As readers of this blog may have realized, I have been more active in posting items on the blog’s Facebook page, rather than writing thoughts and observations here. There is a good reason for this omission – and it has a lot to do with the core reasons why I engage in the political discourse and study it so much.
Since the middle of August, I have been watching with great interest the activities in Afghanistan as the United States military has been pulling out, and our military operations there end. Many days during the pullout, I would read and find articles that helped frame the activities – citing sources such as Lawfare Review, the review of the day by historian Heather Cox Richardson on her Facebook page as well as a swath of news from sources ranging from National Review to the Atlantic.
But so much information was put out there that it was even hard for me to keep focused on what the real issues were. And then you add in the daily activities from the evacuation – the bombings killing 13 US Marines, the human suffering happening with people climbing over the gates of the Kabul Airport, and to the unknowing eye, this seemed totally over the top.
With me, though, I looked at it as a “compare-contrast” to my extensive study of the collapse of governments in the modern era. It was the focused study of the fall of Saigon in April 1975 that led me, eventually study and earn both my degree and master’s degree in Political Science from the University Of Hawaii.
Eventually, with this interest, I started studying many other falls of governments in the modern era, starting with the Fall of the Imperial government in Iran in 1979, the total collapse of both armed and civil control of Mainland China to the Communists between 1946 and 1949, the fall of the 1970-1975 government of Cambodia in 1975, and to a bit lesser extent, the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.
So in watching what was happening at Kabul with the withdraw of forces, a lot of what was happening there started to slot into other historical events, some with an eerie level of similarity. For instance:
- The actions of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rang very similar to three strongmen who were thrown out of their countries: Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines in 1986, and the Shah of Iran in 1979. All three made statements to their people saying they are not going anywhere. And then all of the sudden, they are at the airport boarding a plane never to return. Ghani was flown out by US forces to Qatar, Thieu flew an Air Vietnam 727 plane from Saigon to Taipei, the Shah boarded his custom-made 707 at Tehran and flew to Cairo, and Marcos boarded a US forces place to fly out to Guam and Honolulu.
- The evacuation of the embassy of course was compared to the last hours in Saigon, with helicopters flying off rooftops and shuttling people to the airport. It’s been said that one of the helicopters flying in this mission was one used during the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. Undignified, the machine was stripped down and abandoned – a piece of history in my opinion that should be in a museum.
- The collapse of the Afghan military could be seen as a sped-up version of the collapse of both the Cambodian military in 1975, the collapse of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, also in 1975, with tinges of the laydown of guns that the Iranian army performed after the Shah left Tehran. A slower collapse occurred with the Republic of China armies in 1948-1949 as the Communists swept down south toward Hainan while the Republic’s forces were withdrawing and fortifying its new home, Taiwan.
The takeover of the Taliban of Kabul did not have any unique properties from activities in the past. Forces swept into Monrovia in Liberia in 1991, Kinshasa in Zaire a few years later, and of course the take over of Saigon in 1975.
- What we are not seeing, but the US press is trying to say is happening, that the takeover is particularly brutal by the Taliban. I would suggest that one compares what is happening now to what happened in Cambodia in 1975 when black-shirted gun-wielding youth of the Khmer Rouge emptied the entire city of Phnom Penh and sent everyone, including the dying from hospitals on a march to the countryside to start Pol Pot’s “Year Zero” program.
Talking about year zero, one last thought about how the issue of Afghanistan is being portrayed by both the media and political pundits with a bias. As mentioned in a recent broadcast of “Pod Save America” the fact that any historical analysis of American action before 9/11was eliminated is quite disturbing. In their episode entitled “The Media’s Afghanistan Amnesia” broadcast on 8/23/2021, the hosts said,
“[Spencer Ackerman’s book about the war on terror] gets into this too. After nine 11 history started the minute after the nine 11 attacks for us and American exceptionalism meant that we were a force for good in the world. And the people that attacked us were evil and Susan Sontag and other people who tried to like talk about the complexity of the U S relationship to Afghanistan, Pakistan, the middle east, the fact that we supported the Mujahideen when they were fighting it’s the Soviets were run out of town, were, were drummed out of the conversation. And even when like meet like state department officials, like Richard Armitage would go and try to meet with foreign leaders in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, they would try to talk to them about the complexity and the history of the place. And he said, there’s a quote in one.”
The conversation continued in which this statement encompassed a lot of what is going on at an intellectual level, “I refuse to hear context. It always starts today. Every new day is the beginning of history.”
(Transcript provided by Podscribe)
Not just with Afghanistan, and the actions of Americans there, but with COVID and a host of other rigmarole things, eliminating historical context and thinking this is the first time ever anything has happened is both intellectually bankrupt and dangerous. As Spanish philosopher George Santayana said,
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.