Current Comparisons Between Iraq, Vietnam Misleading, Says IWU Historian
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Although many political commentators continue to draw comparisons
between America’s involvement in Vietnam and Iraq, Illinois Wesleyan history professor
Paul Bushnell believes that analogies between the two conflicts are misleading and
“These are not analogous situations now,” says Bushnell. “With Iraq, there is no easy
Recalling a popular prescription from the Vietnam era that suggested the United States
should “declare victory and leave,” Bushnell believes that an early exit from Vietnam
might have saved many lives in that situation but that the result would be very different
“Pulling out of Vietnam earlier than we did probably would have saved tens of thousands
of lives,” Bushnell says. “I’m not convinced that pulling out in this case would be
less destructive for Iraq.
“With many observers beginning to think seriously about the prospect of a civil war
there, the result could be almost as much of a failed state as Afghanistan and maybe
even a more perfect breeding ground for terrorism.”
Indeed, a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops would probably increase the number of
casualties, Bushnell says.
“They wouldn’t be our casualties, but they would be our fault, our responsibility,”
At the same time that he sees the dilemma of withdrawing from Iraq, Bushnell observes
that anti-war protestors who have rallied behind Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in
Iraq, represent a very different kind of movement than was active during the Vietnam
“One of the key differences between Iraq and Vietnam, of course, was that the burdens
were being shared more in Vietnam,” says Bushnell. “With the draft in place, the youth
of America were very acute listeners to the news and to what was happening in Vietnam.
That is not the case in Iraq.”
Consequently, Bushnell says, the mother of a slain soldier stepped into a void that
had existed in the anti-war movement since the fall of Baghdad. Her protest outside
President Bush’s Texas ranch this summer had begun to spread to other parts of the
country when Hurricane Katrina hit. While the news coverage of Sheehan’s protest has
subsided, she continues to speak out around the country.
“Cindy Sheehan has been effective in this role not just because she lost a son but
also because she sees the political framework,” Bushnell says. “In the Vietnam protest
era, the anti-war violence that ultimately began to be expressed created a situation
that distracted from the main goal. In this instance, you have a mother who has strong
symbolic value, and it is difficult for the administration to turn the attack back
To talk with Professor Bushnell, contact either Jeffery G. Hanna or Ann Aubry at 309/556-3181.