Correction from yesterday’s post: The Washington Post article series on Afghanistan continued through Sunday, 15 December 2019.
Washington was genuinely surprised when the North Vietnamese launched an attack on Saigon. It hadn’t believed its own intelligence but chose to accept the ambassador’s predictions instead.
One outcome of the U.S. government’s blindness was that I was not evacuated but instead survived by escaping by helicopter under fire on the night of 29 April 1975, after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of Saigon. Another was that we left behind to the tender mercies of the North Vietnamese many thousands of South Vietnamese who had worked side by side with us. Among them were 2700 soldiers who worked with my organization. They were all killed or captured by the North Vietnamese.
The U.S. essentially did the same thing in Iraq and Syria, withdrawing and leaving behind vulnerable allies, including translators and interpreters. We are about to do it again in Afghanistan. No wonder people of other countries are reluctant to work with us.
As the Post article emphasizes, the decision makers in the U.S. government had little knowledge of and never understood Afghanistan. The same was true with respect to Vietnam. During my thirteen years in and out of Vietnam, not a single senior military or civilian official spoke Vietnamese. They regularly mispronounced (and sometimes couldn’t remember) the names of high-ranking South Vietnamese government leaders. Their knowledge of the geography and culture of the country was superficial at best—they frequently didn’t know the names of provinces, then mispronounced those names when they read them.
The tendency of our government to misrepresent what is going on in the wars we are involved in springs, in my opinion, not from a desire to deceive the American public, but from our inborn optimism. I’ve written in this blog about our can-do attitude and its underlying bias that Americans are superior to other nationalities. We don’t bother to learn the languages of other nations; we expect others to learn American English. In any conflict we are in, we tend to see the bright side, emphasize the positive, downplay or ignore negative indicators. The end result is abandoning to their fate those who have worked with us.
When will we ever learn?