There are many disturbing similarities between the United States’ disastrous war in Vietnam and the growing tragedy of Afghanistan: a corrupt ally unworthy of American bloodshed; a population historically adept at repelling invading forces; a promising presidency weighed down by runaway war spending.
But one difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan is even more disturbing than the similarities. In this war, we Americans are not being asked to take responsibility for the violence waged in our name.
This time, there is no draft to put my teenagers at risk of unwilling sacrifice. This time, we have yet to concede the domestic damage caused by a trillion taxpayer dollars spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
"This time, there is no draft to put my teenagers at risk of unwilling sacrifice."
And this time, we are not even confronted with the disquieting evidence of the effects of our country’s aggression.
In the Vietnam era, public dissent grew in part from graphic media reports of war’s cost, including evening TV news coverage of combat and its victims. We saw photographs of the My Lai massacre, Marines half-buried at Khe Sanh, and the iconic image of a little girl burned by napalm.
By comparison, we are blissfully ignorant of the carnage in Afghanistan.
In the four decades since Vietnam, the United States has become far more adept at pulling the curtain down on the unpleasant realities of war. Media access is strictly limited in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even modern warfare methods like remote-controlled drone bombing are designed to insulate Americans from both the risk and impact of our brutality.
"This time, we are not even confronted with the disquieting evidence of the effects of our country’s aggression."
That is why the work of Kathy Kelly and Josh Brollier, co-coordinators of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, is so important.
Kelly and Brollier are in Pakistan, chronicling what we do not see on our evening news or front pages. On May 12, the day after a U.S. drone strike killed 24 people in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, they relayed a Pakistani social worker’s account of what he saw when he arrived on the scene of a previous drone strike.
“Their bodies, carbonized, were fully burned,” Kelly and Brollier write from Islamabad. “They could only be identified by their legs and hands. One body was still on fire when he reached there. Then he learned that the charred and mutilated corpses were relatives of his who lived in his village, two men and a boy age 8.
“They couldn’t pick up the charred parts in one piece. Finding scraps of plastic they transported the body parts away from the site. Three to four others joined in to help cover the bodies in plastic and carry them to the morgue.
“But these volunteers and nearby onlookers were attacked by another drone strike, shortly after the initial one. Six more people died.”
If Americans were fully exposed to the grisly cost of war, maybe we would once again rise up and demand an end to a massive mistake.
Fran Quigley Fran Quigley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.