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.