Backward Glances

Friday, September 21, 2007


During a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention last month, President Bush invoked a host of historical analogies to buttress his case for sticktoitiveness in Iraq. But what can we really learn from looking at Vietnam or Cambodia or Korea? Brooke dwells on the past.

Comments [9]

Jon from Baltimore

Brooke is partly right: analogies can get you trouble. British PM invoked Mussolini and then Hitler when justifiying Brit., French and Israeli intervention in Suez against Nasser. Nasser was no Mussolini. The analogy was attacked by a thoughtful and educated newspaper editors in Britain. The cover was blown open by Eisenhower's State Department, and Eden lost his job. Muttering Munich, the generals sitting acrossing from JFK tried to have him authroize a strike on Cuba in 1962. But the President and his brother were reading The Guns of August [1914].
America's involvment in Vietnam and Cambodia is fraught with problems as an analogue for the Iraq war. Fighting the ideology of Islamism in Iraq is in fact a stimulus to Islamism in the region. That cannot be said about Vietnam. What in fact we have done is make democracy a thing to be feared and a dream further from reality for most Arabs. The essential mercantile nature Vietnam has reasserted itself as communism was never the center of their movement - anti-imperialism was. Vietnam was about national independence. Iraq is about a clan based society with deep ethnic divisions. The problem with Iraq is that there aren't enough 'Iraqis', that was never the problem in Vietnam.

Oct. 14 2007 07:50 PM
David from Rhode Island

So Brooke - and the floor that is "crowded" with all these historians - basically think that Santayana was spouting a steaming pile of, well who knows what they think. Saving everyone a search, it was Santayana that said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This is often paraphrased as Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it, which is somewhat more on point here. But they are the same thing, and while Brooke is right that particulars do matter (although not sure how weather plays into it as far as applying great lessons from the past. Timing? Sure, don't attack Russia in the winter. But that is tactics.), that is as irrelavent as it gets here. Great leaders (not that I am saying Bush is one) have frequently both quoted history and learned from it to make momentous decisions. But OK Brooke, let's just reinvent the wheel every time, and we can have a whole lot more Chamberlains.

Oct. 09 2007 04:29 PM
frank from pittsburgh

As much as I agree with what Brooke had to say, I was surprised to hear one of the OTM hosts doing commentary. I thought they were supposed to be strictly interviewers.

Sep. 27 2007 06:42 PM
Richard from Chicago

Its high time this and other media analysis shows actually do something like analyze the media. When I listen to shows like this, I get the distinct impression that I am watching some kind of rated X circle jerk. Right now, the public has a lower opinion of the press than congress, lawyers, and yes, President Bush, and every time someone spotlights bias or partisan reporting from the press, the media establishment circles the wagons and go into defense mode. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

Sep. 27 2007 02:45 PM
Richard from Chicago

So Brooke, let me see if I get this straight: “Historical analogies … can never show us a true picture of the present and they can never, ever show us a clear path to the future.”

Sounds neato and all, but hasn’t OTM itself used historical analogies in reference to Iraq and Vietnam? I think you all have.

In the The Meaning of Tet, Bob Garfield and David Halberstam compare the analogy of Tet to Iraq.

In Conduct Unbecoming you and Robert Bateman discuss Haditha and Mi Lai.

In Great Expectorations Bob Garfield has a chat with Gerry Lembcke to discuss stories of veterans being spat upon in Vietnam, and now Iraq veterans being spat upon.

In Perilous Times you and Geoffrey Stone compared suppression of dissent during the current conflict to nearly every war America has been in.

And there are lots more.

It's all in the syllabus for the NPR course on historical analogies taught by a parade of pundits and professors. Apparently it's a prerequisite for participation on this show. But real historians will tell you when they get the floor - pretty crowded these days - that historical analogies employed for political and rhetorical ends by any and every radio show on NPR are invariably steaming piles of - revisionism.

Sep. 27 2007 02:45 PM
Robbie from Mineola, NY

Though from her tone and superficial analysis it is manifest that Ms. Gladstone is no fan of the current president, her personal views and emotions do not justify her distortion of the annals of history via insinuation.
President Bush and the others quoted in the report refer to actual consequences of U.S. foreign policies and the behavior of various regimes toward those who opposed them.

Would Ms. Gladstone similarly be a Holocaust denier if Pres. Bush and his partisans included that historical event in their litany? Knowing the source of much of public radio's private funding - upon which OTM depends for its airing - I seriously doubt it.

When Ms. Gladstone et. al. at OTM are equally and obvioulsy as sympathetic to, e.g., the plight of Vietnamese Boat People, or Cambodian victims of the Pol Pot regime, or Palestinians displaced and occupied by Israel, or other similarly situated victims of oppression as she is of Jewish victims of the Holocaust and their descendants who contribute to support public radio, then - and only then - will she be taken seriously and will her journalism be respected.

Sep. 26 2007 12:33 PM
george rau from milwaukee

Bush is what we call a "dry drunk" in alcoholics anonymous, that is someone who has quit drinking but has never solved his anger issues. They then project them out into the world. They want to displace the anger they feel towards themself by abusing others. Unfortunately we all are paying for it.

Sep. 25 2007 04:32 PM
blackbelt_jones from Binghamton, NY

Mr. Beveridge:

If you look at the stories from past weeks (on the right side of the Home Page) you'll see a "transcript" link. I assume that transcripts from this week's show will be available later in the week.

Sep. 23 2007 10:09 PM
Russell Herman from NJ

Thank you for your excellent piece on the tendentious use of history by Bush to further his absolutist agenda.

Sep. 23 2007 10:22 AM

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