Remembering, And Learning From, The Vietnam War

Sep 29, 2017

As Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” documentary wraps up, we look at those memories, lessons learned and lost, and Afghanistan right now.

A whole lot of Americans have spent the last two weeks riveted to the Ken Burns, Lynn Novick documentary series “The Vietnam War.” Partly because it’s a great documentary. Partly because the Vietnam War itself was so utterly riveting, tragic, divisive, devastating. And long. Now, we have another long war in Afghanistan. This hour, On Point: We’re looking back once more on the Vietnam War through the lens of the new documentary, and looking at the Afghan War right now. — Tom Ashbrook.


H.D.S. Greenway, former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post and Time magazine. Former contributing columnist for the Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, and Global Post. He’s reported from 96 countries. Author of “Foreign Correspondent: A Memoir.”

Aaron B. O’Connell, Professor of History at the University of Texas, Austin. Former director of defense policy and strategy on the national security council for the Obama administration. Former Marine. Veteran of the Afghanistan War.  Editor of “Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan.”  (@OConnellAaronB)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Los Angeles Times: Pay Attention To Ken Burns’ ‘The Vietnam War’ On PBS, There’s Much To Learn — “There are many good reasons to watch “The Vietnam War.” Unless you are very well informed, it will teach you things you do not know and correct things you thought you knew. It may be, if you are of those generations for whom the words “the war” call to mind only Iraq or Afghanistan, that you know nothing of Vietnam at all. But there are lessons in this misadventure worth learning regarding the crooked course of human events and the collision of national interests and individual lives. Its multiplicity of voices, from both sides of the war and the war at home, might make you a more thoughtful, less judgmental person in the end if you pay attention.”

The New York Times: What Trump Needs to Learn From Vietnam — “This same disconnect in strategy, rhetoric and reality confronts us today. If stalemate and nation-building are the goals in Afghanistan, but the American public is led to expect a victory, then it is only a matter of time before the entire edifice collapses. And when it does, we might face the same conclusion that Cronkite drew after touring Vietnam: “It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

Business Insider: Afghanistan Is The New Vietnam — “There seems to be no solution. If there were, it would have been implemented long ago. We would not be in the 17th year of that war. American military power has limits. Of course, Washington can take down regimes. But it does not have the power to rebuild a nation. Nor can it pacify a country. The US is likely to cut its losses and pull out as it did in Vietnam. At some point, the government in Kabul would collapse. What would be left is civil war. And that would be a continuation of Afghanistan’s history over the last four decades… with a new chapter.”

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