News reports are full of stories about the fall of Afghanistan, and though a lot of people are distressed by what they are seeing, it was inevitable. When the US went in there 20 years ago, I told my wife that it would be another Vietnam, and that’s exactly what happened. We were fighting a war dictated by politicians trying to appease people who really didn’t want us there in the first place. Yes, they wanted us to kill their enemies, but they didn’t want anything to do with us, just like in Vietnam. The thing is, Americans are so arrogant that we don’t understand any culture different from our own. And that’s always a fatal mistake.
The day I got to my unit in Vietnam, late in the war, our commanding officer, a man who I grew to love and respect more than almost any man I’ve ever known, called his new guys together and said, “Okay, I’m going to tell you the truth. We’ve already lost this war. We’re waiting for the pencil pushers to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, and I don’t want any of you guys to be the last man killed in Vietnam. We’ll do our job, but I don’t want anybody trying to be a hero.”
For a kid who grew up watching John Wayne movies and hearing about the big war that my father and uncles were in, I took that with a grain of salt. But this battle-hardened soldier, who had seen a lot of action in his time, wasn’t the one that convinced me he was right about the situation we found ourselves in. That came from a man wearing raggedy clothes and handcuffs.
I had gotten injured and was on light duty and was assigned to guard a prisoner. I don’t know anything about this man except that he wasn’t your run-of-the-mill peasant Vietcong. He was educated, spoke English well, and was separated from other prisoners because some kind of intelligence people were coming to pick him up. We were experiencing some bad weather and the helicopters couldn’t fly, so three of us worked eight-hour shifts around the clock for two days guarding him. We were told not to let him out of our sight and not to trust him for a minute.
Somewhere during that second day he said to me, and I will never forget the conversation because I can close my eyes right now hear it almost word for word because it made that much of an impact on me. “You know you’re going to lose this war don’t you?”
I told him he was crazy. America had never lost a war and never would. He said, “I watch you. You’re smart. If you listen to me for two minutes I will tell you why you’re going to lose this war.” I didn’t have anything else to do so I told him to go for it.
He asked me, “Where were you a year ago and what were you doing?”
I told him I was in high school, and he asked, “If you don’t die here, where will you be a year from now?”
I told him I would be back home.
He said “You know where I was a year ago? I was in the jungle fighting. You know where I was five years ago? I was in the jungle fighting. You know where I was 10 years ago when I was just a boy? I was in the jungle fighting. You know where my father was 25 years ago? He was in the jungle fighting. You know where my grandfather was 50 years ago? He was in the jungle fighting? If you get in an argument with one of your friends and you get in a fight, you hope he doesn’t knock one of your teeth out or break your nose. If I can get your gun away from you, I will kill you and everybody else I can before they kill me, and I will be honored to do it because I’m fighting for our cause. Now tell me, American boy, how are you going to win this war?”
I stared at him, stunned, and I didn’t know how to answer him, because I realized that what he said was true. Their culture, their way of life, their very identity, was rolled into fighting one invader after another. We were nothing new to him. We were just one more enemy to kill if they could.
It’s no different in Afghanistan, Iraq, or anyplace else in that part of the world where we send our brave young men and women to fight and die. Those people were killing each other long before the United States was ever formed. To them, we’re just one more enemy in a long line of enemies.
And just like the South Vietnamese army was undependable and unwilling to fight for their own country, with very few exceptions, the Afghan army was the same. We spent 20 years and billions of dollars equipping and training them to defend their own country, and they immediately folded like a cheap lawn chair. So criticize the way we pulled out if you want to, but the reality is that there was no way and no time we could ever have done it that would mitigate what’s happening right now.
And sadly, there’s also no way that we’ll learn anything from this lesson, just like we did not learn a thing from Vietnam. The military-industrial complex, which is much more focused on profits than it is on people, will trade your sons’ and daughters’ blood for dollars every day of the week. Mark my words. They will get us back in another war way too soon.
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Thought For The Day – Nobody is more anti-war than the man who has had to fight one.
“There’s not even a US embassy left. Even the flag has been evacuated. This is not even Saigon. It’s more like Hitler’s bunker, May 1945!”
Thanks for your insight Nick- certainly nails the ongoing reality of the world order & truly hope that the future nations take a step back from the brink. You are correct though history shows that to be unlikely- there’s just too much of “ have vs have not.”
Ain’t that the truth amen. Kuwait Saudi Arabia next
As a Viet Nam Vet, I agree with you Nick on this outstanding blog post. Well done! I just wish at least half of the US citizens would also think like this. We all would be so much better off.
