By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
Afghanistan in a moment; first some history:
Many of us progressives now in our 60s and 70s spent years of our young lives in "The Sixties" trying to stop the U.S. war in Vietnam. Many in this cohort were beaten, jailed, lost jobs, suffered discrimination. We were, after all, considered "unpatriotic" and "traitors" by government leaders and their rightwing supporters.
We didn't end the war on our own, of course, much as we would have liked to believe that. Mainly, it was the Vietnamese themselves who were responsible for that outcome as they battled U.S. forces to a quagmire standoff and then took over the country when the massively unpopular South Vietnamese government collapsed.
But our anti-war activism was at least partially responsible for altering the-government-knows-better-than-you-do attitude of our parents' generation. Our "Movement" also helped educate the new generation as to the truth of what was happening in Southeast Asia and in the rest of the world as U.S. forces, representing the corporatism at the heart of Western society, supplanted the old European colonialists in Vietnam and elsewhere.
Whenever I speak about those anti-Vietnam War days -- as I began to do again after the illegal, immoral war was launched against Iraq in 2003 -- I surprise myself by how emotional I still am about the tumultuous "Sixties." (www.crisispapers.org/Editorials/past-present.htm) Its impact is strong. The past truly is never past, and isn't even the past. In talking about the war and the mass-movement opposition to it in "The Sixties" (in my reckoning, from the civil rights era of the late-'50s/'60s roughly to the mid-'70s), long-buried feelings leap out.
THE CIVIL WAR IN THE SIXTIES
I revisited my old anti-war haunts in the Pacific Northwest some years ago and found my body trembling as those old sense-memories washed over me. Another time, after seeing the movie "Born on the Fourth of July," I was trying to explain to my teenage son about why so many of us had been so engaged trying to get the war stopped -- and I was barely able to talk coherently, I was sobbing so much.
That was such a painful period in my life (also a gloriously liberating time as well, of course) and in the lives of so many others in this country. Not to mention how the war affected the Vietnamese, who may have lost close to two million loved ones in that conflict. (The irony: Today, we have good trade relations with communist Vietnam.)
The U.S. was nearly torn in two by the Vietnam War and the opposition to it. It was a kind of cultural/political civil war, aided to a large degree by the presence of the military draft. That civil war was ugly and painful, affecting nearly everyone in the country. It's difficult to describe, for those who weren't there, the chaotic and often bloody nature of the politics of that day.
HAVE TO FIGHT THE SAME FIGHT AGAIN?
And here we are again, with two more wars inherited from the CheneyBush Administration but willingly adopted by the new administration. In Iraq, Obama promises to withdraw U.S. combat forces by next year, but, significantly, hedges with if "the situation on the ground" permits. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has doubled-down on a war that cannot be won (it's estimated there are 200,000 U.S. troops there now).
It seems that the only thing American governments learn from history is that they don't learn from history.
In Iraq, Obama has begun re-positioning U.S. forces away from the urban battlegrounds in preparation for the promised pre-2012-election troop withdrawals. The U.S. situation in Afghanistan more and more resembles the history of America in Vietnam four decades before.
THE PARALLELS THEN & NOW
The parallels between Afghanistan and 'Nam are not exact, of course, but the main points are remarkably similar: