Our Profound Ignorance

A Few Key Characters and Terms

Our Greatest Mistakes:

Underestimating the Power of Nationalism




"Our misjudgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders" (McNamara, 322).

A Foundation for Nationalism


Before the French attempted to take control, China had great influence over Vietnam. Vietnam managed to utilize many beneficial aspects of Chinese culture for example, Chinese military tactics as well as political and social structures. The Vietnamese had also come to despise foreigners. China’s method of rice cultivation was particularly valuable. Successful rice cultivation is based off of intricate irrigation systems, and cooperative labor. “Vietnamese communities thus developed a strong collective sprit and, although autonomous, villages could be mobilized as a unified chain of separate links to fight against foreign intruders”. (Karnow, 110-111). Essentially, the Vietnamese adopted admired customs and political, economic systems from their dominant cultures but, through unity, maintained their independence. By the time France made another attempt to invade Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, a respected, well educated, Vietnamese man (who later became the President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) had already organized a communist party of soldiers who were born with the mentality of warriors.


Oil is what makes Iraq so desirable to dominant powers. Therefore, the Iraqis, like the Vietnamese, have lived a life of resistance. Before Iraq was given minimal independence in 1932 from the United Kingdom, it was controlled by the British under the League of Nations. In 1930, two years before the Iraqis were granted “freedom”, the British established the Anglo-Iraqi treaty. This treaty gave Britain the right to set up military bases in Iraq and travel through the country without any constraints or conditions. The Iraqis were obviously outraged, but the British forces set up two military bases named Basra and Raf regardless of what the Iraqis wanted. The Iraqis eventually rebelled and unsuccessfully attacked the British military bases. Until 1947 when the Iraqis finally gained independence, the British forces used Iraq to exploit its oil resources and also used the country as jumping off point to attack Iran. Through colonization, the Iraqis have learned that they must present themselves in a serious, forceful way if they want to be taken seriously by the international community.


President Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush disregarded the history of Vietnam and Iraq. Therefore, they were unable to gauge just how passionate these citizens were about defending their freedom. Neither president anticipated the power that nationalism would have to motivate people.