Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our History Teaches: Lessons from Vietnam and the American Revolution

Thomas J. Humphrey
(810 words)

Nearly forty years ago, historian John Shy compared the Vietnam War with the American Revolution and concluded that an invading superpower would have a hard time conquering people fighting to protect their homeland. Unfortunately, what happened in both of those wars seems to be playing out again in Iraq, and the result appears too obvious.

The superpowers that fought the Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War—Britain and the United States—failed for several reasons. Although Britain and the United States were far better prepared to fight a long, protracted war than their insurgent opponents, they were unprepared to fight rebels who fought in the open as little as possible. Nor were they prepared to fight an enemy who disappeared into the countryside or that melted into the local populations.

Neither country was prepared to fight enemies who were hard to see, harder to fight, and hardest to catch. In short, neither Britain nor the United States were prepared to fight the kind of wars they ended up fighting. In both Vietnam and the North American British colonies, insurgents fought a guerilla-style war in their homeland and avoided capture by blending in with local non-combatants, making it difficult to distinguish friend from foe and giving insurgents an advantage in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people...

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Thomas J. Humphrey teaches American History and the American Revolution at Cleveland State University, and is the author of Land and Liberty: Hudson Valley Riots in the Age of Revolution.

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