(This commentary piece also appears in THE VETERAN, Fall 2021 (Volume 51, Number 2).)
Afghanistan: Another Rich Man's War Ends
By Bill Branson and Joe Miller
From the VVAW National Office
Who was the last person to die in the Afghanistan war? It was heart-rending to witness the useless deaths of thirteen GIs at the Kabul airport. The terror was further expanded into almost infinite grief when President Biden authorized what turned out to be the murder of an Afghan family, to "Teach them a lesson." The last casualties from this war will still be suffering a century from now. In war, there may be a presumed beginning, but never an end to the suffering.
"We do not believe that militarism and war will provide justice or security and oppose major US military intervention in Afghanistan or other countries. As long as US foreign policy continues to be based on corporate exploitation and military domination, we will continue to make more enemies in the poor, underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We can achieve enduring security and lasting peace only through domestic and foreign policies based on social and economic justice. That will come about only when the American people demand it.—VVAW Statement on September 11 Attacks, September 27, 2001
"Our military response to the attacks has caused more civilian deaths in Afghanistan than the hijackers caused in our country. This would suggest that the United States is also engaging in terrorism. Our leaders want to carry this into other countries. The broadening of this undeclared war to include a so-called "Axis of Evil" includes loosening the standards for the use of nuclear weapons against Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea, China and Russia. We strongly oppose any open-ended carte blanche theory of war and this use of US military power without proper cause or caution."—VVAW National Office - March 2002
VVAW opposed the war in Afghanistan BEFORE it started and we continued to oppose it over the next 20 years. The Bush/Cheney regime started the war in a frenzy of blood lust and hopes to raise their poll numbers. Eventually, the war became about money (for the capitalists) and power (for the generals) and all of this fed the Military Industrial Complex's need for endless war.
We are glad that President Biden has withdrawn the troops. Any blame for this war should start with the Bush/Cheney regime, which started not one, but TWO calamitous wars. President Obama did not keep his campaign promise to withdraw troops and instead listened to the duplicitous generals who encouraged him to "surge" to new levels of troop involvement. Trump promised to withdraw, but waited until the end of his first—and only—term to spite the generals by making a deal with the Taliban and excluding the installed government of Afghanistan in total disregard for the lives of our troops, the Afghan GIs, and both Afghan and US civilians.
"The people of Indochina have been victorious on the battlefield. Liberation is the order of the day. With the regularity of a machine gun, blow after blow is falling on US imperialists who now must plot and scheme to find other ways to keep their power intact. With the great majority of the people of the world, we join to celebrate the victories and salute the fighters for freedom and independence in Cambodia and Vietnam. The most joyous celebrations have been in Cambodia and in Vietnam, as in city after city the people have turned out to greet the liberation forces." —VVAW - Winter Soldier, April/May 1975
Many people and journalists are trying to compare the evacuation from Afghanistan to the withdrawal from Vietnam, then drawing inaccurate lessons from both. They see helicopters leaving and try to make this facile comparison. When the tanks rolled into Saigon, progressive forces around the world celebrated the victory of the Vietnamese people. When the US withdrew from Afghanistan, it was not due to the result of a victory by or for the Afghan people. There is no simple reason why the US lost the war in Afghanistan.
The arrogance of imperial power played a major role in the United States' intervention in Vietnam. The US thought it could do a better job of colonizing than the French and Japanese in Vietnam. Years later, they thought they could also do a better job than the British and Russians in Afghanistan. In both cases, this was the hubris of fools.
Given twenty years of entrenchment and the fact that administration after administration drank the Kool-aid of the generals and the Military Industrial Complex's view of the US "winning" the war, any end to the war was bound to be chaotic from our viewpoint and downright ruinous for the people of Afghanistan.
This war could've been ended at ANY time in the last 20 years. We do not think President Biden should be held responsible for 20 years of deception and mismanagement. The blathering of Military Industrial Complex lackeys in the GOP notwithstanding, there was not a single justification to stay longer or send more troops. Once it became apparent that Afghanistan was collapsing, the Biden administration set out to rescue those still there, not heeding the generals who wanted to keep the war going. From the profiteers' point of view, there would always be a new reason to feed the war.
The failure of nation-building became evident, as soon as the US withdrew its airpower from holding the Taliban at bay. The US conquered and held Afghanistan by force. The results of 20 years of this failed policy are now evident.
