CSotD: Withdrawal pains

Let’s start by saying it could be worse: This isn’t a cartoon but a classic illustration by Elizabeth Butler of the British army withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1842.

The march to Jalalabad began with 4,000 soldiers and 12,000 civilian supporters, but was reduced to badly wounded ass’t surgeon William Brydon, alone on a pony that died of its own wounds shortly after arrival.

Granted, the British returned to level Kabul, put their chosen leader back in power and maintain him for about another decade, but there’s a reason Afghanistan is called “The Graveyard of Empires.”

Actually, several.


Drew Sheneman (AMS) asks how we can exit gracefully, and the answer is simple: If there were a graceful way out, we’d have taken it long ago.

He’s right that the whole thing is propped up and is likely to tumble down as we leave. But the whole thing has been propped up and likely to tumble down for most of the 20 years we’ve been there.

There might have been a “right person” to support, but that was before we got there, and the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud was how Osama bin Laden repaid the Taliban for sheltering Al Qaeda until he could play his hand on 9/11.

Which, Ann Telnaes reminds us, was a caper carried out by bin Laden’s fellow Saudis, not by his temporary housemates in Afghanistan.


As Steve Sack depicts it, there is no graceful exit, only the options of continuing indefinitely or simply getting out.

We cannot hope to leave a stable Afghan government behind.


Or, for that matter, as Matt Davies (AMS) points out, discover one in the United States.

It takes some effort to cast your mind back to the way we were two decades ago, and perhaps it’s not fair to blame it all on the Cheney Administration’s policy of adventurism in the Middle East.


Still, as RJ Matson suggests, we’re a very different nation in a very different world, and if you think it’s simply a matter of whether we “won” or “lost,” you surely must have slept through it all.

The worst part, perhaps, being that a whole generation — including those kids in camo — has come of age in this new America and has no memory of any other country because they never lived in any other country.

It’s time for them to take control, but we’ve left them an Ikea nation, strewn around in parts, while the remnants of the assembly instructions are for a country that can no longer be rebuilt from those scattered blocks and bolts and missing screws.


And, as Matt Wuerker (Politico) contends, this withdrawal will make barely a dent in spending priorities we’ve established since this mad adventure began.

Unless we turn and contemplate that other rat hole, there will be little benefit in having plugged this one, which was mostly part of the deficit anyway.

“Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute,” we said, when Revolutionary France threatened our infant nation with war in 1789, but today we’ve turned that inward, pledging billions for defense but not one cent for health care or food or (shhh!) roads and bridges.


Meanwhile, I give Jeff Danziger (WPWG) the privilege of drawing the first Vietnam parallel, not simply because he served there but because he is of the generation that had to decide, and that has since then seen their lives put through the sausage grinder and turned into that mix of facts, nostalgia and sentimental mist called “history.”


Yes, we’re bugging out again, as Jimmy Margulies (KFS) points out, and he’s right, but the parallel is far from perfect.

For one thing, brutal as the transition was, the Hanoi government was ultimately able to establish stability in what the Geneva Accords had always promised would become one nation.

This is not to downplay the experience of the pro-democracy Southerners, but we took in the boat people, or most of them, and we’ve done far less for the people who risked their lives to support us in Iraq.



Signe Wilkinson (AMS) wishes there could be a haven for those who reject Taliban fundamentalism, but it’s not going to happen there, certainly, nor do I expect to see a repeat of the refugee camps and resettlement programs we set up for the Vietnamese, Cambodians and Hmong who were able to get out in time.

But, hey, thanks for all your help.


Finally, Clay Bennett (AMS) offers a view I both accept and reject.

He’s right that it’s not just time but well past time.

But the fad of displaying yellow ribbons began several years after we left Vietnam, in response to complaints that we seemed more intent on welcoming home the Iranian hostages than we ever had the Vietnam veterans.

True enough, though I was active in fundraising for and promoting the vet centers that had sprung up.

I also remember having a beer at an American Legion Post with a former Green Beret who said his long hair brought him harassment at the local VFW, a situation I learned was reversed in other communities but was typical one way, the other or both nearly everywhere.

And, BTW, the song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree” is about a convict coming home from prison, asking his girlfriend if she forgives him for his crime.

We disagreed about the war, but I didn’t think my buddies who served there needed anyone’s “forgiveness.”

As for parades, there was no one moment when everyone came home. They served, they returned, most just went back to civilian life, pretty much one at a time, as their deployments ended.

Nor had we at home been rationing gas, collecting scrap metal or tending Victory Gardens.

In fact, TIME Magazine had an article in the Sixties headlined, “So you’re back” because the vets didn’t get their old jobs back or much of anything except a beer at whichever veteran’s clubs accepted them as brothers.

Still, until the rightwing seized upon urban myths of hostility to help divide the land, we all accepted each other, and, on the 10th anniversary of the end of the war, a vet organized a get-together for vets and protesters at which I played.

There were somber faces as I played the Aussie song “I was only 19,” and boisterous singing along with “Fixin’ to Die Rag.”

But I scrubbed this song from my playlist in deference to the ARVN vets who were there that night.

It’s relevant now:

4 thoughts on “CSotD: Withdrawal pains

  1. Back in 1986, I went to Wolf Trap to hear a concert by Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. Pete came out and sang the “I’m fixin’ to die rag,” then Arlo came out and said “that reminds me of something,” and started in on Alice’s Restaurant. And friends, I’m part of the movement. I have sung along to Alice’s Restaurant while Arlo Guthrie performed it, live.

    And then a few years ago I started a meeting by noting that that day was the fiftieth anniversary of Arlo Guthrie getting arrested for littering, and the chair of the meeting pointed out that he and I were the only people in the room who had any idea of what I was talking about.

Comments are closed.