Column: Afghanistan was nothing like Vietnam

Remember back in September after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit by the Taliban-supported Al-Qaida network? When many wanted action against the Taliban and Al-Qaida, it was too slow to come? Back then, many people were saying that action in Afghanistan would drag us into a Vietnam scenario.

This was because of the devastating effect that Afghanistan had on the Soviet Union during their 10-year occupation that started in 1979. However, not even 90 days after the United States started the bombings on Kabul, the Taliban ceases to have any power, and a new government has been put in place.

Of course, it should have been obvious from the beginning that this would never be another Vietnam quagmire. Afghanistan is completely different from Vietnam. The simplest difference is that the United States was attacked by forces that the Taliban supported. And even worse, it was an attack on a civilian population.

Vietnam never attacked the U.S. mainland or its civilian population. If North Vietnam had, the attack would have had a profound effect on the overall morale of U.S. forces and its citizens. There would be no antiwar protesting to the scale that there was in the 1970s.

The second major difference is that the Taliban basically had no diplomatic or military backing with any other nations of power, especially a superpower. The North Vietnamese were backed by both the Soviets and the Chinese. However, in Afghanistan, the Russians aided in the fight against the Taliban, and the Chinese are denying all allegations of aiding the Taliban and Al-Qaida (whatever they did, if anything, it is minimal at best).

The third, and probably most significant reason why this should never have been compared to the Vietnam War, is that the United States took the offensive against the Taliban. Every war in which the United States was victorious, it took the offensive and aggressively attacked the enemy.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. forces took defensive roles in South Vietnam while the North continually sent forces and supplies through Cambodia and Laos into South Vietnam without interruption. Some would say Vietnam was a police action, which is not what the U.S. military was trained to do. Especially when you remember that U.S. forces in Vietnam consisted mainly of draftees fresh out of boot camp. Ground troops in Vietnam never invaded North Vietnam. The United States waited more than a decade (1954-1965) to start the air campaign against the North. It was mostly ineffective because it was micromanaged by Washington. Not until May 1972 did the U.S. bombing campaign start to have a major effect on the ability of the North to fight, and that was after restrictions were lessened significantly.

This amazingly resulted in getting the North to sign a treaty. Whereas in Afghanistan, the air campaign was very aggressive from the beginning.

In the end, it is obviously easier to look back on the fighting in Afghanistan and tell you that it was nothing like Vietnam. The “blame America first” crowd likes to make it sound like the United States is impotent when it comes to war, saying, “We can only kill people without results.”

So they try to scare people every time the United States sends troops somewhere in the world. Look for them to do it again when we go into Iraq later this year, as they did in the Gulf War. There are wars that the United States should not enter, but there is no war that it cannot win unconditionally.

  • Alex Hardman is a junior majoring in electrical engineering and