Skip to main content

The War In Iraq Is Just Like Vietnam...

June 2024
1min read

…and every other war in American history

History teaches, but only those who are open to being taught. For others, history supplies a convenient set of templates into which everything that happens afterward can be fitted. The current Iraq war is a case in point. Supporters say it’s World War II all over again, while opponents say it’s Vietnam. In fact, it has some features in common with both. But why stop there?

THE WAR IN IRAQ IS LIKE: the Revolutionary War because…

American battle deaths have totaled in the thousands (around 4,400 in the Revolution, though diseases took many more).

intervention by a third party (France, of all places) helped free a nation from tyranny.

the War of 1812 because…

one of the main reasons for the war disappeared soon after it started (Great Britain’s Orders in Council, which prevented American ships from trading with Britain’s enemies, were rescinded a few days after Congress declared war. Sir George Prevost, the governor-general of Canada, and Gen. Henry Dearborn signed an armistice in August 1812, expecting the conflict to be settled by diplomacy, but communications were slow and military events elsewhere had already been set in motion).

guerrilla acts (attacks by British-backed Indians) took the lives of many troops and civilians.

the Civil War because…

many people in the land being liberated bitterly resented it.

there was no declaration of war by Congress.

optimists expected it to be over quickly (“On to Richmond” was the slogan in the summer of 1861, and the first group of Union volunteers was enlisted for just 90 days).

vigilantes nullified some of the war’s gains.

the deposed leader fled and was captured in humiliating circumstances (when the Army finally tracked Jefferson Davis down, he was wearing his wife’s raglan and shawl, which he had hastily donned when fleeing his tent).

the Spanish-American War because…

more than a century later people are still debating whether the war was justified.

the opponent’s regular troops put up little resistance.

some equipment issued to troops was inadequate (in Cuba, instead of the new smokeless powder, most volunteer regiments—though not Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders—used old-fashioned black powder, which was less powerful, fouled guns much faster, and revealed the shooter’s position).

World War I because…

for America, the trickiest part came after the war ended (eradicating the causes of the world war proved to be impossible, and tensions simmered for two decades before erupting again).

World War II because…

it took a sneak attack to get the United States involved in a war that was already consuming the rest of the world, after which we had to deal with the attackers’ allies as well.

America’s opponents were bent on genocide and world domination.

the Korean War because…

Korea has required the presence of American troops for decades to come, and the same could be true in Iraq.

the Vietnam War because…

the terrain made it easy for foreign-backed outside forces to infiltrate.

the opposition’s strategy was to outlast the Americans instead of defeating them.

Numerous Hollywood celebrities protested the war.


Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.