Observations from Russia House

When it came to radical change, the Sovs had it easier than the West. They had a small leadership and an intelligensia with great traditional influence. In a Western democracy it was much harder to make yourself heard above the crowd.
The Russians' misfortune is that they long to be European but their destiny is to become American, and that the Americans have poisoned the world with materialistic logic. If my neighbor has a car, I must have two cars. . .. If my neighbor has a bomb, I must have a bigger bomb and more of them.
"Defuse world crisis, did I hear? What Guardian bilge is that? Our leaders adore crisis. Our leaders feast on crisis. Our leaders spend their lives quartering the globe in search of crisis to revive their flagging libidos!"
Barley offers something unoriginal about democracy being the worst of systems except for all the others.
"Cheap political theatricals and feigned friendships!" he snorted. "Here we are, locked in the biggest ideological face-off in history, and you tell me it's all over because a handful of statesmen find it convenient to hold hands in public and scrap a few obsolete toys. The evil empire's on its knees, oh yes! Their economy's a disaster, their ideology's up the spout and their backyard's blowing up in their faces. Just don't tell me that's a reason for unbuckling our guns, because I won't believe a word of you. It's a reason for spying the living daylights out of them twenty-five hours a day and kicking them in the balls every time they try to get off the floor. God knows who they won't think they are ten years from now!"
With disarmament talks advancing so rapidly and the new atmosphere of international cooperation, all these terrible things will shortly belong to the past. Naturally the Americans are suspicious of us. Naturally we are suspicious of them. But when we have joined our forces, we can disarm completely and between us prevent all further trouble in the world.""How do we prevent all further trouble in the world if we haven't got any arms to prevent it with?" "You are being Western and negative, I think."

John Le Carre, Russia House, 1989

Seeds of Destruction

Many have attempted to make an argument relating IRAQ -- and to a lesser extent AFGHANISTAN -- involvement to the VIETNAM WAR. Some even try to equate US Army field operations in OPERATIONS IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM to VIETNAM. And an opportunistic presidential campaign is apparently attempting to capitalize on the VIETNAM WAR.

The experiences of the VIETNAM WAR are assuredly important to the extent that they have been considered and applied to our current National Policies/Objectives and field operations. And they have. Militarily, the legacy of VIETNAM is evidenced by the superb fighting forces which we daily see in action; the great battlefield team which the embedded reporters revealed to the Nation and the world. The fighting force is the same, even if the reporters are now engaged in other pursuits. No, the field military legacy is fine. The Defense Department is another matter.

Unfortunately the administrations--and I stress the plural--in charge during that war allowed the war to divide the nation as none other had done--not even the CIVIL WAR engendered such wrenching divisions in the body politic and civic responsibilities as did the war in VIETNAM. The most critical legacy of that war is the incessant pursuit of national fault finding, Americans against Americans. An entire generation of self-serving, self-indulgent, self-centered (all descriptors of the “Baby Boomers”) Americans was allowed to mature under the atmosphere of “hell no, won’t go.” This was a national self-inflicted wound. It crippled America--and lost the VIETNAM WAR.

Eventually a president was elected who is a draft-dodger; his successor, who followed the laws of the land, is nevertheless smeared as a “draft dodger.” And the nation is engaged, again, in a great pin the blame self-emulation extravaganza--the world of those who envy or hate the US is amused, anyone who trusted America is troubled, political opponents of the President are giddy, and the Nation’s fighting strength is sapped.

The real legacy of VIETNAM is the gaping self-inflicted wound of self-indulgent fault finding replacing action to solve national problems. Consider for a moment: virtually all congressional or public discussions on any issue from day care, to medical care, to school teaching, to war fighting substantively reverts to a fault finding or blaming drill, and the problems continue unabated by the self-indulgent grammar.

Since we bred self-indulgent irresponsibility into the VIETNAM generation--and have [every] indication that they pass[ed] that breeding along--there may be no solutions available.


"I was that which others cared not to be.
I went where others feared to go
and did what others failed to do. 
I asked nothing from those that gave nothing..."

Pat Tillman, Ranger