From Vietnam to Afghanistan
The comparisons between American involvement in two of the most controversial conflicts in modern history
Across the decades, the USA has been involved in many overseas conflicts. Since American boots first set foot on European soil during the First World War, there has almost always been a presence from the USA in foreign military affairs. Throughout all the years, however, two conflicts can be drawn together in comparison for the way the US fought the war and how it was received back home.
The Vietnam War was a major talking point of the 1960s and early 1970s. The tensions in southeast Asia had bubbled since almost the end of the Second World War and came to boiling point by the time the USA landed troops at Da Nang in 1964. Throughout the next ten years, the fierce fighting in the rice paddies of Vietnam would be matched by passionate anti-war protests on the streets of the USA. The enthusiasm for the war would fade further during the decade, especially when the number of American casualties grew.
For the first time in history, images and footage of war was beamed into the living rooms of civilians on the other side of the world. This extensive coverage of american soldiers in battle in a far away land allowed the public to create opinions on the war. For some, they would have been filled with a sense of pride to see their boys fighting against communism. For others, it was evidence of their soldiers fighting and dying in a war which wasn’t Americas to fight.
The war was heavily criticised by Americans back home as one which their country couldn’t win. As it turned out, they were right, only it would take until 1973 for the last American personnel to depart Vietnam. It wouldn’t be the last time the USA fought a war deemed to be unwinnable.
Following 9/11, the USA capitalised on the implementation of the Patriot Act to drum up support for an invasion of Afghanistan. For 18 years, the war raged across the country with the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. It was also a war which began with patriotic enthusiasm from the american public but soon developed into a conflict which the USA couldn’t win.
The war in Afghanistan was a conflict which perhaps looked more straight forward to American High Command at the onset. In reality, it turned into a long, drawn out affair with no real military or political gains. Sound familiar? It has gained about as much for the USA than involvement in Vietnam. In fact, both wars did much more to discredit any credibility America had for getting involved in the first place.
The similarities between the two wars goes far further than the politics and military tactics. Geographically, both Vietnam and Afghanistan posed issues for the USA. whether it was the soaring heat of Afghanistan or the thick, sweltering jungles of southeast Asia, American troops were fighting the elements as well as the enemy. During both conflicts, the side accustomed to the terrain would prove elusive to the USA.
Comparisons between the two conflicts are proof that not everything changes over time. The way that wars are fought develops, with it becoming increasingly easier to wipe our fellow man from the face of the earth. Yet what never changes is the reasons for fighting and the way politicians convince the population that the war is worth the sacrifice of their loved ones.
Vietnam and Afghanistan were the locations of two very different types of war for the USA, but at the same time they were wars which were similar. They were symbolic in a changing of attitude of the American public towards foreign conflicts.
The reality is though, an end to involvement in wars overseas from western nations in general anytime soon, not just the USA, is a dream.