History repeating itself

I just finished my 10th read of "Dispatches," Michael Herr's mid-'70s memoir of Vietnam.

To my mind, "Dis-patches" is the best memoir ever written about war, any war.

Herr cap-tured the insanity, bru-tality and the weird exhila-ration of combat that vets who've been under fire sometimes talk about as if were a dirty secret.

The reading was timely because history is repeating itself again.

"Dispatches" is full of incidents where generals and visiting politicians tell the gullible American public, "We are winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese," speeches which Herr, who was on the ground and in combat, shows immediately to be misguided or, worse, blatantly dishonest.

I thought of all this after Pinhead's recent speech, the one in which he claimed that Iraqi troops had led and won some big battle in a little Iraq town.

CNN juxtaposed Pinhead's speech with a live report from Time maga-zine's Baghdad bureau chief, Michael Ware, who had been in the battle Bush talked about.

Ware laughed out loud when Pin-head's comments were played for him.

The correspondent then went on to say that the battle had been planned by Americans and led by Special Forces "advisors" (Green Berets).

If you were alive and awake during Vietnam, this all sounds deadly familiar to you.

Our allies, the South Vietnamese, did not ever lead the fight for "their" country.

The Viet Cong and the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) were fearsome fighters. The ARVIN, our guys, were generally not.

And now we have Iraq and the "insurgents" versus our "volunteer" Iraqi Army.

We always seem to have the wrong side in these little wars we get involved in.

Maybe that's because the other side is the one that believes in what they are fighting for, and our side are fighting because we force them to.

For the sake of the brave Americans on the ground over there (not the lying leaders), one can only hope history is not repeating itself, but it all looks too familiar to me.

* Readers say to me, how can you be so against the war and still say you support the troops?

That's as simple as loving the poor, ghetto-sprung boxer and hating his grasping, suburbanite manager.

The soldiers, whether they believe in the "mission" or not, are there, and they have to keep each other alive. Seldom are they fighting for any great ideal, even if that's how their tour of duty began.

They are struggling to stay alive and get back to what Vietnam vets called the world. I have a bone to pick with any antiwar protester who lumps Private Smith in with Dick Cheney. It's apples and oranges, plain and simple.

* In sad news closer to home, I wrote recently about going back to Cincinnati and seeing my Uncle John, who was very sick.

John died last week at the age of 84.

He was a remarkable old dude who had been a pretty remarkable young dude.

He fought in both World War II and Korea, but by the end of his life was against our country's recent (past 30 years or so) propensity for finding trouble in far-flung places around the globe.

John was an Irish-American with a real fondness for sports, beer, cards and fun. He wasn't famous, he never wrote a column or made a speech, but he was a smart fella with his own hard-won ideas.

I'll miss him.

His death reminded me once again that there are stories of remarkable, everyday people hiding behind the formulaic capsule biographies of the surface we call obituaries, which most of us skim or ignore every day in our daily newspapers.

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