After the tragic events of 9/11 I was as gung ho as anyone to seek out the perpetrators who planned this and bring them to justice. Along the way, if we could destroy the capacity to launch another attack from the same source, I was onboard with that as well. I had envisioned some carefully directed and targeted, even surgical, strikes that would take out targeted individuals and groups and eliminate the immediate threat, and perhaps send a warning to others that such actions are best to be left aborning.
After some time, I became very concerned that we were mired in a course of action was all too reminiscent of our protracted war in Viet Nam. Even to me, a mere ignorant ground pounder in Viet Nam, I had serious doubts about why we were in there and whether we could eventually win “the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese. But, I had faith that those way above me must know what they were doing and my thoughts and misgivings were shunted into the back of my mind and I concentrated on contributing to the war effort and getting out alive. After the fall of Viet Nam in 1975, and with the gift of distance, maturity, and hindsight, I became bitter about the war and its terrible cost in lives and bedrock social divisions. It will be hard to believe for the average reader, but during the Viet Nam war, American forces did not lose a single battle. However, the war itself was lost almost from the beginning.
I do not know whether our forces in Afghanistan will be able to point to a similar record in battles with the Taliban, but I’m confident that we persevered on the battlefield many more times than we lost. Sadly, with the same final result.
For too many of the last 20 years, I have heard generals and politicians telling the public and our troops that we have turned the corner, or we are on the very brink of breaking the Taliban, or even that the Taliban is broken. At the same time, I watched the toll in blood rise.
Again, I figured that I was too removed and too ignorant to challenge the public statements of imminent victory and the establishment of a thriving democracy in Afghanistan. While I doubted, I hoped that we had it right this time.
I applaud ending the war, enough lives lost was enough. What I deplore is the attempts to whitewash this and to have the audacity to say that this is not a parallel to Viet Nam. If it’s not, please explain to me the difference in a picture of a helicopter over our embassy in 1975 and the picture of a helicopter over our embassy in 2021. In addition, what is the difference between an enemy that has refuge in the safe haven of North Viet Nam and the safe haven of Pakistan to plan, stage, and recover from. Or the difference between the Ho Chi Minh trail and the supply trail from Pakistan. Or the difference between the hopelessly corrupt government in Viet Nam and the hopelessly corrupt government in Afghanistan.
There are many more, but the final comparison and the most damaging (on many fronts) and the most despicable to me is the betrayal of our allies amongst the Vietnamese soldiers, the Hmongs, Montagnards as we left them to the persecution, imprisonment and execution of the conquering North Vietnamese. For the life of me, I cannot see any difference between that and the abandonment of our allies amongst the Afghanis.
Yes, I have perfect hindsight and I admit that my sight is myopically flawed, but what hubris on the part of our politicians and military leaders caused them to be blind to the parallels to war fought less than 50 years ago? After the war in Viet Nam, our military restructured and supposedly learned its lesson. What will be the aftermath of Afghanistan? Someone once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Instead of mere insanity, the cost is all to often in blood of our youth.