Both the Vietnam and Iraq wars were undeclared, so it is difficult to find their exact point of origin or of ending.
Both Vietnam and Iraq are two-part wars with differences. In Vietnam, the first war began after the end of World War II, when French troops returned to reclaim French Indochina from the Japanese. That was a three-part colony, administered from Saigon, of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The French promised self government to the three segments of Indochina.
The communists in Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh, remained peaceful for about a year. Instead of giving real freedom, like the British had to parts of the British Commonwealth, the French provided a secondary role to the colonists. Ho went into rebellion with his Viet Minh Party, which included communists and noncommunists.
Finally in 1954, after losing a major battle at Dien Bien Phu, the French withdrew and gave freedom to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, but Vietnam was divided into two parts. North Vietnam was given to Ho Chi Minh, South Vietnam to the Nationalists. An election was promised two years later to put the two parts of Vietnam back together. That election was never held.
So a civil war broke out between the two Vietnams. The United States was slowly drawn into the conflict. In 1950, we established a Military Assistance Advisory Group for Indochina. Later, the name was changed to the MAAG for Vietnam.
In 1964, the U.S. sent two ships, the Maddox and Turner Joy, into the Gulf of Tonkin. The communists attacked our ships, but missed. So Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the president to take all necessary steps including the use of armed force to prevent further attacks.
In 1965, the first 3,500 American Marines landed, and the second stage of the Vietnam war was begun, the U.S. against North Vietnam. Our troops were originally only to train South Vietnamese military, but after we came under attack we had to fight back.
We began a feeble attempt to end the war by diplomatic negotiations that lasted from 1968 to 1973 when the Paris Peace Accord was signed. This gave the Americans 60 days to withdraw. However it took more than two years to leave. The last 10 Marines left the U.S. Embassy in Saigon on April 30, 1975.
In the first war, the French lost to Ho Chi Minh’s troops in a battle from 1946 to 1954. The second war was fought by America and allies against North Vietnam from 1965 to 1975 when we withdrew declaring victory. But in reality, we also lost to the communists, who invaded South Vietnam soon after we departed and created the united communist state that exists today.
The Iraq war also has two parts. The first was the first Gulf War under President George H.W. Bush. Ignoring demands from the United Nations, Saddam Hussein’s troops invaded neighboring Kuwait on the excuse that they were stealing oil along the border with drills slanting into the oil beneath Iraqi territory.
Apparently, Saddam thought he could bluff the U.N. and get away with that conquest. But the U.S., with help from Britain and a few other states, invaded with a total of 100,000 troops. After three days, we had pushed Iraqi troops back into their own country.
Our troops stopped at the border because that was all the U.N. resolution authorized. Thus, the war was a quick success, but we did not pursue Saddam back into Baghdad, a decision that some thought was a mistake.
Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, we began a war against terrorists in Afghanistan, which still rages today.
After that war seemed to succeed, President George W. Bush decided to focus on Iraq, to get rid of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and force a regime change that would topple him from power.
When we could not obtain a resolution authorizing invasion of Iraq (as in the First Persian Gulf war), we decided to invade Iraq in March 2003, with assistance from the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and other nations.
Today, there seems to be no realistic way to end the war in Iraq. Yet the election of our next president may hinge on which candidate can best handle both the military and economic problems that seem to be overwhelming public opinion today.
Did our government lie to us in stating the reasons for the Gulf of Tonkin resolutions? Did we simply sail into North Vietnamese waters to provoke an attack to give us an excuse to fight?
And did our government lie to us about the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and connection to 9/11?
Let us all pray that we can find a diplomatic way out of this war that will not take five long years to complete while the killing continues.
Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears frequently and on gainesvilletimes.com.