By Chet Yarbrough
Vietnam (An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975)
By: Max Hastings
Narrated by : Max Hastings, Peter Noble
Max Hastings (British author, journalist, editor, military historian.)
The parallel tragedies of Vietnam and Afghanistan are appallingly similar.
There is no perfect government, whether authoritarian or democratic. Anyone who has traveled outside the United States understands how great it is to be American. Though American wealth and freedom cannot be taken for granted, it is not an exportable commodity. Failures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan do not suggest America should become an isolationist country. However, America must let independent nation-states manage themselves.
Thomas Jefferson’s slaves.
America’s human rights are far from perfect. More importantly, they are not an exportable commodity. Only through a country’s cultural acceptance can human rights be achieved by indigenous populations.
There is a difference between America’s role in WWI, WWII, the first Gulf War, and modern 20th and 21st century American military interventions.
Military intervention is folly when it is for any other purpose than preserving nation-state borders. Vietnam is a pre-historic nation and Afghanistan has been a nation since 1880. Their cultures have been formed over hundreds of years of experience.
All nation-state cultures are flawed. They are flawed in their own ways. Enforcement of human rights is determined by the culture in which they exist. Every country in the world violates human rights but human rights only change within existing cultures.
Enforcement of human rights stops at geographic borders. Political and financial influence are the only tools interventionists should use to influence a foreign nations’ adoption of human rights.
Despite Russia’s long history with Ukraine–military intervention in sovereign countries only leads to injury, death, destruction, and anarchy. Evidence for both Americans and Russians is in Vietnam and Afghanistan.
Those who argue that a foreign country harbors terrorist leaders is true but irrelevant. That the Taliban in Afghanistan harbored Al Qaeda is true but military invasion of a sovereign country does not make America or the world any safer. Al Qaeda operated in many countries, not just Afghanistan. Historians have shown Osama bin Laden proselytized for revolution and terrorism in African nations, Pakistan, and other middle eastern countries.
To cite Afghanistan as the country that harbors terrorist cells is a red herring to justify interventionist beliefs. Any number of countries are potential havens for terrorist cells. Some would argue military intervention only increases terrorist potential in the world.
Max Hastings’ history records intimate personal stories of participants in America’s failure in Vietnam. America’s fundamental mistake is the same mistake made in Iran, Iraq, and now Afghanistan. Military intervention by a foreign power does not give indigenous citizens true experience of the interventionist’s culture. Without cultural understanding on both sides of a military intervention, there is no prospect for peace. Further, it is unrealistic to believe a combatant will truly understand or care about another nation’s culture.
Heart rending accounts of America’s military intervention in Vietnam make one wonder how forgiveness could be given by either Vietnamese or Americans that served in the war.
Hastings explains Vietnamese and Afghanis have no choice to join or resist a culture they do not know. Neither could they become citizens of America. They did not have the interventionist’s cultural experience, or a foreign country’s willingness to allow unregulated immigration. Interventionist countries are always outsiders to the indigenous.
Hastings notes invaded countries’ citizens know the culture in which they live, and that culture is something they understand and can choose to join or resist.
Hastings recounts the tragic mistakes made by France in Vietnam and then shows similar mistakes made by America. Hastings shows how France and America have different cultures and motivations for military intervention, but they are equal failures. Like France’s and America’s failures in Vietnam, America repeats Russia’s failure in Afghanistan.
Hastings explains how North Vietnam soldiers were more committed to winning the war than South Vietnamese soldiers.
The North clearly understood what they were fighting for, the South knew only the idealism of America, a concept clouded by Vietnamese culture. Vietnamese could resist or join a North Vietnam culture because they were part of that culture. In contrast, they could not join American culture because it was not a part of their experience. They had no choice while North Vietnamese had communist indoctrination and an ideal that fit within their cultural inheritance. Those Vietnamese who fought communism had little understanding of American culture and were not likely to be offered citizenship.
Tragically, what is happening in Afghanistan threatens women’s human rights.
It is a threat that may be better understood with America’s intervention, but Afghan women’s alternative is only to resist or join the culture they know and understand. They can either resist or join the Taliban way of life. They cannot join the American way of life because it is not a part of Afghanistan, and they do not have America’s cultural experience.
Misogyny is a python that swallows its prey whole, crushes it, and smothers it to death.
This is a cruel irony. Misogyny exists in America but not in the same way as Afghanistan. The Taliban have won but it is a pyrrhic victory because human rights are universal, and resistance will grow. It is a resistance that an interventionist outsider cannot join for the same reason the resister is unable to join the outsider.
As Mark Twain said, if history does not repeat, it certainly rhymes. Change can only come from within. Military intervention only works when nation-state sovereignty is at stake.
George H. Bush, in the first Iraq war knew what is possible and correctly chose to stop America’s intervention in Iraq when Kuwaiti borders were secured. His son ignored his father’s example and America failed in Iraq.
Francis Fukuyama notes every society grows via its own cultural norms which suggests sovereignty should be inviolable. Only Iraqis, Iranians, and Afghanis can decide who they want to be. America can only lead by example and offer political and financial support to resisters of tyranny in other nation-states. Hastings marks the limits of outsiders’ military intervention. America can only lead by example and offer political and financial support to resisters of tyranny in other nation-states. The sole exception is when nation-state borders are violated by foreign nations. Even then, other nations must come to agreement on the inviolability of borders for a military intervention to be justified.
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