The Parallels Between Afghanistan and Vietnam

4 mins read

It’s so frustrating watching the horrific scenes from Kabul and hearing TV’s talking heads dutifully babbling the official talking points while carefully ignoring corruption — the giant mound of elephant dung that’s at the center of Afghan reality. For weeks, politicians and pundits have been studiously ignoring reports that Afghan soldiers hadn’t been paid in weeks, were out of ammunition, and on starvation rations. What happened to the funds for their pay, bullets and bread? Siphoned off into the foreign accounts of the Afghan political elite and military brass. Where were the arms and ammo paid for by American taxpayers? Sold on the black market to the Taliban by the Afghan colonels and majors and supply sergeants. Today’s NY Times had a photograph of armed Taliban fighters sitting in the president’s office, and anyone who knows anything about military-grade weapons could see that half of them were carrying American-supplied assault rifles. 

So too it was in Vietnam 46 years ago, when our puppet government in Saigon suddenly collapsed. My short-term memory these days may be unreliable, but my memories of ‘Nam days are crystal clear. For weeks the Vietnamese foot soldiers had seen their supplies and pay disappearing into foreign bank accounts. So they did what sensible soldiers have always done in the face of terminal-corruption by their so-called leaders. They stashed civilian clothes and false IDs where they could grab them at a moment’s notice and disappear into the confusion when the time came. A lot of them had been working all along with the “enemy,” Viet Cong (VC) soldiers who they knew from growing up in the same impoverished villages, passing along weapons and ammo and preparing to open the door when the dime dropped. 

In return for being allowed to go home unharmed, entire units made deals with the VC to simply hand over their positions and arms as soon as the VC knocked on the door and asked to be let in. When Saigon fell, the alleys were littered with abandoned Army uniforms that enterprising peddlers were soon selling as “war-surplus” clothing in the local flea markets. So too, I am sure it is with the Taliban in Afghanistan. And underpinning it all was the political and financial corruption of the American military-industrial complex that turned blind-eyes to staggering corruption by Vietnamese and Afghani elites who signed the authorizations and contracts for those $640 toilet seats, bridges to nowhere, hospitals with no bed, doctors, or nurses, pallet-loads of $100 bills, and let’s not forget the international heroin trade. Military contractors like Halliburton so deeply gouged the American public purse that even a few Republicans felt uneasy. Blackwater and Triple Canopy paid mercenaries four times what an Army GI made for doing the same work (and taking the same risks) while billing the Pentagon at eight times the rate. Kickbacks, bribes, and black market profiteering. Softly, softly, tiptoe carefully, carefully, you babbling news bobbleheads around that mountain of excrement that must never be mentioned.

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Para una versión en inglés de este artículo, lea "A Recurring Nightmare."

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