It was during the national stock-taking and spiritual inventory accompanying the obsequies for Ronald Reagan that I finally figured out how the war in Iraq differs from the one in Vietnam.
The Iraq War's champions have always insisted it's different, of course. Before the first shot was fired last year, they assailed "deja-vu" dissenters who predicted reruns of Vietnam's trumped-up pretexts, massive overkill, and bottomless quagmires. But this time the warriors squelched or deflected dissent so effectively that they've made this war different in ways they didn't intend.
Late one June night in 1982, Willie Turks, a thirty-four-year-old New York City transit employee coming off his shift, was surrounded and beaten to death by a mob of fifteen to twenty young whites in the mostly Italian-American, Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend. "There was a lynch mob that night," the judge remarked in sentencing one assailant for manslaughter. "The only thing missing was a rope and a tree." Indeed, four years later, when whites in nearby Howard Beach chased Michael Griffith onto a highway where he was struck and killed by a car, New York Newsday columnist Murray Kempton would note that "direct homicide was clearer cut in Turks' case than in Griffith's."