What was it about?

In early 1963, most Americans could not find Viet Nam on a map of the world.  I’m pretty certain Donald J. Trump couldn’t do it on his first try even today.

southeast asia

The first time the words “Viet Nam” penetrated the consciousness of the average person here was in May, 1963 when Life Magazine published this picture of a Buddhist Monk named Quang Duc burning himself to death:


The government of President Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic, had been brutally repressing the country’s Buddhist majority, despite protests and pleas from the U.S. to liberalize their policy.  Quang Duc burned himself to protest the bad treatment, and other monks did the same shortly thereafter. Madame Nhu, the president’s sister-in-law, referred to the burnings as “barbecues” and offered to supply matches.

Diem and his brother were assassinated in a military coup in November, 1963. But these events are really secondary to U.S. involvement in the region.

Viet Nam had been part of  colonial “French Indochina” before World War II, after which increased nationalist feelings and a desire to escape colonialist rule led to the First Indochina War.  seen from the Vietnamese point of view as a war of independence

This ultimately resulted in the partition of the country in 1954, with the North being supported by China, which only five years earlier had its own revolution, which had resulted in communist rule of mainland China. It was the Chinese influence that got the interest of the U.S., which at that moment was beginning to base virtually all foreign policy on the need to resist the communist “aggression” worldwide. This policy led us into supporting every nutty military dictator we could find around the globe, as long as he was “anti-communist”, while ignoring the legitimate aspirations and rights of local populations. We are still feeling the blow-back from that policy today.  That, among other things, is why Iran hates us, for example.

President Kennedy was firmly committed to the Cold War policy of pushing back communists, but at first thought the Vietnamese army had to do it. He said,

“to introduce U.S. forces in large numbers there today, while it might have an initially favorable military impact, would almost certainly lead to adverse political and, in the long run, adverse military consequences.”

But after the failure at the Bay of Pigs, the development and success of the Russian space program, and the construction of the Berlin Wall, he figured the credibility of our military might was at stake.  Into the quagmire we went.

Our involvement is sometimes known as the Second Indochina War, or, to the Vietnamese, the Resistance War Against America. There had been only 900 American advisers in Vietnam when Kennedy took office, none serving in a combat role. But by November 1963, when he was assassinated, there were 16,000.

That’s how it began. From our point of view, we were fighting communism and from their point of view, they were fighting for independence from colonial powers. Lyndon Johnson didn’t know how to extricate us and, through steady escalation recommended by the generals, ultimately deployed 536,100 Americans on the ground in Southeast Asia.

By the time we finally understood the folly, and got out once and for all in 1975, the price we had paid was awful.  The war destroyed one presidency and contributed enormously to the destruction of another, and damaged our prestige worldwide. But that was the least of it. Over 58,000 American kids were killed fighting in Viet Nam, and over 304,000 wounded, many of whom are still being cared for in VHA hospitals today.

There were 1.3 million Viet Namese military and civilian deaths all told.

The “culture war” that took root at home during that period could be viewed as the greatest tragedy of all. The Red-Blue divide that poisons our society today is directly descended from the Viet Nam era divisions.

What was it all for? The “communists” won. We lost. So what? Do they threaten us more now? Did they threaten us at all then? Did our involvement there achieve anything positive? Are we better off for it in any way?

It is completely understandable that many families of those who lost their lives want to believe the cause was “just”, and that their loved ones served honorably and even heroically. You often hear it said, even now, that we “could have won” if we had only bombed the north, or deployed more troops, or whatever. But it should be clear now that there was nothing to “win”.  And the the honor and heroism of those who answered the call and paid with their lives or limbs is not diminished by the fact that the “cause” was illusory.

SS Arandora Star

On this day in 1940, Benito Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. The Brits and French had been trying to get the Italian dictator to join their fight against the Germans, and he almost did. But after Paris was occupied by the Germans, he had second thoughts, mainly that he didn’t want to stand by and watch one country conquer the entire European continent.

About the Italians joining their side, Hitler groused that,  “First they were too cowardly to take part. Now they are in a hurry so that they can share in the spoils.” Mussolini explained that he wanted to join the fight before the complete capitulation of France, because fascism “did not believe in hitting a man when he is down.” Right. They were famous for that, as I recall.

Anyway, Britain responded to this by rounding up Italian residents between the ages of 16-70 who had been in the country less than 20 years and putting them in internment camps. Kinda like what the U.S. did with their citizens of Japanese descent, no? Only without all the recriminations and apologies for years thereafter.

