More To The Story

July 7, 2004

More To The Story

In this brief collection of lectures inspired by the September 11 attack on the United States, Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis attempts to demonstrate that the Bush Administration's response is not as great a departure from American traditions as co

 

The success of a strategy depends on knowing yourself and knowing your enemy.  It was just such a miscalculation that led to our defeat in Vietnam.  "As secretary of state I made two serious mistakes with respect to Vietnam," Dean Rusk acknowledged.  "First, I overestimated the patience of the American people, and second, I underestimated the tenacity of the North Vietnamese."[vi]

Is history repeating itself?  Certainly, the admissions by Administration officials that they underestimated the Iraqi insurgency provide an uncomfortable echo of Rusk's second point.  And what about the first?  How well do we understand ourselves?

 

At the end of his book, Gaddis tells of another student who asks whether it is ok to feel patriotic now, and he-unsurprisingly-concludes it is.  But that is too easy.  Ultimately, we are brought back to the first student's division of Americans into "people like you" and "people like me."  It is a disturbing observation, especially after September 11, and Gaddis's failure to recognize and discuss it suggests it is truer than many of us would like to think.

 

Stanley Kober is a research fellow in foreign policy studies at The Cato Institute.

 

Notes:

[i] Tourtellot, p. 319.

[ii] Clark, Memorandum on the Monroe Doctrine, p. 113.

[iii] http://hnn.us/articles/1282.html

[iv] http://www.multied.com/documents/MadisonWar.html

[v] Bemis, Diplomatic History, p. 240.

[vi] As I Saw It, p. 497.