VVAW supported the victory of the Vietnamese people in 1975, as shown in the quote from our newspaper at the time. The same forces that wish to perpetuate the myth of the spit upon vet, and the US troops fighting with "one hand tied behind their backs" are the same forces who perpetuate the myth of Saigon "falling" and a subsequent bloodbath. The vast majority of the Vietnamese people welcomed the reunification of Vietnam and greeted the soldiers from the North as liberators.
"Vietnam has long been wielded as a catch-all term for US foreign-policy failures, yet the glib comparisons in this instance not only distort the past but also distract from the present suffering of Afghan civilians and the imminent danger they face. It also risks alienating the Vietnamese government. There is no moral equivalence between North Vietnamese forces and the Taliban."
"If we are making comparisons between 1975 and today, one might ask what it actually means for a superpower to lose a war—and who pays the price. The United States lost more than 2,400 lives in Afghanistan and around 58,000 lives in Vietnam. Alongside that were nearly a quarter of a million dead Afghans and somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 million Vietnamese. The United States left both wars still the richest and most powerful country in the world; the Vietnamese inherited a shattered state and even today earn a fraction of US incomes."—Chris Humphrey, ForeignPolicy.com, September 1, 2021
Since 1967, VVAW has been engaged in the struggle. We have learned many lessons in that time. We have spent time observing how the Military Industrial Complex and the military operate. Vietnam was a wake-up call for us and most of us have stayed awake.
When we came back from the war, we were embraced and challenged by a vibrant anti-war movement and culture. This led us to action. The draft increased the politicization of those conscripted and led to a revolt in the military by active-duty GIs. They helped sabotage the war-making machinery and helped to bring the folly to an end.
By 2004, vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan formed Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). Unfortunately, there was no widespread, significant peace movement, before, during or, after the invasion of Afghanistan. Very few were there to explain to the returning GIs who the real enemy was/is. There was no rebellion in the military. There was no draft. There was largely indifference. To modern warmakers, indifference is as good as fervent support.
Where do we go from here? This withdrawal should be a start, not an end. Congress just awarded the disgraced US Military over $20 billion in additional funding! There are no conceivable reasons for having over 700, largely clandestine bases around the world. Are the enormous Navy fleets actually required to defend US shores? Of what use to the US taxpayers are the defective F-35, the ancient B-52 bombers, etc.? The trillions of dollars going to fatten the pockets of the 1% do not benefit the students attending dilapidated schools, they don't repair the ancient and decaying infrastructure on our highways, nor do they protect the citizens from the massive hurricanes, floods, and fires.
The $64 million pittance offered to Afghanistan for the Forever War is an example of the bestial indifference the rich war-makers have for their victims. Where are the reparations for Agent Orange, the mining, slaughter, and mass destruction in Vietnam? In the pockets of the 1%, that's where.
Instead of enriching CEOs and trillion dollar corporations, we need our tax money to mitigate Global Warming and fight the COVID-19 plague around the planet. We are sold a bullshit story about doing good in the world, while our real legacy is destruction, death, poverty, disease, and chaos.
We must expose the true costs of war and make the rich responsible for the injured in those wars. We've been saying this for decades. We also need to abolish bad discharges. The VA must be made available to all veterans injured while in the service, whether the wounds are physical or mental.
We must demand accountability from those who benefit from the wars the most—the war-mongering "professional" generals and their bosses in the Military Industrial Complex. The press must have free access to cover future wars and not rely on the loser generals as commentators.
We must remove the "emergency" war powers of the president and the ability to deploy the National Guard in imperial wars. The decision to wage war must be restored to Congress. The public must be educated as to the real impact (and cost) of war. Removing "embedded" reporters and military censorship of the press might actually restore some public attention to these ongoing fiascos.
We know there is a lot to digest, but we have learned that real organizing is the only way to answer these questions and achieve these goals. We have been there and done that and pledged not to be fooled again. Our mission remains relevant and we hope our experiences can help stop future misguided wars.
We believe that service to our country and communities did not end when we were discharged. We remain committed to the struggle for peace and social and economic justice for all people. We will continue to oppose senseless military adventures and to teach the real lessons of the Vietnam War. We will do all we can to prevent another generation from being put through a similar tragedy and we will continue to demand dignity and respect for veterans of all eras. This is real patriotism and we remain true to our mission.
Bill Branson and Joe Miller are board members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Thanks to Jeff Danziger and Billy Curmano for their cartoons.Thanks to John Crandell, Elise Lemire, Nadya Williams, Phil Hostetter, Joe Hirsch,
and others for contributing photos.
Commentary on VVAW.org:
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