Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Comparing the Middle East to Vietnam is soooo 2005

This is one of those posts that was more relevant a month ago, but tonight I'm stuck in a hotel room with nothing to do - so it gets addressed today. Enjoy:

Much was made last month as our engagement in Afghanistan marked quote 'the longest war in American history.' I'm not sure how I feel about this. The stat itself assumes an entry of 1963 and withdrawal in 1973 (we were actually there longer) from Vietnam. What's bigger is that over 5 million people died during this conflict. Afghanistan doesn't even come close in terms of blood and treasure, and we've yet to place boots on the ground as long as they were in Indochina; deeming the two fit to compare isn't a measure I'm ready to take.

I worry making the time comparison alone without context does a disservice to our understanding of history and political realities. Additionally, the fact that everyone from John McCain to David Gregory calls Afghanistan the longest war in U.S. history furthers the myth that a war is a war if you call it a war. (Similarly, a war isn't a war if you don't call it one.) So let's start calling Afghanistan missionary work or something, our involvement in Indochina remaining the longest recognized war in U.S. history.

We also need a single definition when we use the word war. If you want to say war is a situation where U.S. troops are deployed and suffer military engagements, that's fine. Call the measures in Afghanistan a war, even though there is no country or leader to fight (various factions lead by tribal warlords notwithstanding). But by this definition, we had a century of warfare whilst cleansing the country of Native Americans. Our War Against Savages (WAS) was ten times longer than the Afghan War. The War on Drugs continues with no immediate end in sight. And yes, Americans have paid for excursions into foreign lands while prosecuting the War on Drugs. We paid more during WAS though.

To quench your thirst for a bigger dose of Vietnam War history, statistics for U.S. soldiers: 536,000 deployed. Over 10% KIA, over 50% injured - and these numbers don't come close to the civilian and military losses experienced by Cambodia, Northern, and Southern Vietnam. So call the nation-building in Afghanistan a war, but you disrespect the 5 million that perished in Indochina by glossing over 20% of the past century in throwing around the headline 'longest war in U.S. history' while failing to furnish context because it sounds catchy.

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