But the world’s eyes were being drawn more at the time to Vietnam and, four decades ago this week, to a short but furious war in the Middle East pitting Israel against no fewer that four of its neighbors: Egypt, Syria, Jordan and a pre-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
The Six Day War was over before many could come fully to grips with the fact that it had even started. Two days into the war, the U.S. offered a ceasefire deal to the United Nations Security Council but the Soviet Union blocked the idea, apparently in the belief that its Arab allies would prevail.
It was a bad call on Moscow’s part. Forty years later and leaders in the Kremlin would appear not to have lost the habit.
Meanwhile, the war rages on in post-Saddam Iraq. With each passing day the comparisons with the Vietnam morass seem to grow, even if the terrain looks different, and the conflict is confined to one country that seems intent on splitting apart – this as opposed to two parts of the same country that were on course for a future merger.
Back in the Middle East, forty years seems to have done little to heal the open wounds between the Israelis and their nearest neighbors, the Palestinians.
But of course, even here, there is hope and it is provided in some measure by the present state of Northern Ireland forty years after it found itself walking down the path towards conflict and away from peace.
The lesson to be gleaned from the North is that not every difference has to be patched over in order for a workable normality to be achieved. Perfection is not a prerequisite for the passably normal. Peace can come first, the precise details of future governance can, in time, follow.
Such lessons can be applied to the Israeli/Palestinian divide. And though it may seem like a very long shot right now, they could, and should, be brought to bear in Iraq, a country that doesn’t seem to have much of a comfort zone right now between very existence and absolute disintegration.
Peace is possible in spite of great differences in scale. Northern Ireland could never come close to Vietnam’s frightening level of violence, the geopolitical immensity of the Middle East standoff, or the seeming hopelessness that is now the daily lot of Iraqis.
But certain principles apply in human affairs, regardless of size and scope. What the North lacked in geographic scale or global strategic importance it more than made up for in sheer historical depth. Hundreds of years said to the world that no peace deal could ever be struck.
But not everyone accepted this rationale and the result is plain to see.
So there is hope where hope seems to have been crushed. There is possibility where all seems impossible, even if sometimes the price is raised higher by the passing of too many years.