Was It Worth It?
The news out of Afghanistan this week draws obvious parallels to our exit from Vietnam and its rapid fall to the communist North. However there are differences.
The talking heads keep using the word “shocking” to describe the speed with which the Afghan army turned tail and fled the battlefield. The only shock should be that any other outcome was expected. At least in Vietnam every analyst and general knew in advance the south Vietnamese would collapse as soon as we left. I’m sure the “I told you so” folks will soon make their appearance.
Then, as now, a lot of civilians as well as Americans were killed or hurt in what turned out to be a losing effort. Yet, things aren’t always what they seem. Even though our support of Saigon ultimately failed, we prevented China from annexing the entire Indochina peninsula. Today’s Vietnam may not be a beacon of democracy, but it’s still in far better shape than if they had become vassals to China.
Progress in Afghanistan is harder to measure. It can be argued that we kept the war on terror over there instead of over here. No 9/11-style attacks have been repeated. We also introduced modern Western concepts like equal rights and education for women to an entire generation.
Seventy percent of Afghans are under 30, so there are millions who know no other way of life than Western democracy and freedoms. Chances are the Taliban will find it tougher to snuff that out this time around.
Another major difference from 50 years ago is our perception of our men and women in uniform. Coming home from Vietnam, our veterans were despised as losers and baby-killers. Veterans from that conflict struggle as much from how they were treated at home as from memories of the battlefield.
Today, we recognize our veterans for the heroism they deserve. The final outcome in Kabul was not due to any shirking of duty on their part: they brought freedom and dignity to a land unused to such, often paying for that with their lives. They cannot be blamed for the end result.
And yes, the blame game will naturally begin, and there’s plenty to go around. Presidents and politicians from both parties will be fingered, analysts and spies will break cover, generals may get retired. The ultimate blame needs to go the Afghans themselves. Even with our help, they have chosen their lot.
Another 10 years of American deaths would not have made any difference.
Was It Worth It?