I recently read a book written by Christian Appy called “Patriots. The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides.” What distinguished this book from other histories of the Vietnam war was that he alternated interviews with Americans and Vietnamese soldiers and policy makers. The contrast between the two sides and their perspectives on the war was striking, and I gained a much better understanding of the war and why we eventually lost. However what struck me most was how our policy on Vietnam evolved compared to the current policy in Afghanistan and the broader “War on Terror”. It was especially poignant when I read the perspectives of Washington Policy makers such as McNamara and compared them with the rationale offered by the architects of the “War on Terror”.
Of course there are numerous similarities between what we are doing in Afghanistan and what we did in Vietnam. For example, supporting a corrupt government that did not have the support of people not living in urban centers, the futile attempts to train an indigenous army with recruits who didn’t want to fight, or who fight on both sides. Beside the political similarities there is also the lack of our understanding of cultural differences which has created as many enemies through our brutal tactics than the Taliban ever could. To think that we could turn a country with a culture rooted in 14 century tribalism into unified, democratic state is the equivalent of famous quote from Vietnam “we had to destroy the village to save it.”
I guess what bothered me most was that in the “War on Terror” powerful men in government made a decision to sacrifice the lives of younger Americans on a cause that they knew was doomed from the beginning. Like Vietnam it is an ideology and not reality, fueled by the need of a few to make profits from a war… a war that will never end. This is why I think people like Snowden and Manning could be called the real patriots.