“So criticize the way we pulled out if you want to, but the reality is that there was no way and no time we could ever have done it that would mitigate what’s happening right now.”……….
Are you kidding me? How about getting our American citizens out, not leaving billions of dollars worth of high tech weapons for our enemies? You sound like a CNN liberal covering for an inept administration.
From one Vietnam Vet to another, you nailed it!
I GOT THE SAME FEELING ABOUT BEING IN GERMANY IN 1974-75
I absolutely agree.
This should be required reading!
As a vet I totally agree.
The last sentence says it all: “(The military-industrial complex) will get us back into another war way too soon.” Thanks for another great post.
Your comments are absolutely true. Our “leaders” learned nothing from Viet Nam and our future leaders, unfortunately, will learn nothing from the current fiasco. Those in leadership positions seem only to be concerned with their positions and apparently feel that all others are that their beck and call to give their lives and position in life for the good of those leaders. I think the seeds of the next “situation” have already been well sown in the middle east. Only a matter of time.
I lost a brother in Vietnam and a grandson in Afghanistan. This blog post should be required reading for anybody thinking about joining the military today.
Bob sounds like a typical right wing Faux news addicted Trumpanzee. I was in Vietnam at the very end. We left tanks, helicopters, munitions, heavy equipment and millions of dollars worth of supplies. How do you pull out of a country by first taking every asset out? Then what are the people left fighting there supposed to use until we pul them out? As for the Americans there, they knew what was coming and they chose to remain until the very end. Most were making big bucks off the war effort and did not want it to end.
I strongly supported sending troops into Afghanistan after 9-11 to go after Al Queda, but that should have been the extent of their mission. The problem was that those that were in charge of the Government at the time were the “chicken hawks” who believed that with more troops, more money and more time we could have won the war in Viet-Nam, however, virtually NONE of these “chicken hawks” served in Viet-Nam but found ways to avoid being sent there.
These “chicken hawks” thought that we could correct the errors we made in Viet-Nam and we could win a war in Afghanistan if we sent enough troops, spent enough money, and spent enough time and that we could build Afghanistan into some kind of a democracy, but of course, just like their thoughts on Viet-Nam, they were wrong about Afghanistan.
I believe a lot of people came to understand this, but subsequent Presidents just kicked the can down the road, because they knew that even under the best of circumstances getting out of Afghanistan was going to be a repeat of getting out of Viet-Nam and no President wanted to to be tied to a fiasco like that.
So no matter how this withdrawal goes, in the end we will be out of Afghanistan, and no more American lives will be lost there, and no more American treasure will be spent there.
As the only saying goes, “those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
John G. Burton Has vet. of Viet-Nam era. I agreed with you. So sad we do not learn.
Thank you for this post. I often think of some of the men who fought in Viet Nam and the horrific injuries they are still living with. It is with a heavy heart I watch the latest news of our withdrawal. I just wish it had happened years ago. Think of the lives and injuries could have been saved. Thank you for your service.
Thank you for sharing your insightful and interesting experience with the VC Pow Nick Your aim and arrows are always straight & on target-
As a two combat tour NAM vet I appreciate your observations,on these issues,,,I believe them to be always thoughtful with a true perspective.
We’re it be Vietnam or Afghanistan. The Taliban took a page from Ho Chi Minh
A 1930 quote from Ho Chi Minh…. Our resistance will be long and painful, but whatever the sacrifices, however long the struggle, we shall fight to the end, until Vietnam is fully independent and reunified.” “You can kill ten of our men for every one we kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and we will win.
Nick, this needs to be an op-Ed piece in every journalistic outlet in the U.S. Absolutely spot on! Especially in regard to the military industrial complex. Ethics and morals don’t come into it, just greed.
Just so, so sad.
As MacArthur said then, at age 82, in what became known as the “Duty, Honor, Country” speech…
“The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
(Plato did NOT say this but unfortunately it remain true to this day.)
You hit the nail on the head and sunk it with one blow. I’m not a Vietnam vet. I was a Vietnam protester. I never went to college to do it, all I knew was that Old men were arguing and lying to us and young men were dying for it. Our Nato `allies” are all upset. Not because we acted unilaterally, but because the refugees from this “war” will be soon coming to their shores. I hope I haven’t offended any Vietnam Vets. You did what you were taught to do, and believed the government.
The “volunteers” who fought in Afghanistan and other wars like it have done the same thing. Cronkite was right, and what happened in Afghanistan this week is the TET offensive all over again with less bloodshed.
I WISH THIS DIALOGUE WOULD CONTINUE – wake up!