HomeUncategorizedJim Webb & Graham Greene: With a Vietnamese Baby on Your Mind

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Jim Webb & Graham Greene: With a Vietnamese Baby on Your Mind — 9 Comments

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  2. This got me thinking once again about the aptness, or inaptness, of parallels between Iraq and Vietnam.

    Bringing in Gen. Patraeus reminds me of the French going to Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. de Lattre was a first rate commander, and enjoyed
    a good deal of success before being withdrawn with a fatal cancer
    (shortly after his son was KIA).

    Some still say he would have won the Indochina War for France had he
    stayed healthy. God willing, Patraeus will stay healthy, and he may prove just as able.

    While most analogies between Iraq and VN (French or US) are severely
    flawed, the following one, which may be the most important, holds up, I
    think: both are out of time, in that each is post- or quasi- or neo-colonial. All of these cover for policies that are not in fact
    colonial, but may as well be for all the chance they have of succeeding
    in the modern world.

    If de Lattre has stayed healty, France might not have been driven out of Indochina for a while longer, but she would have gone, just as she
    went from Algeria, and just as we, whatever the abilities of Gen. P,
    will eventually go from Iraq. We can, however, put that eventuality
    off a very long way if we are prepared to remain in a state of armed readiness for battle. Are we?Should we be? Those are the important questions now, I think. Because whatever happens next, the day is coming when we will have to decide if we want to accept the
    consequences of leaving, or those of staying, and neither is gonna be
    pretty.

  3. Yes, de Lattre was a great commander but never did the French really control the whole country – they controlled bases, outposts, and cities. And there were many, many holes in their defenses – hole s that the VietMinh exploited almost at will to move people and arms. And of course, deLattre lost the north.
    Also, the French were fighting a colonial war and the U.S. (ostensibly) is not – nor is there a particularly nationalist movement arrayed against us.
    TK – what do you think of Webb’s writing? Think it’s a worthy chapter in work that includes Greene’s? (Who was, at the time, considered anti-American).

  4. Greene was clearly anti-American, I think, if that definition includes someone who is not inherently hostile to the US or Americans, but is strongly opposed to US policy. In VN, he was also very prescient.

    Another author who is sometimes considered anti-American, but I think was not, is Bernard Fall, the indispensible resource (in English, at least) on the French Indochina war, and a very valuable one on the US war (in which he died, ~1968, pursuing a story on the “Street Without Joy” that he had named one of his key works after).

    I haven’t read enough of Webb’s work to make a judgment, though I have liked everything I have read (mostly articles, speeches and essays) and recommend “Fields of Fire”, his first novel, very highly.

    DeLattre did not lose the North. He did not lose anything. He concentrated on the North (when many wanted efforts focused in the south). He established a perimeter within which Hanoi and key rice fields were found, and defended in more effectively than anyone had been able to previously. When he was recalled, France’s prosepcts were brighter than anyone thought they would be when he had started. But it wasn’t enough; after he left, the line he had established could not hold, permanently, Dien Bien Phu came, and France lost Vietnam. Not the North: she lost the whole thing at once. There’s a good piece on his efforts, prepared for a US military publication in 1969, at:

    https://calldbp.leavenworth.army.mil/eng_mr/txts/VOL49/00000001/art9.pdf

    The Iraq War is a “colonial war” in the sense that, like the US involvement in VN, it carries all the disadvantages of a colonial war: resentment of occupation and outside interference, nationalist opposition, etc. I think you understate the significance of this when you say there is not “a particularly nationalist movement arrayed against us.” To the extent this is true, it is only because Iraq is not, particularly, a nation. But there is significant resentment, combining national, ethnic and religious elements (with the latter predominating).

    It is not, in fact, a colonial war because, if we prevail, we don’t get to possess anything (like the US-VN scenario). This is a difference with enormous moral implications, but seems to have no favorable effect on our operations or reputation. In part, this is because many suspect that we have larger designs than we admit; in part, it’s because any Western nation that seeks to control the internal political structure of a 3d world (and esp. moslem) country is going to be viewed as the moral equivalent of colonial for a long time, however benign their actual intent may be.

  5. Well, TK actually there’s quite a sizeable group of critics who would say we’re going to possess – in terms of sphere of influence, at minimum – the oil in Iraq. And certainly, our multinationals have “possessed” billions of dollars in contracts. Maybe that’s the modern colonialism; pity no Greene (or even Webb) is yet writing, that I know of. Great fiction can often illuminate with greater clarity than the history books…

  6. Wow Tom. In one blog post you site one of my favorite elected officials, one of my favorite writers and one of my favorite rock bands. And somehow they all make sense together in a title. Color me impressed 🙂

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