By Stanley Campbell
It’s been 10 years since our troops invaded Afghanistan. The U.S., under Commander-In-Chief George W. Bush, sent in the military to chase down the killers of 9/11. No one protested. Ten years later, people are getting a little leery of this mess. And it is now Barack Obama’s war.
Some of us wished we would have built an international force to deal with backward Afghanistan. Sent in the United Nations. The country was under the thumb of the Taliban, an extremist sect of hill tribesmen to whom the U.S. had given guns and money. The U.S. had wanted them to fight the Soviets, who’d invaded to quell an uprising of hill tribesmen. I think the Afghans have been fighting everyone at least once in their history — starting with Alexander the Great.
If Obama had said, “We’ll get Osama, then leave,” he would have had the respect of most Americans. He got Osama, but what now? A number of people say this may be Obama’s Vietnam.
I am a Vietnam veteran. I served with the United States Army in DaNang’s 67th Medical Group.
I can quite unequivocally tell you that Afghanistan is not like Vietnam. (I once made similar comments about the Iraqi War.) Vietnam is a jungle. Afghanistan is mountainous desert. It rains more in Vietnam, so much so there’s a season called monsoon, which means “god-awful deluge.”
And while the Viet Cong hid in the jungle, Afghan insurgents hide in mountains.
And the cities look different. In Vietnam, they’re either villages of bamboo huts or French Colonial-style buildings. (Remember, the French were there before us.) In Afghanistan, the inner cities are bombed out, and villages look like piles of mud and stick. There are poor people in both countries, and have a similar hue to their skin.
In Vietnam, there may have been more people who, though they did not support American troops, were wary of the Communists. The American soldier in Vietnam, I think, may have had a little more security than in Afghanistan, although there were booby traps, sniper fire and terrorist-type bombings.
Armies of Viet Cong were backed up by North Vietnam regulars. Afghanistan hasn’t had an organized resistance.
Muslim countries surround Afghanistan, Buddhists in Vietnam.
Whereas in Vietnam, the United States first supported the French war from 1946 to ’54, then sent advisers in secret; in Afghanistan, American forces were sent all at once and are trying to occupy the whole damn country.
In Vietnam, the American soldier was used as bait to attract enemy fire. In Afghanistan, technology is better and the rate of death lower.
The differences between the two countries are obvious: geographic, physical, religious, etc. So, yes, there’s a difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam, but why do the wars smell like disaster?
And speaking of being outgunned, our forces in Afghanistan need some help. When soldiers are overstressed, innocents are apt to die as rules fall by the side of the road.
Here’s another similarity: war makes somebody rich.
During war, money is stolen. During World War I, cases of theft included weapons that were paid for but never delivered. In World War II, President Harry S Truman got his notoriety from dragging defense contractors over hot coals. He found enough corruption to fund a third front.
While I was in Vietnam, I remember giant supply depots full of stuff, from ping pong balls to beer, paid for by the American taxpayer.
So, who’s keeping track of the War on Terror billions? Thieves hide behind American flags and hope we salute instead of reading the fine print. So, yes, in some cases, the war in Afghanistan is like the war in Vietnam.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the Aug. 24-30, 2011, issue