The centenary of World War I has drawn surprisingly little attention. And this is unfortunate because the Great War offers many opportunities for reflection on statesmanship, the losses of war, and the strategies and tactics of military leaders. One event in 1917 merits particular attention as an occasion to reflect upon the costs of war and national strategy.
The lessons of Vietnam long ago became a cliché in American political debate. It provided a shorthand for mistakes to avoid or overcome. Successfully driving Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, at minimal cost in lives and money, appeared to lift the United States from the shadow of Vietnam. After the disappointed hopes of more recent Middle Eastern conflicts, however, the shadow returned. Ken Burns’ recent documentary series, The Vietnam War, revives the debate over what lessons that war provides. Rather than the usual approach of drawing analogies that show what policies to adopt or avoid, learning from Vietnam involves…
Journalists often claim to write the first draft of history, but that statement raises the question when a story turns from current events into history. The Vietnam War now stands closer to World War II than 2017. A formative experience for the baby boom generation, those who came of age after 1990 see Vietnam as an episode in history. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns captures the immediacy of the conflict in the ten episode series The Vietnam War airing on PBS. The series also raises larger questions about American foreign policy that resonate today.
A populist backlash against globalization during 2016 brought a series of events culminating with Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election. The results marked a sharp break with a muscular form of liberal internationalism committed to spreading democracy and promoting human rights that guided policy since the 1990s.