I would like to provide a counterpoint to the Jan. 29 Associated Press article “NATO: War in Afghanistan won’t wind up like Vietnam.” Most foreign conflicts in the past 30 years have invariably invited unwarranted comparisons to America’s much-vaunted “fiasco” — the Vietnam conflict of 1955-1975. The present conflict in Afghanistan is no exception.
In particular, I would like to respond to two points in the article. First, the article asserts, “in South Vietnam, U.S. and allied troops pulled out in 1973, after almost a decade of war. Two years later, the South’s army — which the Americans and French before them had trained for almost 30 years — collapsed within a matter of weeks during a communist offensive.” The South’s army did not simply “collapse” in a vacuum.
The collapse was the result of two major factors: a hostile U.S. Congress elected in 1974 that dramatically cut U.S. economic and military aid, and a previous presidential administration (Nixon) paralyzed by scandal and unable to enforce the military provisions of the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, in which North Vietnam agreed to respect the territorial sovereignty of South Vietnam. Richard Nixon later compared South Vietnam to South Korea and West Germany, and postulated that if those nations’ strategic positions on the periphery of the communist bloc required an ongoing American military presence and firm diplomatic support to deter communist aggression, why we would expect a different result in South Vietnam?
Second, the article states, “Gen. Stanley McChrystal … contacted a key Vietnam historian to discuss what to do in Afghanistan. The historian, Stanley Karnow, [said] the main lesson of Vietnam was that ‘we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.’ ” Karnow’s viewpoint, trumpeted in his book “Vietnam: A History,” a staple of the orthodox approach to the Vietnam War, has been challenged by revisionist historians who maintain that our presence in South Vietnam was inevitable because of the U.S. ideological commitment hearkening back to President Harry Truman to contain Soviet-inspired communism.
Revisionist Vietnam historians argue that the U.S. military presence in South Vietnam was a vital component of the containment strategy that ultimately brought down the communist bloc and that it was, in fact, the key to the defense of Southeast Asia. I would encourage interested readers to examine two recent works by Vietnam-era revisionists: Mark Moyar’s “Triumph Forsaken” (2006) and Dr. Nguyen Anh Tuan’s “America Coming to Terms: The Vietnam Legacy” (2010).
Maj. Kerry V. Roberts