There is a famous saying: Those who do not learn from history are condemned to keep watching it re-run on CNN. And that’s pretty much how I feel tonight after watching the current American president address his people and tell them that more of their sons and daughters were going to be sent to Iraq.
When this tragic war started many ordinary, intelligent people everywhere seemed to know the inevitable outcome better than those who had all the information, documents, reports and experts at their fingertips.
Really, it took no great work of mind to anticipate the civil war that is happening now (in all but name only) and how the invaders would get knee deep in the factionalism and be caught in the crossfire, crossfire in large measure of their own making.
I, like everyone I know, took no great comfort in being proven right on this. But unlike many of my friends and some international commentators, I never saw a direct analogy with Vietnam.
I was at university during those terrible years and so was engaged by the tragedy that was unfolding. And I don’t just mean for the Americans. It was hard to watch television news and see Vietnamese villagers -- no matter what their political persuasion -- being killed and dispossessed in such numbers.
I’ve been to beautiful and friendly and forgiving Vietnam a couple of times since -- in 95 I was there for the 20th celebrations/commemorations of the fall/liberation of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. Interesting as you might guess. I went to a bar called Apocalypse Now.
Among my many memories was that of a little boy playing in the street with a plastic gun making bang-bang noises. Make what you will of that, but I think about it quite a lot.
But the American involvement in Vietnam was very different to what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. In many ways the world is a more complex place today -- which is why we hardly need a man with simplistic solutions to be helming things.
But today for the first time I put aside all the nuances of those two different wars and could only think, I’ve been here before.
Call it a surge, call it commitment, call it whatever you like. I call sending over 20,000 more troops -- most of them only into Baghdad -- by the old name, “escalation“. Okay, it might only be short-term like they say (but would you believe these people?) but then so was the other escalation 40 years ago.
I don’t think -- at least I hope it won‘t happen -- that in six months or a year’s time another 50,000 will be committed so that “victory” can be assured. But today I just feel like I’ve heard all this before. And it was shit then, and it’s shit now.
Back in those days Creedence Clearwater Revival were churning out hit singles, among them Fortunate Son, Bad Moon Rising and Who’ll Stop The Rain which (sometimes obliquely) addressed what was happening to Americans at home and in Vietnam.
There are voices from musicians raised again of course, but oddly enough -- and with eloquent simplicity which linked the Vietnam memorial in Washington with a Biblical image -- John Fogerty of CCR captured exactly how I’m feeling right now on his most recent solo album.
“ Did you hear ‘em talkin’ ‘bout it on the radio
Did you stop to read the writing at The Wall
Did that voice inside you say,
I’ve heard it all before.
It’s like deja-vu all over again ”