This is a very sad week in my country. Twenty years ago, after we’d been attacked, we sent our armies to the country where our attackers came from. But the hope was that we’d not only find our attackers and get justice, but also bring a better government to that country, one that would prove better to both its people and the rest of the world.
This week, as we removed our armies, who’d been there much longer than anyone had intended, the people who’d been running things before we got there, who had supported and protected our attackers, took over the country again. To a greater degree than they’d been before we went there.
Over here, countless veterans feel depressed and even betrayed. They gave their youth, often parts of their bodies, and worst of all their friends, to a cause that seems to have disappeared. It doesn’t matter whether one here supported the mission there or not; it’s impossible for our hearts not to break over what these brave young (and no longer so young) people are experiencing.
(And I’m not even talking about the people in Afghanistan who believed in the government we enforced, who now fear for their lives – though the new/old government has promised to not act vengefully on them; we can just hope and pray they keep that promise.)
Many people will criticize the US’s exit as badly done or badly planned. And others will criticize the cause that our soldiers fought for itself. But I think they’re all missing the point. The cause was noble-minded, and this withdrawal isn’t a mistake by our current president, or the previous one who’d set it up. The mistakes happened 20 years ago. What’s happening now was and is inevitable.
How do we know? Because it’s happened before. Many times.
If you have studied American history, you probably know about the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, or the Iraq War. In all three cases, the United States sent armies to change the governments of troubled nations. And in every case, the U.S. failed. At best (as in Korea), they managed to effect a lasting stalemate. At worst (Vietnam), they left a horrific legacy, which only made the conquering army more vicious on those they beat.
But of course the U.S. isn’t the only nation to make this mistake. France had the same experience in Vietnam, and the U.S.S.R. had the same experience in Afghanistan. And this recent war actually involved many other nations as well as the U.S. And there are countless other examples of this throughout history, maybe most famously the ways Napoleon and Hitler were each defeated by the Russians they expected to easily conquer.
What went wrong?
Well, military historians who know a great deal more than I can give you detailed answers. But to this doggy’s eyes, the initial problem for all of them was a lack of basic humility.
“Humility? Are you crazy, Shirelle?” I hear you yell! “But wars are about pride and force! Humility has no place there! You sure aren’t humble when you chase squirrels, are you!”
No I’m not arguing that soldiers should be anything other than the brave heroes they are. But soldiers don’t plan these wars. Leaders do. And it’s up to those leaders to learn from the past, before they send a single brave young soul into battle. (And it’s very interesting to note how rarely wars like this are started by people with military experience; veterans seem to know what can and cannot work much better than non-vets who pretend to be warriors)
Today, Americans who remember the end of the Vietnam War are experiencing déjà vu. “It’s the fall of Saigon all over again,” they cry. And they’re right. But that didn’t start this week. Twenty years ago, many voices warned the US’s leaders, “Watch out. You’re going into another Vietnam.” And the leaders laughed them off. “No,” they argued, “We’re much smarter than the idiots who made those mistakes. We know what we’re doing.”
The military minds behind the Vietnam War were anything but stupid. And Napoleon and the Nazis were so brilliant in their strategies they both came close to taking over the whole world.
But they were also arrogant. Simple timeless lessons such as that people will fight to the end for their homeland, that no one wants soldiers from another place ruling them, or that democracies by definition arise from the people and not from outside – were not heeded. Instead, idiotic beliefs such as “We could’ve won Vietnam if we’d just been more ruthless” won out. They weren’t true then, and they aren’t now.
History shows that nations can help other nations grow, modernize, and become freer. But never this way. They do it by helping the people do what they want. That includes with their traditions, their religion, and even their undemocratic views. It’s not easy, and never has been. That’s why there’s a U.N., and why its success rate is so slow (but far better than if it weren’t there).
It’s also a reason to believe that the new/old Taliban government in Afghanistan will do just fine… but only for a little while… unless they adapt to the people there. Women, for example, have now had twenty years of experiencing civil rights. If these guys think they’ll willingly give them up just because the president fled, I think they’re more ignorant of history than we’ve been! And the simple fact is that no one has ever been able to control the Afghan people!
So why am I writing this to you? Well, two reasons. First, because many of you vote, or will vote. And I urge you to not fall into the trap my country has so often – believing that your country and your system are so wonderful that other nations want you to come in and take them over. Even with the best intentions.
But also because every one of you has choices to make in life. And while we dogs may be far less brainy than you in so many ways, we are pretty good at humility. We’ll defend ourselves, but we’d never believe that other dogs want us to take over their homes.
So please listen when I say that, when you’re on that date and she says no, she means it (you can try other means to get her to say yes, but just moving ahead as if she’d never said anything will only result in her developing anger and fear at you). And when someone tells you he devoutly believes a different religion from yours, respect his right to it. And when someone suggests that force will win someone else over to your point of view, just know that it never does.
Force has its place. We pooches have teeth for a reason! But it only works to demand what we want at a time. I might bite a person who’s kicking me, or who’s threatening Handsome. Or I might chomp down on some prey. But I know enough to know that it’s not going to make that person stop disliking me or Handsome, or make that rabbit agree with my taste in music!
There’s an old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Well, here’s hoping that all the old cultures of the world, as well as the newer ones, can learn the new trick of learning from the past.
Because, as I often point out about science, history is simply truth. And not learning from it means humans waste their great brains, and might as well be us.
And the results of that, as we’re seeing this week, are nothing less than tragic.