When the war began in 1939, the British set up tribunals across the country, 120 of them in all, to evaluate resident aliens and classify them into three categories based on what kind of threat they seemed to represent: Category A meant internment, Category B was no internment but subject to restrictions, and C was no internment or restrictions. By February, 1940, all 73,000 or so case had been evaluated, with about 66,000 designated as Category C.

In May, the Brits interned another 8000 Germans, and, after Mussolini made his choice, went to work on the Italians. The British internment camps were filled up, so Canada and Australia generously offered to take some of the internees. 7500 of them were shipped oversees, using a fleet of five passenger liners, including the SS Arandora Star.

Arandora Star

On Tuesday, July 2, 1940, the Arandora Star was torpedoed and sunk, while en route to Canada, by a German U-boat, 75 miles west of the Irish coast.

According to this Wiki, the ship carried “734 interned Italian men, 479 interned German men, 86 German prisoners of war and 200 military guards. Her crew numbered 174 officers and men”.  805 people lost their lives before the Canadian destroyer, HMCS St. Laurent, arrived on the scene and rescued 868 survivors, of whom 586 were detainees. About a month later, bodies from the tragedy began washing up on the shores of Ireland and Scotland, and were buried there.

This account of the sinking begins by vilifying the British for their “callous disregard” of people based on their nationality, though it doesn’t mention the callous disregard of the Nazis who torpedoed a ship carrying civilian detainees who were allegedly their sympathizers. It notes that the loss of life, about half that of the Titanic sinking,

…”has no place in our common historical consciousness. It is, however, well known among the British-Italian population, and among the Scottish and Irish communities who tend the graves of the dead to this day.”

“Despite the impoverishment of their communities, over and over again these remote coastal villages paid and organised to bury the victims as if they were their own. In Scotland, these were not only enemy nationals but ones singled out for vilification by the government, but no matter; they were given the same reverence and respect as anyone else.”

This article on the sinking provides interesting background on the British internment policy as well as the sinking.

As the Germans often noted, krieg ist krieg.



Angry Germans on the move

This article in the Washington Post yesterday describes Angela Merkel giving a speech in which she says that Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands.”  She’s the leader of the most powerful country in Europe and is saying that, based on Trump’s behavior and words on his recent trip, they can no longer rely on U.S. support, that those days were  “over to a certain extent. This is what I have experienced in the last few days.”

Trump managed to piss off the Germans and all the other members of NATO on this trip, as only he can do. Here at GOML, we have mixed emotions about all this.

Our first, visceral reaction is, “yeah, good idea – fight your own battles for a change”. But then I realized I was taking a baby step towards falling under the spell of the man-baby’s populist, history-averse, fact-free, bullying, Make-America-Great-Again, ignorant blathering.

Hang on, I thought, I’m looking at the leader of Germany advocating German strength to over a thousand closet übermenschen in a Munich beer hall, and getting a prolonged standing ovation. We’ve seen this picture before,  and should understand where it can lead.


Today’s German loves to think of himself as an environment-respecting, tolerant, pacifist and conscientious objector, or, if he’s of a certain age, a heroic member of The Resistance. But scratch the surface and add a couple of liters of Weizenbock, and you’ve got, well, the same old German we’ve all learned to admire so much over the years. For 70-some years, they’ve been keeping their heads down and channeling all their energy into building expensive cars and whatnot, but now the man-baby has them stirring again.

In the comment section of the WaPo piece, someone calling himself AngryGermans, starts by rightly pointing out that the Germans have promised to spend 2% of their GNP on NATO by 2024 and they are not in arrears, as Trump has bloviated (is there no one who can correct him on these things?), and so on. But he finally works himself up to:

Everyone in Germany hates the thought to have nuclear weapons. That said, i don’t think we would hesitate to build them if needed. Yeah and Germany won’t take years for it, like North Korea or Iran. We can do that in weeks.

To which someone who sounds suspiciously like Stewie Generis replies,

The proof that Trump is an idiot: he’s now got AngryGermans bragging that they can build nuclear weapons in weeks and their leader getting a standing ovation in a Munich beer hall for advocating German strength (sound familiar?). Angry Germans have shown themselves, repeatedly, to be the greatest threat to peace and sanity the world has ever seen. Thanks, President Crazypants. Wait till you get a load of what angry Germans will do to the rest of us as soon as their economy turns south.

