IRAQ IS THE UNVIETNAM [ UPDATED]
Bruce Kesler, who has been active in politics since the Nixon administration ( I believe Nixon disdained Kesler as a ” hippie”) and writes for several venues, sends me interesting things on a regular basis. Today, in ” Analogy Inanities” at The Democracy Project, Kesler takes on the ” Iraq is Vietnam” meme, currently enjoying renewed popularity among the MSM lightweights:
“We are being smothered in asserted analogies between Vietnam and Iraq, between the 1968 or 1972 presidential elections’ candidates, issues and outcomes and those predicted for the 2008 election three-plus years hence, or between various mid-term Congressional elections and that of 2006. Almost all of these analogies are fairly worthless, in one or more of logic, facts, causes, knowledge, or connections. They may fill space in pundits’ columns, activists’ causes or politicos’ campaigns, but are pretty poor indicators of understanding the present and, especially, understanding a still quite unclear future.
Analogies are basically illustrations serving arguments. By drawing a picture of a previous event, and drawing a parallel picture of a current event, then inferring or pointing out the similarities, a conclusion is argued.
The logical quality of the analogy depends upon the empirical facts, or as close to that as one can get, of what is included and excluded from the past and current situations, and of the causal factors and the connections between cause and effect in each case and between cases. The persuasive power of the analogy depends upon the extent of fact-checking knowledge by and available to the listener, the relevance and appeal to the listener of the connections made, and the presentation of the analogist.
These latter “emotional” factors, naturally, are more important to the ignorant or partisan than is logical quality. Counter-arguments based on facts and logic are aimed at the more cognizant or open-minded. Counter arguments more based on the emotive factors are necessary for reaching or neutralizing the determinedly ignorant or partisan, but the arguer’s integrity depends upon taking much care to not stray into poorly defensible argumentation.
Sometimes analogies are useful to argumentation, or to begin to understand a difficult subject by using a set of different simple cases, and some actually contain high logical and persuasive quality.
More often, there are more factual and contextual differences than similarities between what is presented as the previous case in the analogy and the current case, the causal and logical connections within and between the two are even more extended than presented, and thus the conclusion argued is more tenuous than real or instructive.
I am not contesting Santayana’s famous dictum, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I am saying that it is incomplete and inadequate. The elements that can make an analogy of greater quality or worthlessness apply, of course. In any event, and even for the best of analogies, it is still essential to deal with the current and probable details and differences. Getting lost in a past event or one’s understanding of it can be as or more dangerous than not knowing the past. It can also restrict one’s imagination, thinking and planning as to the present and future actions that can result in a more favorable outcome.
Great pundits, activists and politicians recognize that the future can be made, not just repeated.”
Analogies are powerful tools for horizontal thinking. A fact recognized by many higher educational institutions that rely on the MAT to screen prospective graduate students. Well constructed analogies emplasize the parallel nature of operational premises or major structural features of two dissimilar things. Poorly constructed analogies rely on superficialities or non-critical aspects to try and draw a hasty generalization.
In my view, the Iraq and Vietnam fall into this category as Iraq is about as much like South Vietnam as it is like the Moon, something recognized by more perceptive antiwar types. Perhaps we should have a contest to see what other specious antiwar Iraq analogies we can inject into the debate. Bonus points for historical obscurity. The winner is the first blogger who finds somebody on the Left using their slogan seriously.
I open with ” Iraq will be America’s Agincourt !”
First a minor correction. Mr. Kesler began his activism with the Johnson administration, though the earlier hippie reference stands.
Secondly, Mr. Kesler writes in reference to comments section:
“There is not a space limitation at Democracy Project, outside of decent writing. Beyond about 1-thousand words can be carried over on to a connected page, as was done with my debut post about the sad state of ombudsmen (third in a series I’ve been doing). The reason that I did not go further into illustrations or analyses of examples is that I wanted to concentrate the reader’s attention on the framework of analysis, for the reader’s own critical thinking, without distractions of my further views or the reader’s own dispositions.