The End Is The Best Part
To the Editor,
Fifty years ago, American teenagers were still being conscripted and sent to fight in Viet Nam. There was a growing consensus that something was wrong with that picture, and by 1975 we had quit our long, bloody attempt to prevent that smallish distant nation from going Communist.
It didn’t work, and Viet Nam is communist to this day. America faces several crises and quite a few problems in the world; that Viet Nam is “communist” simply isn’t one of them. I put it in quotes because I’m not sure that Marx and Engels would recognize the regime as one that practices what they preached; these days, “communist” seems to mean little more than non-western authoritarian, with or without ideological pretense.
The record suggests that the war we lost in Viet Nam needn’t have been fought in the first place. The mission was a failure, but the failure doesn’t seem to have mattered much. It ripped Viet Nam apart physically, and it ripped this country apart culturally and politically; it ended many lives and marred many more. That’s what was achieved.
The best thing about that war is that it finally ended. In Korea, where we didn’t exactly lose our war, we also didn’t win, and we never left. As far as anyone can tell, we never will. I guess it does not go without saying at this point, so I’ll say it: That, also, is a bad outcome to a foreign adventure. Having to station tens of thousands of troops half a world away in perpetuity is not a good position for any nation to be in. No government in its right mind would set out to bind itself that way.
Alarmingly, I have heard the Korea model used to suggest that we might stay in Afghanistan, or Iraq, for generations on end. This is seriously crazy talk. At least in Korea there’s a line on the map that the two sides recognize; we’re not actually fighting. If we cross the Korean War with our Afghanistan project, we could wind up with a war that truly never ends — one in which your dad might have died, and then you might die, and then your daughter might die decades from now.
Instead, our twenty-year effort to re-invent Afghanistan is coming undone. I’ll go way out on a limb here and say that fifty years from now, we won’t be in control of internal Afghan politics, and that will be as alarming to us then as the fact that Viet Nam is communist today: not very.
That’s if we’re lucky, and smart enough to stick to the program and get out of there. When Trump announced that he was pulling the troops out, I don’t recall any Republicans making a fuss. Now that Biden is actually doing it, everybody is making all the fuss they possibly can. I write today to remind us that the best thing about any war is that it ends at some point, somehow.