Itís been nearly two months since the September 11 mass-slaughters, and the
U.S. response more and more resembles that period when America was beginning
its long slide into Vietnam.
I grant you that itís not an exact comparison -- one obvious difference,
because the 9-11 attack took place on our own soil, is that the U.S. public
has a better idea why weíre there -- but there are enough similarities to
make the skin crawl.
* In Vietnam, the U.S. took over a war from another country (France), who
could not defeat the Vietcong. In Afghanistan, the U.S., so to speak, is
taking over from the Russians, who could not defeat the Afghanis.
* In Vietnam, the U.S. had very little understanding and knowlege of
Vietnamese culture and history -- and language. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has
very little understanding of Afghani culture, history and language.
* In Vietnam, the U.S. was constantly fighting an inhospitable geography --
the jungles, the muck, the highlands, the monsoons. In Afghanistan, the U.S.
is constantly fighting an inhospitable geography -- the high mountains, the
snowy winters, the lack of infrastructure.
* In Vietnam, the U.S. tried to win the hearts and minds of the native
population, while it bombed their villages with napalm, Agent Orange, and
cluster bombs. In Afghanistan, the U.S. is trying to win the hearts and minds
of the native population with its yellow-packeted food drops, while it
continues to mistakenly bomb their villages and hospitals and food
warehouses, sometimes with cluster bombs.
* In Vietnam, the U.S. depended on its high-tech weaponry in fighting
guerrillas who for years, decades, centuries, had found a way to disappear
into jungles, caves, tunnels, and then drive the invaders from its soil. In
Afghanistan, the U.S is relying heavily on its high-tech weaponry in
fighting guerrillas who for years, decades, centuries have found a way to
disappear into caves and tunnels, and then drive invaders (British, Soviets)
from their soil.
* In Vietnam, the U.S. (unsuccessfully) tried to prevent the truth of what was
happening there from being reported by the American news media. In
Afghanistan, the U.S. military doles out the news it wants to have reported.
* In Vietnam, the U.S. in the early stages sent ďadvisorsĒ and other small
contingents of troops, and used the local army in its fight against the bad
guys, prior to sending in hundreds of thousands of drafted soldiers. In
Afghanistan, the U.S. wants the local opposition troops to do the major land
fighting, but realizes it may have to send in hundreds of thousands of
American troops (probably re-instituting the draft) to do the job.
* In Vietnam, the U.S. escalated the war beyond the borders of the country it
was fighting. In the current war, there is widespread speculation that the
U.S. is ready to go
beyond Afghanistan, with Iraq the next likely target. (You can imagine what
that will do to the fragile coalition of Muslim states currently supporting
or tolerating U.S. actions in Afghanistan.)
* In Vietnam, the U.S. was at a loss to figure out how to win the war. In
Afghanistan, it seems apparent that the U.S., anxious to retaliate for
September 11, rushed in and now is flailing about trying to figure out what
to do, given that (surprise!) the Taliban are a clever, tenacious force of
guerrillas fighters -- who also are well-skilled in public relations
Now, of course, the two wars are not exactly parallel. This is a far
different conflict, in a far different place, with no Cold War serving as
background music. But the similarities are striking, especially the main one:
the U.S. administration really doesn't know what itís doing, or how to do it.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught politics at San Diego State University and
Western Washington University; a playwright and poet, he was the San
Francisco Chronicles theater critic.