Underestimating the Power of Nationalism

A Few Key Characters and Terms

Our Greatest Mistakes:

Our Profound Ignorance




"We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people...to fight and die for their beliefs and values--and we continue to do so today in many parts of the world." (McNamara, 322).

A History of Resistance

The United States did not fully comprehend Vietnam’s history of resistance and therefore did not anticipate the power of Vietnamese nationalism. Long before France colonized Vietnam, China had control of the country. The Vietnamese were forced to adopt Chinese culture and traditions such as art, religion and even language. Therefore, The French assumed that the Vietnamese were without their own sense of individualism. However, hundreds of years of oppression had created an extremely strong sense of identity for the Vietnamese who, through years of opposition, were always prepared to defend themselves. The Vietnamese adopted certain aspects of their dominant powers while defending themselves against actual colonization. So, not only had the Vietnamese mastered unusual and effective battle techniques such as guerilla warfare, but the people had also become united through their struggles. The Vietnamese successfully resisted French invasion and had confidence in their abilities to defend their country against the United States as well. The Vietnamese had nothing left to lose when they went to war with the United States.

Similarly, the United States underestimated the power of nationalism and therefore did not expect that the Iraqis would be so committed to the war. The Iraqis, list the Vietnamese, believe in their ability to defend their country and will not give up because they are extremely hopeful. 53% of radicals and 44% of moderates believe that the future will be a bright one. “More radicals expressed satisfaction with their financial situation and quality of life than their moderate counterparts” (Esposito, HC 3). Like most American soldiers in Vietnam, many Americans assume that so called, “third world countries” are populated by poor, uneducated, unmotivated people. Interestingly, Islam is a humanistic religion that emphasizes the idea that people do have the opportunity to change their lives and bring about their own happiness. Although the country of Iraq is not united as a whole, much like Vietnam was separated into the North versus the south, the subgroups within the country are extremely cohesive. The Iraqis have been fighting for their independence for so long that they know what is effective and what is not when trying to make a statement. According to a study done in 9,000 homes in the Middle East, radical Muslims are better educated, have a greater income, and are overall more satisfied with their lives than Muslim moderates. (Powell, HC 1). Alvin Powell, an associate professor at Harvard University, discusses how suicide-bombing rates are higher in countries where there is less political freedom. Therefore, suicide bombers are acting on their determination for more political freedom and are not motivated by religious beliefs or hatred. The Iraqi people have strong faith in their fight for freedom and, like the Vietnamese, can only benefit from continuing to fight with full force.