It was pure chaos.
Swarming crowds. The frantic scrambling of bodies. Flailing arms and legs intertwined and indistinguishable from one another as they morphed into one large mass of human desperation in their effort to flee to freedom.
Anguished women and men their faces etched in raw fear hopelessly clinging to a whirling helicopter as strongly as they clung to the hope and promise of a better life, their dreams shattered as their country was taken over by thugs.
It was sight for sore eyes. And a sore heart.
It was a human tragedy played out for all to bear witness to as we watched it on the news and on the front pages of newspapers.
Frightened citizens evacuating a dangerous homeland they didn’t want to live in anymore as Uncle Sam leaves in haste. Clawing and pushing their way onto air transport, these people had been our allies, who not so long ago were the very folks we had promised to help. Mothers. Fathers. Children.
Humanity in despair. This was what abandonment looked like. Left stranded by the U.S.
A tragic, terrible conclusion to a decades-long tragic mess.
That was Saigon 1975. Forty-six years later those harrowing images are being revived, this week in Kabul.
Those iconic photos of evacuees boarding a helicopter on the roof of the embassy during the fall of Saigon which came to symbolize America’s defeat in Vietnam are now joined by those fleeing Kabul.
In Afghanistan, people – like terrorized mothers wanting to protect and save their daughter- are literally falling from the sky after grabbing onto departing planes in sheer desperation as once again America withdraws.
Our failure is writ large in both these indelible images.
The exit plan was flawed in Afghanistan, but so was the entire enterprise. Just like Vietnam
We were lied to. From administration to administration, we were lied to about the progress we were making in the war.
I was a war-weary 20-year-old when I saw the specter of the American embassy in Saigon besieged by thousands of desperate South Vietnamese. By 1975, we knew for certain we had been lied to about Vietnam.
After 13 years of military involvement, 58,200 Americans killed along with millions of Vietnamese, it all came down to that one day. After all the anti-war protests, arrests, and rallies it all ended in this desperate evacuation of nearly 2,000 Americans and South Vietnamese from the American embassy compound.
The images of the final hours of that tragic War -the U.S. helicopter overfilled and rising a few feet in the air as dozens of desperate Vietnamese clung to its skids and jumped down on aircraft carriers before the helicopters would land -would haunt me.
Four years earlier the truth about the war, the reality so many of us always suspected, was revealed in black and white: Politicians and the military lied for years about the prospect of winning in Vietnam.
On June 13, 1971, The New York Times published top-secret documents from the military which became known as the Pentagon Papers. They provided proof that we had been misled about Vietnam for years.
Despite the boastful., upbeat, public statements offered by U.S. officials, they were far more pessimistic about the prospect of defeating the North Vietnamese than led on.
Just as the Pentagon Paper revealed the mess that was Vietnam, an unwinnable war, so recent documents printed by the Washington Post in 2019 revealed U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan.
The pattern of lying was virtually identical.
For two decades the message we heard from political and military leaders about our countries longest war was the same.
America was winning. The Taliban was nearly obliterated.
None of what we were told was true. It was a lie to justify our endless occupation of that country, a fairy tale concocted to prove why the prior twenty years were not a waste.
But in this fairy tale, no one is living happily ever after.
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