The next Vietnam

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It is the evening of the day, I sit and watch the children play, Doin' things I used to do, they think they are new, I sit and watch as tears go by....

--"As Tears Go By," Jagger/Oldham/Richards

Often when I work late at night I listen to 1960s and '70s music on Internet radio. I came of age in the '60s and it brings back many memories of my youth and early adulthood. With a few exceptions they were good memories. In many ways it was a better world then. There were certainly more fish.

I was going to write about the nature of our food supply this time, and how it is tied to many of the health problems that we are dealing with. But, then I got derailed by the Washington Post which released a copy of a confidential report from U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal to the Secretary of Defense. It was back to the '60s time.

In his report General McChrystal said he needs more troops in Afghanistan or the war will be lost. Currently plans will give him over 100,000 U.S. and allied troops in the country by the end of the year, but he needs more. Forty-four years ago another U.S. General had almost twice that many in another country that didn't want to be conquered, and kept asking for more. That General was Westmoreland and the country was Vietnam. His president sent more troops every time he was asked, and in 1965 I was one of them.

When I arrived in Vietnam there were about 180,000 of us there. When I left in the middle of 1967 our numbers had risen to about 500,000. We won most of our battles, but the victories were meaningless. The Vietnamese had an endless capacity for casualties and no desire whatsoever to give up. It was like wack-a-mole with real bullets.

By 1968 the president's career was ended because of the war and the new president was looking for a way out. By 1970 not only had the civilians at home had enough of the war, but so had the troops, and troop resistance to the war made the military unreliable. That probably hastened the U.S. withdrawal, leaving it with little to show for its years of effort except over 50,000 of its military dead.

In Afghanistan the U.S. and allies are again faced with a people that have an endless capacity for casualties and a history of resisting foreign invasions. They are very unlikely to give up, ever. The Russians found that out, so have the Brits. History is there for those who take the time to study it.

Now General McCrystal is too young to have served in Vietnam, but he rose in an army that had to rebuild itself in the aftermath of that disaster. One would think that he learned something. One would also think that in attaining the rank that he has, he might have picked up some history. As it appears, maybe not.

Ever since the beginning of this war senior officers have been saying that it was unwinnable and a mistake. Too bad that those in government do not listen to them, there would be fewer dead soldiers today, not to mention the scores of Afghani civilians, women, children included, who have been roadkill in this needless slaughter.

In the U.S. there are members of President Obama's party that are advising him to end the war. In Canada, Senator Colin Kenny has recently stated that the war cannot be won. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Harper are going to face some tough choices: whether to pull back from a hopeless cause, or continue sacrificing the lives of their military. They should stop listening to those that have a vested interest, economic or other, in pursuing this war for their own gain, study some history and do the right thing. They should also think about President Johnson who didn't.

There is nothing new here, we have done it before.

Jerry West is the publisher, editor and janitor for The Record, an independent, progressive regional publication for Nootka Sound and Canada's West Coast.

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