In the movie Magnolia the narrator (Ricky Jay) says, "And the book says, 'We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us.'"
Since I was quoting this in the previous post, I spent a little time surfing around, trying to find out if there was an earlier source than Paul Thomas Anderson's film. The quote sounded, to me, like an AA slogan, so I searched through a bunch of online collections of them, but didn't find it there. (If anybody knows of a pre-PTA provenance for this quote, I'd love to hear it.)
What I did find several times, searching for the word "past" in these lists of wise cliches, was many variations of this:
"Sanity: What we get when we quit hoping for a better past."
That, I think, pinpoints the insanity driving the current enthusiasm for a "surge" of additional U.S. troops in Iraq. Proponents of this surge are not hoping for a better future, but for a better past. They're not trying to win the war in Iraq but rather, somehow, to win the war in Vietnam.
The idea of a troop surge — it's never clear what these new troops would be doing — arises from the enduring myths about Why We Lost Vietnam. We coulda/shoulda won, the myth says, if we hadn't lost our nerve, or if we'd committed more troops, or more bombs, or moremoremore of, you know, that stuff we coulda won with if we'd only used more of it.
Part of the reason this myth endures is that there were things that America could have done in Vietnam, and chose not to do. And many of those things have proven effective in the past. Look back a few decades earlier in American history to the enormously effective counter-insurgency our forces employed in the Philippines. Trouble with insurgents in a village? Kill all the adult males. Create gulags and ghettos for the pacified civilian population. Kill 50 civilians for every one of your own soldiers slain. It's not pretty, but it is effective. (See also Caesar's successful conquest of Gaul; the successful restoration of order in Tianenmen Square; or the very successful counter-insurgency carried out in Dujail, Iraq, in 1982 by the recently deceased former leader of that country.)
That is what "more" means when someone repeats the myth that we could have won in Vietnam if only we'd done more. More crimes against humanity. It's considered impolitic to state as much explicitly, however, so usually this is said through euphemisms such as "fighting with one arm tied behind our back." (The arm, apparently, which would otherwise be committing unforgivable, but admittedly effective, atrocities.) State what "more" means explicitly and the newspapers will make it look bad and then the public will turn against you — hence the kernel of truth at the heart of the other enduring myth about Vietnam, the public and the press "wouldn't allow" us to "do what needed to be done to win." (What needed to be done, exactly? "More.")
Apart from those on the rabid fringes — the warbloggers or Ann Coulter and other professional TV-shouters like him — the euphemistic masking of what "more" really means is necessary not only to hide its true meaning from the press and the public, but also to hide it, as much as possible, from the advocates of "more" themselves. Whether it's because St. Thomas and your mother were right about Natural Law, or simply because thinking the unthinkable is unpleasant, most advocates of "more" are unable to say what it is they really want out loud, even when they're alone. And so, as much as possible, they cling to the vaguest possible formulation, "We need to do more."
"More troops" has the word "more" in it, so they're for that. (Nevermind where these troops might come from, or how they might be effectively deployed.)
The main reason the myth of more endures, however, has little to do with the warbloggerish enthusiasm for atrocities and repraisals. This myth remains popular mainly because winning is better than losing, and we didn't win in Vietnam.
The call for a "troop surge" in Iraq is also the first step in the creation of our next myth — the one that explains why we lost this war. No matter how many additional troops are included in this "surge" it will be judged, by the mythmakers, as not more enough. And Congress, or the press, or the public, can later be blamed for not doing "more" — for not allowing us to do what needed to be done to win.