Awhile back I heard a certain political rightist make a curious claim about history; and to my amazement, a renowned political leftist agreed with him, for entirely different reasons. Such agreement is just the sort of curious phenomenon which draws my interest as a paralogician.
The claim was that the USA won the war in Vietnam. I heard this contrarian claim from Jerry Pournelle, my favorite reactionary; and I also heard the same claim from Noam Chomsky, noted progressive. The difference is that Pournelle said that the USA had already won by the time it lost, and Chomsky says that the USA pragmatically won after it lost.
Chomsky said that Vietnam was so ruined by the war that it had to abide by the rulings of the World Bank, thus ending their financial independence and the 'threat of a good example'. So he posits an ironic economic victory.
Pournelle posits an abandoned moral victory. He said that the United States won not only one war there, but two in a row, before losing a third. It seems that the first two victories were such smashing successes, despite not ending the war, that the North Vietnamese really should have given up; but they stubbornly kept fighting, until the Americans gave up instead. And it's not fair.
I still don't believe that the USA won in Vietnam; but who am I to disagree with both Jerry Pournelle and Noam Chomsky? According to Pournelle, the USA was ahead two rounds to one, which ought to count somehow; according to Chomsky, the Vietnamese were left too destitute to defend themselves against the World Bank. But if they are right, then why is Saigon now named after Ho Chi Minh? Cities are usually named after the winners.
Here's a unified Pournelle/Chomsky theory: the USA won the first two phases of the war, formally lost the third phase - threw the fight, actually - and fiscally won the formally peaceful fourth phase. It seems that guerillas are more powerful than soldiers, but bankers are more powerful than guerillas. Is the "Ho Chi Minh City" thing a sop for the rubes?
Also I wonder; what kind of victory is immediately followed by escalated fighting on the same soil? I always thought that military victory by definition ensures peace on the victor's terms; but now I learn that there is another kind of victory, which ensures a bigger and better war. I suppose this makes sense if war is peace; so let's call them Orwellian victories.
So to fix definitions:
An Orwellian Victory is one that ensures a bigger and better war. It is identical to actual victory only if war is peace.
The reward of Orwellian victory is escalated warfare. Orwellian victories are dependable; they go on and on and on. If your business is warfare, then you can really make a killing during the boom times. Orwellian victories serve the military's interests, though not its purpose; for the purpose of the military is to win wars; but genuine victory would cause demobilization.
The trouble with Orwellian victories is that the thrill fades. The folks back home, who provide money and cannon-fodder, eventually notice that Orwellian victory, unlike real victory, brings escalation instead of peace. If we had won twice already, and were about to win a third time, then wouldn't we have to win a fourth time, and a fifth, and a sixth? The guys in charge were wrong before; why not wrong again?
The Vietnam war had a series of bigger and better victories; and it had promise to become even bigger; but Congress had by then realized that the military-industrial complex's definition of victory was not the same as theirs. The Congress, as representatives of the people, wanted peace; which is precisely what Orwellian victory cannot achieve. So they defunded the forever-war; and this was indeed choosing defeat; but it was Orwellian defeat, which is bitter-sweet; unlike Orwellian victory, which is entirely bitter.
My personal reaction to the fall of Saigon was relief. I was grateful for the end of the war. Clearly victory could not bring peace, nor protest; only defeat would do.
According to Chomsky, the defeat in Vietnam nonetheless served American interests, and so was only the appearance of defeat. So the defeat was as Orwellian as the prior victories!
Some definitions, then:
Orwellian victory: a victory that ensures a bigger and better war. It is identical to actual victory only if war is peace.
Orwellian defeat: a voluntary defeat that ensures a peace on terms advantageous to the apparently defeated.
The former is hubris, fit only for monsters; the latter is a sin, fit only for crooks. The latter is the lesser evil. Crooks can be bought off; monsters can't.