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Via Liberals Against Terrorism I found an interesting two part interview with Thomas Frank, whose What's the Matter with Kansas? I discussed back in December. In it Frank discusses the ongoing revisionism towards the Vietnam War, and the idea among certain right-wing sectors that we could have won that benighted conflict if it hadn't been for the 'stab in the back' of leftist anti-war protesters.
This is Rumor Control: There seems to be a real cultural shift in how one is supposed to perceive the Vietnam War. What did you learn while researching your book?
Frank: The most interesting thing to me was the changing nature of the victimization of Vietnam veterans. Whereas back in the late 60s and early 70s, it was obvious they were victims, but what they were victims of was this kind of blind and misguided patriotism of the 1950s that had sent them off to an unjust war, a senseless war and an ill-advised war.
Today though, they are still understood as victims, but as victims of liberals, victims of the anti-war movement that stabbed them in the back and didn’t let them fight through to victory.
This 'stab in the back' talk has been a rallying call for all kinds of nationalist movements throughout the world, this idea that military defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory by unpatriotic traitors sitting at home, undermining the necessary martial spirit. The classic example, of course, of the usage of such ideas was the way in which German nationalists of the 1920's and 1930's talked talked about Germany's defeat in World War I, laying it at the door of Germany's socialists, communists, and, especially in the worldview of the Nazi movement, Jews. Yet it has also appeared elsewhere. Extreme right groups in France blamed the loss of Algerie Francaise on the French left, with special approbation directed at leftist intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre.
In a specifically American context, what I dislike about such theories is that they turn wars into single-sided affairs, America fighting itself, with those we fight receding into the background, an unimportant factor, something that we could quite naturally have defeated if we had really set our minds to it. The Vietnamese had been fighting for decades, against the Japanese, against the French, and then finally against America. We killed millions of people in the course of that conflict...what more could we have done? Completely wiped Vietnam from the map? We were facing perhaps the greatest guerilla army of the 20th century on their own turf, thousands upon thousands of miles from home, fighting for an abstract principle against enemies fighting for national independence. If you are going to talk about the Vietnam War, you really have to talk about the Vietnamese.