Anyway, how does it serve our interests to undo decades of European/American diplomacy intended to keep the Russian bear out of Europe and the Germans under our military control?

It doesn’t. But you know whose interests it does serve? Wait for it…

I’ll give you a clue: his name begins with “P” and rhymes with shootin’.


Fritz Knöchlein

Yesterday was the anniversary of the 1940 Massacre at Le Paradis, in northern France. Trying to reach boats waiting at the port at Dunkirk to evacuate them, about 100 soldiers of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, part of the British Expeditionary Force fighting alongside the French, retreated to a farmhouse at Le Paradis, about 40 miles from the port.

They held off units from Germany’s SS-Totenkopfdivision (Death’s Head division) until they ran out of ammunition, and then tried to surrender. Two soldiers came out of the farmhouse waving a white flag and were mowed down by machine-gun fire from the Germans.

When they tried again, they were led to an open field where all their property was taken from them, then stood up against a barn wall where machines guns on tripods had been placed and where a pit had been dug.  Fritz Knöchlein was the SS-Haupsturmfuhrer and commander of SS-Totenkopf-Infanterie-Regiment 2 who gave the order to shoot the British soldiers. The Germans, as was their custom, then bayoneted any that were not yet dead.


The massacre site

Miraculously, two soldiers survived. Albert Pooley and William O’Callaghan waited in the rain until dark then crawled out and hid for a couple of days in a pig-sty. They managed to get their wounds tended to, but they had no way to escape and again surrendered to the Germans. This time they were held as POWs, and, in April 1943, Pooley, who had a badly injured leg, was exchanged for some German POWs. When he got back to England, his account of the events was not believed.

But when O’Callaghan returned after the war and confirmed the story, an investigation was opened. A British military tribunal in Hamburg found Captain Fritz Knöchlein guilty of a war crime, and he was hanged at age 37 on January 21, 1949.

In this video, at about the 1:30 mark, you’ll find a story that includes the recollection of Bill Pooley who returned to the site.


Fritz Knöchlein

Fritz always proclaimed his innocence with the usual progression of Nazi reasoning that went, more or less, along these lines: It never happened. OK, it happened, but I wasn’t there. OK, I was there but not in charge. OK, I was in charge, but I had no choice under the circumstances. OK I had a choice, but I followed orders. OK, I did it on my own, but you did worse and deserved it. You tortured me while in custody. Spare me because I have a wife and family.

Knöchlein was held in the infamous London Cage, and wrote letters of complaint about his treatment there.

In the internet age, it is always possible to explore all “sides” of any issue. This site for example, reiterates Knöchlein’s version:

Knöchlein alleges that because he was “unable to make the desired confession” he was stripped, given only a pair of pyjama trousers, deprived of sleep for four days and nights, and starved. The guards kicked him each time he passed, he alleges, while his interrogators boasted that they were “much better” than the “Gestapo in Alexanderplatz”. After being forced to perform rigorous exercises until he collapsed, he says he was compelled to walk in a tight circle for four hours. On complaining to Scotland that he was being kicked even “by ordinary soldiers without a rank”, Knöchlein alleges that he was doused in cold water, pushed down stairs, and beaten with a cudgel. Later, he says, he was forced to stand beside a large gas stove with all its rings lit before being confined in a shower which sprayed extremely cold water from the sides as well as from above. Finally, the SS man says, he and another prisoner were taken into the gardens behind the mansions, where they were forced to run in circles while carrying heavy logs.

  “Since these tortures were the consequences of my personal complaint, any further complaint would have been senseless,” Knöchlein wrote. “One of the guards who had a somewhat humane feeling advised me not to make any more complaints, otherwise things would turn worse for me.” Other prisoners, he alleged, were beaten until they begged to be killed, while some were told that they could be made to disappear.

That piece goes on to give a long “proof” about how Knöchlein was the wrong guy, and how the real culprit was already dead, and the Brits just needed someone to hold accountable, and poor Fritz was elected, and so on and so forth.

It’s like everything else nowadays. You get to decide for yourself which side of the story you like best, and one is no better than another.

Wilhelm Gustloff

The Soviet Union suffered far more than Germany did in World War II, and far, far more than the U.S. or even the U.K.

24 million Soviet citizens lost their lives, including 14 million civilians. They were invaded, bombed, starved, robbed, raped, enslaved, and executed en masse. To the Germans, they were subhumans, “üntermenschen”, and were treated thusly as only the Germans know how to do.

