Using (and Misusing) History: Munich, Vietnam and Iraq Jeffrey Record, Politique étrangère, 3/2005, (Autumn).
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The United States' use of force since 1945 has been significantly influenced by the perceived consequences of appeasing Hitler in the 1930s, and, from the mid-1970s to 2001, by the chilling effects of the Vietnam War. As the U.S. approached its second war with Iraq, proponents cited the Munich analogy to justify U.S. action, whereas opponents argued that the U.S. was risking another Vietnam. Though reasoning by historical analogies is inherently dangerous, an examination of the threat parallels between Hitler and Saddam Hussein, and between the Vietnam War and the situation in post-Baathist Iraq, reveals that the Munich analogy was misused as an argument for war. In contrast, the American dilemma in Iraq bears some important analogies to the Vietnam conflict, particularly in respect to the challenges of state-building and the sustaining of domestic public support for an unpopular, protracted war.
Jeffrey Record is a Professor at the Air War College (Alabama). He has published numerous works, among which are The Wrong War: Why we lost in Vietnam (Annapolis [MD], Naval Institute Press, 1998), and Making War, Thinking History: Munich, Vietnam, and Presidential Uses of Force from Korea to Kosovo (Annapolis [MD], Naval Institute Press, 2002).