ALMOST from the very beginning of the American counteroffensive against the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, the specter of Vietnam has hovered over U.S. military action.
Two weeks into the Afghanistan campaign, critics of the war had dusted off "quagmire," a sturdy favorite of those who criticized the Vietnam War. The term reappears every time there is a setback in Iraq, despite the fact that even the most successful wars are frequently characterized by plans gone awry. In fact, most people who draw Vietnam like a pistol understand neither Vietnam nor the current war.
The Vietnam analogy has now begun to encompass the soldiers fighting the war. "A Flood Of Troubled Soldiers Is In The Offing, Experts Predict" blared the front page of The New York Times of Dec. 16. "An Army study shows that about one in six soldiers in Iraq report symptoms of major depression, serious anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, a proportion that some experts believe could eventually climb to one in three, the rate ultimately found in Vietnam veterans," the Times reported. "Because about one million American troops have served so far in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures, some experts predict that the number eventually requiring mental health treatment could exceed 100,000."
War is a terrible business. Even those who do not suffer physical wounds can be traumatized by the experience. Of course, some handle the stress of combat better than others, but even the strongest can reach a breaking point.
This has been true of soldiers throughout history. Unfortunately, critics of the Vietnam War managed to portray those who fought that war as uniquely damaged by their combat experience. Now falsehoods about the Vietnam veteran are being used to discredit the current generation of soldiers.