Searching for a Way Out

Posted by Mike

What does a nation do when it realizes it has made a terrible mistake? During the Vietnam years lots of us thought that we had made just that. But because our President and government could not take that leap of faith that would have been required, it remained for the United States forces to be pushed out ignominiously, after – sort of, or,  maybe – having made the decision to leave. Our departure was chaotic, and the displacements of Vietnamese citizens Sacrifices.jpgwho at that point may have thought that they had chosen what proved to be the wrong side – our side – was disastrous for that generation of Vietnamese. The Vietnam Veterans’ memorial in Washington represents the sacrifice of American lives.

We are in a similar situation today in Afghanistan. Our entering the conflict there was considerably more reasonable, given the circumstances, than our foray in Iraq; but viewing the decision through the acquired wisdom of the past decade, it is obvious – again — that the decision to go to war is generally misguided. I am tempted to say “always,” but I’m not ready quite yet to lose most of my audience.

In the work that I do I review medical case files that often contain heart-wrenching stories about the private lives of people like you and me. I recently reviewed the case file of a Vietnam veteran. In the records the veteran who was a corpsman during the war told his personal story. I was reading it because the records were directly related to the purpose to which I was assigned. It was almost too painful to read, but his stories of death, loss of limbs and sight, pain and suffering of his own comrades, the enemy, and the civilian population caught in crossfire were truly unimaginable and again brought tears to my eyes. The happenings in Vietnam were only partially unique to that war. They are universal, and are occurring right now; and we are among the perpetrators and those responsible for the death, destruction and maiming. Those of us who have personally never had battlefield experiences can conveniently remain somewhat detached. Sort of like the pilot who presses the button to release the killing bomb. He doesn’t have to see the consequences. He doesn’t have to walk through the scene on the ground when the dust and acrid smell of burned flesh remain.

Given what I’ve said above, the most obvious scenario would be for the United States (international forces) to withdraw immediately. The sad fact is that if we did so, those Afghans who have been counting on our support – and some of whom are honest decent people, who want the best for their country – would be left holding the bag, like the Vietnamese we left behind. It’s clear that we must provide support to the people who have gained some freedoms subsequent to the Taliban’s losing control of the metropolitan areas, especially for the women in selected areas who have obtained some limited freedoms and opportunities for themselves and their daughters.

What about the international forces ordering an immediate Cease Fire, with the only military action contingent upon aggressive action by the insurgency? Coupled with the cease fire it would be essential to  initiate an immediate effort to engage all conflicting parties in dialogue, under the auspices of the United Nations. It’s true that back in the Vietnam years there was an interminable dialogue going on in France among the opposing parties – that didn’t get anywhere. Just because it didn’t work then doesn’t mean discussions can’t work in Afghanistan. The current situation has been a losing one in many ways.

It does seem to be true that what goes around comes around; we humans don’t really learn from the previous generations’ painful experience. We need to stop the circle of pain and suffering.

The following was written back in 1967. You have my regrets if you find it too obscure. At the time, Ojus was a crossroads town north of North Miami Beach. It may no longer exist!

An Example of Peace

(Dedicated to Bob, whose struggle it really was)

An example of peace they went
Showing the people how
In byways
And even in Ojus.
One might think the “Seven Tribes of Love” is
Rather pretentious for
A makeshift store there
That when you come right down to it
Sells only incense and cigarette papers
And a secondhand philosophy of life
As something new.

I said, “There’s no future in it.”
But that’s really only for myself.
I surely can’t speak for them
Just as they can’t for me
Even though they tried hard enough
To do just that.
But then having met only two
Hardly qualifies me as an expert
Or as having a general acquaintance
With Hippies.

After all –
We too were only two
And hardly from the
Common lot of straights.
Or so I fool myself.
My suggestion is
We keep an eye on the Flowering
And  wait and see.
Someone’s got to stop the killing.

Someone indeed has to stop the killing. It’s not just the President or Congress – and certainly not the hippies. It’s got to be you and me. We are all the responsible parties.

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Filed under Afghan War, international relations

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