Saturday, September 07, 2013

Anti-Americana: Historical Optimism

"Vietnam Will Win! America Will Lose!" reads this Chinese poster, probably from the early 1960s. I'm not 100% sure of this poster's provenance, and would love to know more about it. The illustration shows a crowd of peasants attacking an American soldier; usually the careful compositions of Chinese propaganda art showed a measured balance between civilians, militia, and military. Also, I'm pretty sure the Chinese characters used predate the simplification engineered in the PRC in the 1950s, and there is no use of Pinyin, which seemed to appear on most Chinese posters predating the Cultural Revolution. 

As for the slogan, of course it turned out to be quite accurate. A myth of the invincibility of US imperialism emerged somewhere between the Spanish-American War and World War II, that the US always emerged victorious from war. This myth is largely preserved in popular consciousness, even though it's quite far from the truth.

The U.S. failed to make a decisive victory in its first major post-WWII engagement, Korea. Unable to defeat the North Koreans, who were heavily backed by the Soviet Union and more importantly the new People's China, the best the US could achieve was a military stalemate, easily claimed as a victory by the North. Vietnam ended in the ignominious collapse of a massive American war effort. Cuba brushed off the CIA attack at Giron in 1961. Some minor US engagements, on might call them episodes of bullying, like Grenada and Panama, ended in decisive US victories. However, its two wars in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, while victorious in battlefield terms, probably count as net political defeats. The US seemed to win the cold war, though the resurgence of no-longer-even-claiming-to-be-socialist Russia on the international scene in the last few years makes it clear that that victory might have been only politically solid, leaving a potential military opponent standing.

Surely the US is hungry for a clear military success. Let's hope that proves elusive in Syria... or Iran.

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