By contrast, the United States and Great Britain lost less than half a million people each, and, in the case of the U.S., almost no civilians.  Japan lost a total of about 3 million, and Germany lost about 8 million, including 2 million or so civilians. Full stats by country here.

The U.S. mainland was not occupied or bombed. There was no siege that starved out any city. No enemy invaded to rob and rape. Life at home was as close to “normal” for the women and children there as you could expect during wartime.

And, until the last months of the war, you could have said the same about the German home-front, too (except of course, for the Jews).

In the closing weeks of the war, when the Red Army was advancing on Germany from the east and the allies from the west, the German people began to feel some of the blow-back from what their country had done in the east for the previous five years. The Russians exacted revenge in the most brutal and, it must be said, sometimes barbaric ways imaginable (though the limits of the German imagination are still unknown).

Over two million German women were raped, many again and again. In 2008 a movie based on the diaries of journalist Marta Hillers  attempted to tell the story from the German point of view.

Stalin explicitly approved of all the rape and plunder, saying people should “understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle”, and “We lecture our soldiers too much; let them have their initiative.”

When everyone finally realized the war was lost, the primary objective of every German was to avoid being taken by the Red Army, and everyone tried as hard as they could to flee to the west where they knew they would get better treatment from the Americans and Brits.

In late January, 1945, “Operation Hannibal” was undertaken to evacuate German military and civilians from Courland, East Prussia. On January 31, some 10,582 passengers and crew crammed aboard the MV Wilhelm Gustloff. About 9000 were civilians, of which about 5000 were children. And some Gestapo, members of the Organisation Todt,  were on board as well.

III.Reich: KdF-Schiffe - Jungfernfahrt der Gustloff

Once under way, the ship was spotted by Soviet submarine S-13, under the command of Captain Alexander Marinesko, who had sunk more German ships, measured by tonnage, than any other Soviet submarine commander. The sub followed the Wilhelm Gustloff for a couple of hours, and, when it was about 20 miles offshore, fired three torpedoes at it. Forty minutes later the ship was 140 feet deep in the icy waters of the Baltic Sea.

9,343 people lost their lives, including about 5,000 children. The death toll was six times that of the Titanic sinking, and was the largest single loss of life in maritime history.

According to Wikipedia,

Before sinking Wilhelm Gustloff, Alexander Marinesko was facing a court martial due to his problems with alcohol and was thus deemed “not suitable to be a hero” for his actions and was instead awarded the Order of the Red Banner. Although widely recognized as a brilliant commander, he was downgraded in rank to lieutenant and dishonorably discharged from the navy in October 1945. In 1960 he was reinstated as captain third class and granted a full pension. In 1963 Marinesko was given the traditional ceremony due to a captain upon his successful return from a mission. He died three weeks later from cancer. Marinesko was posthumously awarded Hero of the Soviet Union by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990.

Also from Wikipedia,

Günter Grass, in an interview published by The New York Times in April 2003, “One of the many reasons I wrote Crabwalk was to take the subject away from the extreme Right …They said the tragedy of Wilhelm Gustloff was a war crime. It wasn’t. It was terrible, but it was a result of war, a terrible result of war.

Maybe it was a war crime, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the victims were better off than if they had been taken by the Red Army, maybe they weren’t. Maybe the Russians were justified in giving the Germans this taste of their own medicine, maybe they weren’t.

As is often said, history is written by the victors.

There once was a union maid…

Clara Lemlich was born in 1886 the town of Gorodok in what is now Ukraine. She grew up in a Yiddish-speaking household and learned to read Russian over her family’s objections, paying for her books by sewing buttons and writing letters for illiterate neighbors.

In 1903, when she had just turned 17, there was a murderous pogrom in the city of Kishinev . The new York Times described it this way:

The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev, Bessarabia, are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Russian Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, “Kill the Jews,” was taken- up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep. The dead number 120 and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews

The pogrom became a pivotal event for hundreds of thousands of Jews in the region, who saw the tacit approval of the authorities, and their lack of response, as a signal that life under the Tsar would be more and more intolerable from that point forward. A poem describing the Kishinev pogrom by H.N. Bialik, In the City of Slaughter, was widely read and served as the catalyst that ignited a wave of immigration of Russian Jews to the United States.

Clara Lemlich was among the first, and arrived with her parents in New York in 1903. She went to work in the garment industry, like many others, making women’s blouses, or “shirtwaists”.


