The War, Not the Country

The situation in Iraq is often referred to as resembling or possessing the potential to become ‘another Viet Nam,’ which is a phrase that really, really frustrates me. It’s not that I don’t agree with the spirit of this statement, because there are indeed some striking similarities in the case for this country’s continued involvement in Iraq and the United States’ prolonged motivation for waging war in the country of my birth… similarities which don’t necessarily help the case of either those supporting or opposing the Bush administration. As a historical lesson, the war we fought in Viet Nam in the 1960s and 70s can yield some valuable insight if we’re careful in our consideration of its legacy.My real beef, then, is that the colloquial method of referring to that war is to say, simply, “Viet Nam” (And to pronounce Vietnahm). So, for instance, a television news commentator will say something like, “There’s every reason (or no reason) to believe that Iraq is going to become another Vietnahm.” What they should really be saying is, ”There’s every reason (or no reason) to believe that Iraq is going to become another Viet Nam war.”

The disparity is subtle to most Western ears, I’m sure, but it makes a big difference to a population of immigrants who have struggled with the stigma of what is very often considered to be a ‘bad’ war. It equates the whole damn country with undesirability, with quagmire, with regret and mistakes, and it’s not at all respectful. Whether it was a virtuous conflict or not I won’t address here, but I do know that using the simple term ‘Vietnahm’ as a substitute for the longer, more correct form of ‘the Viet Nam war’ is bad.