crusade.
Ralph Givens
Your use of unsubstantiated references to the Swiss experience with drugs mars your argument.

I find it to be difficult to believe that addiction has decreased in the presence of legal, cheap, pure and readily available heroin. This is contrary to rational expectations without further explanation as to the real causes.

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