The advent of the sewing machine had actually contributed to worsening working conditions in the garment industry. Workers often had to supply their own machines, carrying them to and from work, while making extremely low wages, typically $2 per day for 14-hour days in the busy season, with only a short break for lunch, and in oppressive conditions. Workers were locked in overcrowded rooms, denied bathroom breaks, and abused by their bosses who demanded more and more production.

Lemlich joined the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and rose quickly because of her intelligence, charm, and beautiful singing voice. She became known even outside the industry after a Nov. 22, 1909 meeting in the Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York. The meeting was to support striking workers of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, and Lemlich, after hearing a few uninspiring speeches from leaders of the American labor movement, including Samuel Gompers who counseled against striking, demanded to speak. She said,

I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I make a motion that we go out in a general strike!

Cooper Union then and now

Her words inspired the crowd to action, and, led by the 22-year-old Lemlich, 20,000 out of the 32,000 workers in the shirtwaist trade walked out in the next two days, in what became known as the Uprising of the 20,000.

Management was unimpressed. One manufacturer was quoted in the New York Times, November 25, 1909, saying:

“We cannot understand why so many people can be swayed to join in a strike that has no merit. Our employees were perfectly satisfied, and they made no demands. It is a foolish, hysterical strike.”

They hired scabs and thugs to intimidate the strikers and Lemlich endured beatings and six broken ribs, but this just strengthened her resolve. Although she probably wasn’t, she could have been the model for the Woody Guthrie song, Union Maid.

The strike lasted for three months, ending in February 1910, and won the workers better wages and some improvements in conditions. Union contracts were also implemented at many shops, but not Triangle Shirtwaist, where conditions remained terrible. One year later, it was the scene of one of the deadliest industrial disasters in U.S. history.

The Triangle Shirtwaist factory was on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of what is now an N.Y.U. building at 23–29 Washington Place in Greenwich Village. This week was the 106th anniversary of the unconscionable, preventable fatal fire there.

Triangle factory then and now

On Saturday, March 25th, 1911, at 4:40 P.M., someone apparently threw a cigarette into a scrap bin and a fire began. Within half an hour 146 people were dead: 123 women and 23 men. They died from burning, smoke inhalation, falling from collapsed fire escapes, or jumping to their deaths.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire escape collapsed during the March 15, 1911 fire. 146 died, either f

Collapsed fire escape


Police look up at jumpers, some already dead at their feet

The stairwells and exits had been locked to prevent theft and unauthorized breaks from work. The owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who themselves had immigrated from Russia ten years earlier, were in the building when the fire started and escaped by jumping from the roof to an adjacent building.

Blanck and Harris

The victims were predominantly girls and young women, mostly 18-22 years old, with the youngest only 14. About half of them were recent Jewish immigrants from Russia, much like Clara. About a third were Italian immigrants.  This interesting website at Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations school gives a biographical sketch of each of the victims and links to more info, even death certificates.

Clara went to the armory where the bodies of the workers had been taken in order to find a missing cousin. A newspaper reporter said she broke down into hysterical laughter when she couldn’t find her.

body identification

Waiting in line to identify bodies

In the aftermath, hearings were held about factory safety and working conditions, and thirty new safety and workplace laws were passed.

Harris and Blanck were tried for manslaughter, but acquitted as it couldn’t be proven they knew the doors were locked.

Clara remained an activist throughout her life. From this piece about her:

As for Clara, she left the ILGWU because of disgust with its conservative leadership and her inability to work in the industry. She joined the women’s suffrage movement. However, her working class roots conflicted with the upper class movement and she was fired less than a year later. Eventually she got married, had children, and became a housewife and consumer advocate, but she never drifted far from the union movement. She led eviction protests and organized relief for working strikers. To her dying day she was an unapologetic communist.

At the end of her life she entered the Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. She organized the orderlies into a union and prodded the management to join the United Farm Worker’s boycott of grapes. Clara Lemlich passed away on July 12, 1982 at age 96.

Check out this PBS documentary made at the 100th anniversary of the fire. About 53 minutes, but lots of interesting background and detail.

Time illuminates the moral high ground

The Summer Olympics of 1980 took place in Moscow, capital of the (then) Soviet Union. But prior to the games, in March, President Jimmy Carter shocked and deeply disappointed the U.S. team by informing them that the U.S. would be boycotting the games.

1980 water polo

1980 Olympic Water Polo Team

Sixty-six other countries joined the U.S. boycott, while seven countries participated in the games but not the opening ceremonies, and five countries allowed their athletes to participate under the Olympic flag rather than their own national flag (great idea – this should be the standard!).

