The Winter Soldier Returns

| provides a clip of John Kerry on C-Span's "Washington Edition" discussing the effects of a potential Iraq pullout. When a caller worries that there might be a massive bloodbath following a withdrawal, like in Vietnam, Kerry offers a correction:

"Let me just sat to the first part of your question with respect to boat people and killing, everybody predicted a massive bloodbath in Vietnam. There was not a massive bloodbath in Vietnam. There were reeducation camps and they weren't pretty and, you know, nobody likes that kind of outcome. But on the other hand, I have met a lot of people today who were in those education (sic) camps and are thriving in the Vietnam of today."

While Kerry is right that the "bloodbath" predicted by Richard Nixon didn't materialize in a Khmer Rouge way, his characterization of the communist takeover—a few years in "education camps" (a slip of the tongue that makes it sound as if the "counterrevolutionaries" entered job training programs), followed by a successful existence working in a Nike factory—is, shall we say, a bit too rosy. For the record, approximately 1,000,000 people were sent to camps after the fall of Saigon, where they were pumped full of Leninist "education" and subject to routine beatings and torture. Low estimates put the number of people executed in the immediate aftermath in the tens of thousands.

New York Times correspondent Tom Wicker, who protested the President's use of the word "bloodbath," wrote in 1979 that while there while Nixon's warning was technically wrong, conditions in Vietnam were, nevertheless, pretty grim:

"For instead of bloodbath, there is a vast tide of human misery in Southeast Asia—hundreds of thousands of homeless persons in United Nations camps, perhaps as many more dead in flight, tens of thousands of the most pitiable forcibly repatriated to Cambodia, no one knows how many adrift on the high seas or wandering on the roads."

Kerry probably has met former gulag inmates who've done rather well during Vietnam's period of economic liberalization. But he might have informed his caller of prisoners like Doan Van Toai, a former communist official arrested after the war for refusing to confiscate private property:

When I was arrested, I was thrown into a three-foot-by-six-foot cell with my left hand chained to my right foot and my right hand chained to my left foot. My food was rice mixed with sand. When I complained about the sand, the guards explained that sand is added to the rice to remind prisoners of their crimes…After two months in solitary confinement, I was transferred to a collective cell, a room 15 feet wide and 25 feet long, where at different times anywhere from 40 to 100 prisoners were crushed together. Here we had to take turns lying down to sleep, and most of the younger, stronger prisoners slept sitting up. In the sweltering heat, we also took turns snatching a few breaths of fresh air in front of the narrow opening that was the cell's only window. Every day I watched my friends die at my feet.

(From Doan's 1981 article "A Lament for Vietnam," in The New York Times)

When war-supporters used a facile World War II analogy to assure skeptics that occupation can lead to democratization, it was rightfully dismissed as an absurd, ahistorical comparison. "Bloodbath in Iraq" concerns should not be dismissed with an equally imprecise comparison.

(Hat tip: Steven M.)