Earlier this week, when President Bush gave a speech in which he advocated staying the course in Iraq and then offered comparisons to Vietnam and Japan to bolster his case, he demonstrated that his grasp of history is only exceeded by his grasp of the English language. Fortunately, a good many historians took pains to set the record straight.
From the Los Angeles Times:
FINDING IN THE DEBACLE of the Vietnam War a rationale for sustaining the U.S. military presence in Iraq requires considerable imagination. If nothing else, President Bush’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars earlier this week revealed a hitherto unsuspected capacity for creativity. Yet as an exercise in historical analysis, his remarks proved to be self-serving and selective.
For years, the Bush administration has rejected all comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam. Now the president cites Vietnam to bolster his insistence on “seeing the Iraqis through as they build their democracy.” To do otherwise, he says, will invite a recurrence of the events that followed the fall of Saigon, when “millions of innocent citizens” were murdered, imprisoned or forced to flee.
The president views the abandonment of our Southeast Asian allies as a disgrace, deploring the fate suffered by the “boat people” and the victims of the Khmer Rouge. According to Bush, withdrawing from Iraq constitutes a comparable act of abandonment. Beyond that, the president finds little connection between Vietnam and Iraq. This is unfortunate. For that earlier war offers lessons of immediate relevance to the predicament we face today. As the balance of the president’s VFW address makes clear, Bush remains oblivious to the history that actually matters. [full text]
From The Politico:
A historian quoted by President Bush to help argue that critics of the administrationâ€™s Iraq policy echo those who questioned the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Japan after World War II angrily distanced himself from the presidentâ€™s remarks Thursday.
â€œThey [war supporters] keep on doing this,â€? said MIT professor John Dower. â€œThey keep on hitting it and hitting it and hitting it and itâ€™s always more and more implausible, strange and in a fantasy world. Theyâ€™re desperately groping for a historical analogy, and their uses of history are really perverse.â€?
In a speech on Wednesday, Bush quoted â€œone historianâ€? as suggesting that foreign policy experts â€“ and, by implication, critics of Bushâ€™s approach to Iraq â€“ arenâ€™t always right. â€œAn interesting observation, one historian put it, â€˜Had these erstwhile expertsâ€™ â€” he was talking about people criticizing the efforts to help Japan realize the blessings of a free society â€” he said, â€˜Had these erstwhile experts had their way, the very notion of inducing a democratic revolution would have died of ridicule at an early stage.â€™ â€?
A search of Google books revealed that the â€œone historianâ€? is Dower. The quote is from his book, â€œEmbracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II,â€? which won the National Book Award and the Bancroft Prize, among other awards, in 1999.
Dower was decidedly unhappy with his 15 minutes of fame. â€œI have always said as a historian that the use of Japan [in arguing for the likelihood of successfully bringing democracy to Iraq] is a misuse of history,â€? he said when notified of the Bush quote. [full text]