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Re-fighting the Vietnam War

November 19, 2009

Re "The Vietnam questions, today," Opinion, Nov. 12

Gordon Goldstein cited George Ball's prescience in warning against escalation of the Vietnam War, a position for which he was once chided. "What you know about Vietnam," a critic told him, "could be comfortably contained in a fairly small thimble."

Conceding that point, Ball made a larger one by challenging the metaphor -- asserting that his knowledge of Vietnam was even shallower than intimated but wider, more politically intuitive and best contained on a "soup plate."

Ball knew that war, at its core, is a political enterprise. U.S. forces could decimate the communists in battle, but they could neither improve the legitimacy of South Vietnam's corrupt government nor erase its image as an American puppet.

My hope is that President Obama's reported admiration of Goldstein's book leads him away from a fixation on tactics in Afghanistan and toward an acceptance of the grim realities that a comprehensive political analysis -- taking into account U.S. temperament for war and Afghans' confidence in governing -- will suggest.

David DiLeo

San Clemente

The writer is a professor of history and humanities at Saddleback College and the author of "George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment."

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Counting only the Viet Cong forces is a disservice to our men who fought in Vietnam. The primary enemy of U.S. troops was the North Vietnamese army, an effective, large fighting force. They were well supplied, well trained and highly motivated.

The real similarity between the Vietnam War and the current situation in Afghanistan is obvious. Both campaigns have been subjected to indecision and a lack of resolve on the part of our leadership. As in Vietnam, a clear objective in Afghanistan has never been stated by either Obama or President George W. Bush. Until someone comes up with a winning strategy and has the guts to implement it, the war in Afghanistan will continue to be a losing proposition.

Charles Reilly

Manhattan Beach

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