Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October 13, 2009

      The New York Times has a long piece today about the similarities and differences between Afghanistan and Vietnam.  It's enough to get you thinking.      I was a reporter for CBS News in Vietnam for some months at the end of 1966 and the start of '67.  I arrived there a tentative dove and left a passionate one.  Part of that was personal.  The day I got there, a friend said, "You know, this isn't like those Third World wars we've covered."  I said I was sure that was true, but how? And he said, "You can't cover this for very long without having people you've come to know and like pretty well get killed."  And that was true, of course.      But part of it was philosophical.  We could win the battles, but not the war.  To do that, we had to win over the Vietnamese people.  But they had a charismatic leader of their own--Ho Chi Minh.  There was no one in the South Vietnamese government that we backed who had a tenth of his appeal.   I don't know who's leading the Taliban, but again no one very glamorous is on our side.  Mohammed Karzai?  You've got to be kidding.      And I don't think we've learned much about nation-building in the years since we failed in Vietnam.  Afghanistan isn't like the United States. Tribes matter. Nationalism may matter.  We are, in any case, the foreign occupying power and the Afghans are good at getting rid of those.  Ask the British, or the Russians.  And if the Afghans want to be independent, want us to leave, as I suspect they do, why not just say yes, and head for the airport.      That Times piece quotes Normal Mailer, writing in 1965:  "we are not protecting a position of connected bastions so much as we are trying to conceal the fact that the bastions are about gone--they are not dominoes, but sand castles and a tide of nationalism is on its way in."     Let it roll.

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