“President Biden: Don’t turn your back on us. The consequences will be Vietnam. The words appeared on a banner held by translators in Kabul as US forces began to withdraw from Afghanistan on April 30.
Forty-six years earlier, on April 29, 1975, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Richard E. Carey led a mission that brought 5,000 Vietnamese refugees to the United States. The general is a decorated veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
And in July, 200 translators and their families traveled from Afghanistan to the United States.
The conclusions of the two longest wars in our history share similarities. Gradually, the internal support calmed down for the conflicts. News of the war reached our homes every day. Veterans from Afghanistan and Vietnam returned home without warning. They had difficulty finding jobs and some endured homelessness. Today, less than 1% of the American population serves in the military. Many of our citizens do not know any member of the armed forces.
Carey compared his experience in Vietnam to that in Afghanistan: “My desire for a successful evacuation was motivated by empathy-compassion for the people and overcoming / blocking the shame I felt as an American abandoning it. people of a nation who had endured immense suffering, who believed in us. Now we were leaving without hope.
Military leaders past and present ask what we have learned from Vietnam. Did we make the same mistake in Afghanistan? The military and veterans stood up for the Afghan citizens who helped America. The Taliban, no doubt, would hunt them down. Coming to America will be salvation for those who bravely resisted the Taliban.
Looking back nearly half a century ago, Carey, now 93, recalled the long process, planning, coordination and execution it took to get 5,000 people out of the Vietnam. The people left behind are troubling him today.
There are positive stories of the Vietnam evacuation. Today, five generations of families have become successful Americans. For example, a 13-year-old Vietnamese refugee who did not speak English when he arrived today makes a living translating Vietnamese writings into English.
We will be commemorating September 11, 2001, in a few weeks. Politicians will speak. Surviving family members will share their stories about the terrorist attack. Today’s freshmen were born after September 11; that’s why Grove City College in Pennsylvania collects stories from alumni about their memories of 9/11. A member who began his service in 2001 can now retire. People will visit memorials in New York City and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We will remember the coffins draped with flags.
The problem is solved. When we as a nation dedicate our blood and our treasure to a mission in another country, we must adopt a strategy of victory. We need to be specific in our goal. We are entering a conflict without the full support of the American people. Over the past 60 years, wars have come to us through the lens of the 24 hour news cycle. The destruction, loss of life and financial impact become a stultifying visual.
Major General James E. Livingston, a retired Marine living in South Carolina, took off from Saigon on one of the last three helicopters to depart after the Vietnam War. Recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Battle of Dai Do in 1968, Livingston donated this visual. He said he saw Vietnamese families with babies begging to come out.
Looking back he said, “What have we done? Why the lack of political will? We enter these situations with a Western mindset. Why? Western military spirit cannot carry out the assigned mission. Our army needs to reset for this kind of support. We need our best involved in this reset. How can we perform such a mission if we have no idea when the game ends? As we continue to forget that our army is used to fight and win wars, the world is watching. And, America is in decline. May we wake up.
Alan E. Mesches is a writer in Frisco. His most recent book is “Major General James A. Ulio: How the Adjutant General of the US Army Enabled Allied Victory”, and he works on a biography of Lieutenant General Richard E. Carey. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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