Monday, March 13, 2006

The Vietnam Effect

If Americans have learned anything from Vietnam it is that you can't blame soldiers for the government's foreign policy mistakes. Soldiers are trained to obey orders. It's not the soldier's fault if the government gives them orders that are legal but unpopular.

During the Vietnam War, returning U.S. soldiers were treated with derision by some members of the public. This was totally unfair to the soldiers, who were the most negatively affected by the war.

The U.S. has grown through its experience in Vietnam. The Iraq War is growing in unpopularity: in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week 56% of Americans said that the U.S. is not making significant progress in Iraq, and 52% wanted the government to begin pulling troops back home. In spite of this, people still support the people in uniform. You see "Support Our Troops" stickers and magnets all over the place. The media representation of soldiers is very positive, even when they are critical of the administration's foreign policy.

There are soldiers, though, who are experiencing negative reactions from citizens simply because they participated in the Iraq War. Those soldiers are British soldiers.

According to The Scotsman, hostile public reaction to their service in Iraq has increased stress on returning soldiers. Now, the article is vague about exactly what kind of hostile reaction the soldiers are facing. It doesn't say if they are being spit on, or protested en masse (ala American troops during the Vietnam era). It does have some interesting words about the war from a British perspective, something we hardly ever see in the U.S. (In fact, we hardly see anything about the British participation in the war.)

Here's a quote from the article:
[Dr. Chris] Freeman, who has treated nearly 20 Scottish veterans at his Edinburgh clinic, said: "Gulf War Two has changed society's attitude to soldiers. It has become our Vietnam. There have been no heroes in this war. Two-thirds of this country didn't want [Iraq] to happen and that has a massive effect on the men who come home."

..."Servicemen know they have been involved in something deeply unpopular, which has spiralled out of control," he said. "That is another burden on them."
The article also said that more than 600 British servicemen have been wounded in Iraq, about triple the official figure of 230 from the British government.

This is an interesting article from a couple of directions. First, Britain has a much longer military history than the United States, yet it's only now that Britain is undergoing the Vietnam Effect (at least according to the media). I mean, this is a nation that went to war because a sea captain's ear was cut off by the Spanish (oversimplification of the start of the War of Jenkin's Ear, 1739 – 1748, which rolled into the War of the Austrian Succession). Second, the war is far less popular in Britain than you hear in the U.S. Sure, places like CNN will mention that the Iraq War was unpopular, but you don't hear words like "deeply unpopular" and "spiralled out of control". You'd think the liberal-biased media would make a huge deal of this...

Anyway, here's the full article (though I've already stolen quoted the important bits):

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