Just like we struggled to understand why, with the fall of South Vietnam’s capital of Saigon in 1975, we lost what was then our longest war in history, today – with the ongoing fall of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul – we will soon struggle to understand why we lost our new, longest war as well. In both cases, indicators that victory was unobtainable existed long before American blood was ever spilled on those battlefields. There is a common link in the “kryptonite” that led to our defeats in two conflicts ending nearly half a century apart.
China’s rule of Vietnam for over a millennium eventually triggered the latter’s evolution toward a national identity that ultimately transitioned into a spiritual obsession. This was reflected by Vietnam’s commitment to fight and expel all foreign occupiers, no matter how long it took to do so. A Vietnam yearning to remain independent found itself fighting China practically every century of its 1,000 years of independence. During the 20th century, it evidenced this obsession by defeating five countries – Japan, France, the U.S., Cambodia and China. Its nationalist spirit proved to be kryptonite for any nation taking it on, arguably giving birth in the 20th century to Vietnam’s “greatest generation” of warriors.
The reason U.S. victory in Afghanistan was unobtainable is perhaps best understood by sharing an 1892 Rudyard Kipling quote and the facts concerning a 2011 U.S. Army case against Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland.