Between the fading bugles of Veterans Day weekend and Black Friday, my day-long musings invariably return to Vietnam, but this year there was a new wrinkle to my abstractions. You see, my granddaughter, Kaya, turns 14 next week and she has never lived in a time when her country wasn’t waging an unrelenting interventionist war somewhere. Not for one moment, and I couldn’t let it go.
So, what does that have to do with Vietnam? Well, as I grew up and unavoidably served in combat, I never thought "my war" was ever going to end. Never. It was always the mainspring of my very existence, and that of my contemporaries. It was also a monster with an insatiable appetite that devoured friends, relationships, plans and dreams, and no one could – or would – kill it, not a diplomat, not an elected Congress or President, no one.
Our Southeast Asian misadventure was also very much like its evil twin, the disastrous war in Afghanistan – an illegal intervention to prop up a corrupt government, fueled on hubris, with no discernible end state. Still, US forces avoided calling the war in Vietnam unwinnable 50 years ago, as in Afghanistan today. Such military myopia is incessant, but when I first set foot in Da Nang in 1971, it was clear the best and the brightest had failed. The American military by any standards had clearly lost in ignominy, thousands of US lives before I had even arrived, with still no end in sight.
By comparison, as historian and retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich emphasized in a recent op-ed, "With the sole exception of Vietnam, the ongoing Afghanistan war represents the greatest failure in U.S. military history. Today, all but a few diehards understand that Vietnam was a debacle of epic proportions. With Afghanistan, it’s different: In both political and military circles, the urge to dodge the truth remains strong."
Not surprisingly, dodging the truth is still paramount for the perpetrators. Selling even a hopelessly failed Afghan war continues to fuel exponentially the war machine’s bottom line, House and Senate campaign coffers and burgeoning defense budgets. However, after eighteen years, untold casualties, and $1 trillion in the short term – another trillion over the next 40 years for post 9/11 veterans’ care – it would seem the "master" planners and unbloodied patriots owe the rest of us a long-overdue explanation, if not an apology. Regrettably, neither are expected, as the repercussions of unrestrained hegemony continue to plunder future generations.
Just recently, as if a reverberation from decades past, social justice and environmental activist Jean-Louis Bourgeois noted, "For Americans to withdraw from Afghanistan is not a reason for shame. This is not about America; in fact, this is where American exceptionalism gets us into trouble. The shame is to deny the reality of the situation."
Someday, when the existential consequences of perpetual war are well beyond catastrophic, culpable elders will be tasked with explaining to my granddaughter Kaya and her contemporaries why once again those that could – elected Chief Executives, Congress and all the Presidents’ men and women, as well as a shamelessly complicit corporate media – a half a century after Vietnam and beyond, did absolutely nothing to kill their monster.
Gene Marx is a Vietnam Veteran and Past National Board of Directors Secretary of Veterans for Peace. He is currently the Communications Coordinator for Bellingham’s VFP Chapter 111. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.