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Then and now 

I was always leery of comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. Vietnam was the continuation of an anti-colonial war of independence against the French, while Iraq was a flat-out attack on a sovereign nation. The fight against the forces of Ho Chi Minh were part of a long-held, if debatable, policy of containment against communism, while Iraq is the manifestation of a new policy for world hegemony rejected by Bush I but embraced by Bush II and rushed into practice after 9/11. Vietnam had little geopolitical value (other than as a brake against the absurd domino theory) and few resources (tin and tungsten) compared to Iraq's critical location and the world's second-largest oil reserves.

But then I recently watched Hearts and Minds, which I hadn't seen for 20 years--and the parallels are inescapable. We were told we were fighting for a greater good. We were told we were fighting for the wellbeing of the Vietnamese people. We were told we were winning. And in the meantime, nearly 58,000 Americans died, tens of thousands more were mentally and physically injured, and millions of Vietnamese were killed, injured or saw their homes destroyed. In that, the only difference between Vietnam and Iraq is the scale of death and destruction (so far).

But one similarity comes through more clearly than any other: Both wars were built on a foundation of lies. We all know about Bush and Co.'s lies about Iraq. But we've forgotten the scale of deceit over Vietnam.

Take these observations from the film:

"Many of us began to understand through our personal experiences in Vietnam the depth of the lies and deception practiced upon us."
Edward Sowders, a deserter speaking to a Congressional Hearing on Amnesty.

"The American public was lied to month by month by each of these five administrations."
Daniel Ellsberg, reciting the lies of Harry Truman about French involvement, Dwight Eisenhower on our relations with Premier Ngo Dinh Diem, John F. Kennedy about the kind of combat it would be, Lyndon Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin (and more), and Richard Nixon on the invasion of Cambodia.

And said former Capt. Randy Floyd of Norman, Okla.: "I think Americans have worked extremely hard not to see the criminality that their officials and their policy makers have exhibited."

That's one similarity that couldn't be truer today.

The Independent is sponsoring four showings of Hearts and Minds around the Triangle.

More by Richard Hart

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