Kubul: Déjà Vu All Over Again?

September 1, 2021

by Mark Franke

Yogi Berra, whom I consider the 20th century’s pithiest philosopher, once reputedly said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Unfortunately much of what Yogi is credited with saying he never actually said, at least if you believe what Yogi himself claims in the several books published about those very quotes. 

He’s too modest. If he didn’t say exactly that, he probably wanted to. Or at least he should have. Yogisms are part of our cultural heritage, both because of their memorability and because of their apparent simplicity masking blue-collar genius. And they are funny.

The déjà vu quote is getting a lot of traction these days and not in a funny way by any stretch. I heard it the other day at my American Legion post and these veterans weren’t laughing. You can guess what they were watching — the evacuation of U.S. citizens and our allies in Kabul. 

You can also guess to which déjà vu event they were referring. Many of these vets were from the Vietnam era and they bitterly recalled how their war ended in a similar evacuation from the rooftop of the American embassy in Saigon.

Sure, these men were all back stateside by 1975 when the evacuation happened. No matter. The image of our Vietnamese allies as they desperately tried to grab the departing helicopters resonated in a visceral way among those who fought to prevent just such an outcome. 

Is it déjà vu all over again or is this single, poignant image from Kabul simply a fig leaf covering real differences between the two wars?

A close friend, now living in Florida, is a Vietnam vet. I called him to discuss the superficial similarity between the ends of the two wars. Actually, I called thinking there was real similarity. He disabused me of that notion in first 60 seconds of the conversation.

My friend made it clear that these are two very different wars, different in our reasons for being involved and different in what the enemy has in mind for America. 

Consider this, my friend suggested: The North Vietnamese just wanted us to leave South Vietnam so they could conquer it and reunite the south with the north, albeit totally under the control of its new communist masters. The North Vietnamese had no designs on attacking America in our homeland. In contrast, the Taliban and its fellow travelers see this as a global war to be fought everywhere, including within our borders.

While we Americans took no pride in leaving our erstwhile South Vietnamese allies to the tender mercies of their communist cousins, we performed the withdrawal over time and in a reasonably organized manner. It wasn’t bolt and run in the middle of the night like at Bagram Air Base, leaving behind stockpiles of materiel for the Taliban to use on whomever they choose.

In Vietnam we left the war, but it continued for a couple of years afterward until North Vietnam was victorious. Laos and Cambodia also fell just as if they were dominoes even though I recall many commentators at the time appending the adjective “now discredited” when mentioning the domino theory. Discrediting this theory did not save Vietnam’s domino neighbors.

Back then, there was time for the most vulnerable of the nationals to be expatriated to the United States. I personally had some involvement with Lao and Hmong refugees resettled in Fort Wayne with the help of religious and secular charitable organizations. Bringing them to the United States literally saved their lives.

Think for a moment on what these Afghani freedom fighters can offer America if we expatriate them here. Lovers of liberty should always be welcome at our shores as they contribute to what we with pride used to call the melting pot. But we must help them get out. Is there a plan for this? One despairs, given the Keystone Cops nature of our evacuation operation.

In Afghanistan we are just walking away from the people who helped us, according to my friend. He is a Marine veteran and he reminded me the Marines never leave their dead or wounded on the battlefield. “It sickens me” was his reaction to the chaotic nature of our evacuation plan.

My friend worries that our war with these extremists is not over; we simply moved the front lines closer to home. Will headlines in the not-too-distant future announce a transport plane’s exploding in the skies or the detonation of dirty bombs smuggled into our nation through our porous borders, he asks? It took only two days after this conversation for 13 service members, including ten Marines, to be killed in Kabul. Rest assured the Marines will not leave without the remains of their comrades.

It all comes down to leadership, which appears to be AWOL to use a military expression. Who’s in charge? That’s what my Marine friend wants to know. 

So would the rest of us.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.



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