All in all, it was a gigantic mess. And it reverberated for years – the Soviets, in turn, boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles because of U.S. “chauvinism” and “anti-Soviet hysteria”.

I’m guessing most of the people reading this are old enough to remember this event, but I’ll also bet most of you can’t remember what the fuss was all about. You win the standard GOML prize, an honorary Bachelor’s degree from Trump University, if you can explain why we boycotted without first looking it up. Tick tock.

Give up?

We boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics, destroying the dreams of more than 450 of our athletes, and rendering pointless their sacrifices and years of training, because the Soviets sent their military into Afghanistan, who they then shared a border with, to overturn the unpopular regime there.


We asked, “Who but an arrogant, belligerent nation of monsters would send their military into Afghanistan to overthrow a legitimate government?” Unacceptable! We, of course, occupied the moral high ground and had to act to end this outrage.

Naturally, the Soviets weren’t about to pull in their horns and say the equivalent of , “Well you got us – maybe we really are immoral”, so they held the games without us and stayed in Afghanistan for eight years.

It was a fight that resembles all the other fights in the region and in many other regions as well:  liberal and tolerant urban interests versus conservative and less tolerant rural interests, modernity versus tradition, believers versus apostates, kleptocrats versus suckers, sect versus sect, gang versus gang, family versus family, and so on. Just like always and forever.

Some background from this wiki:

Prior to the arrival of Soviet troops, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan took power after a 1978 coup, installing Nur Mohammad Taraki as president. The party initiated a series of radical modernization reforms throughout the country that were deeply unpopular, particularly among the more traditional rural population and the established traditional power structures. The government vigorously suppressed any opposition and arrested thousands, executing as many as 27,000 political prisoners. Anti-government armed groups were formed, and by April 1979 large parts of the country were in open rebellion. The government itself was highly unstable with in-party rivalry, and in September 1979 the president was deposed by followers of Hafizullah Amin, who then became president. Deteriorating relations and worsening rebellions led the Soviet government, under leader Leonid Brezhnev, to deploy the 40th Army on December 24, 1979.  Arriving in the capital Kabul, they staged a coup killing president Amin and installing Soviet loyalist Babrak Karmal from a rival faction.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Is anything really different now? Have any of the factions been defeated or converted or even withdrawn from the fight all these years later? Were any of the issues different then than they are today? Were any of them ever resolved? Does a foreign power, whether the Soviets or the U.S. or anyone else,  installing a “loyalist” regime ever actually solve anything? Does anyone ever actually govern?

Our own brilliant assessment of the situation in 1980 was that we should support the good guys in Afghanistan against the Russians, which we did. We figured we could at least bog the Soviets down, make them deplete their resources, and keep them out of our hair elsewhere for a while. And maybe they’ll lose some support and credibility worldwide.

The good guys called themselves the Mujahideen and were led by an inspirational young lunatic called Osama bin Laden.


Afghan Mujahideen, 1989

bin laden

Their Leader

When the Soviets finally threw in the towel, bin Laden figured, “We beat the Soviets and we’ll kick the Americans’ asses, too. They’re all infidels and have it coming.” And we all remember what happened next.

Bin Laden has been gone six years now, but our military is still in Afghanistan, and our boys are still in harm’s way. It’s been 16 years, now, with no end in sight. And that same arrogant, belligerent nation which caused all that commotion in 1980, now known as Russia, is not entirely disinterested in our involvement. They figure we’ll at least be bogged down, deplete our resources, and it will keep us out of their hair elsewhere for a while. And maybe we’ll lose some support and credibility worldwide.

From this piece:

On 9 February 2017, General John W. Nicholson, Jr told Congress that NATO and allied forces in Afghanistan are facing a “stalemate” and that he needed a few thousand additional troops to more effectively train and advise Afghan soldiers. Additionally, he also asserted that Russia was trying to “legitimize” the Taliban by creating the “false narrative” that the militant organization has been fighting the Islamic State and that Afghan forces have not, he asserted Russia’s goal, was “to undermine the United States and NATO” in Afghanistan. 

But we’ll prevail, by which we mean that we’ll win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, who, at the end of the day, want all the same things we do: “freedom”, to send their kids to school, to buy stuff like we have, etc. etc. In short, to enjoy the western lifestyle just like we do. Right? Who wouldn’t want all that? It’s just their pesky culture, religion, and leaders that are standing in the way.

And after all, we have the moral high ground.