Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Some thoughts.

I usually just treat Memorial Day as another holiday. For some reason this year I find myself thinking more about the meaning of the holiday. This morning one of the internet sites I monitor "The Big Picture" has a photo essay about Afghanistan.

I've heard talk about comparing Afghanistan and Vietnam. One comparison is that it has now exceeded the length of time we were engaged in Vietnam. A comparison that is very different is the number of lives lost in the conflict. In Vietnam many more lives were lost.

Another comparison that is very different is the mission. In Vietnam we were fighting a war against the NVA as well as the Viet Cong. In Afghanistan there is no group that corresponds to the NVA. Only a comparison with the Viet Cong and the Taliban can be made. That comparison is not very good either. The Taliban were thrown out of power at the start of the war while the Viet Cong were never in power.

Additionally we never had a clear exit strategy in Vietnam. Additionally, the political will to fight the war in the beginning was not clearly stated or understood, we basically 'backed-into' the war and at the end we most definitely 'backed-out-of' the war.

In Afghanistan we most definitely had a clear entry strategy, and that was to overthrow the Taliban because they harbored and supported Al Qaeda which in turn planned and executed the 11 September 2001 suicide attacks that took the lives of the airline passengers and the occupants of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The stated exit strategy was and still is to create a national structure in Afghanistan that does not include its support for groups like Al Qaeda.

My time in Vietnam was a very long time ago, over 43 years ago, but the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do make me think of that time, long ago, especially on a day like today.