Haha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is: "Never get involved in a land war in Asia." - Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), in The Princess Bride
With all the news about the Gulf oil spill and the economy, this month marks two anniversaries you might not have noticed: The 60–year anniversary of the start of the Korean War, and the point at which the current war in Afghanistan became America’s longest.
The Korean War, lasting from June 1950 to July 1953, lasted only about a third as long as the war in Afghanistan has lasted so far. Yet over 36,000 Americans died in that conflict, compared to a little over 1,000 in Afghanistan.
Today, every U.S. KIA in Afghanistan and Iraq receives his or her own mention in the news, and of course deservedly so. But the many more Americans who died in Korea did so nearly anonymously.
Sandwiched between the “Greatest Generation” of World War II and the self–indulgent Baby Boomers of the Vietnam era (another ill-fated Asian war), the veterans of the Korean War, like my father, got neither the accolades of the former nor the notoriety of the latter.
The U.S. Army of the early ‘50s, a shadow of its World War II levels of training and equipment, was unprepared for that conflict. First the North Koreans, and then the Chinese, nearly pushed U.S./NATO forces into the sea. Allied forces managed to fight to a draw, the boundary lines largely unchanged from 1950.
Today we’re locked in another land war in Asia — in Afghanistan, where no invading army has emerged victorious. The casualty rate is much lower than in Korea, the soldiers better trained and motivated for the most part, and the Chinese are our economic competitors rather than our enemies on the field of battle.
But as in Korea, stalemate increasingly seems the best–case scenario.
On an April edition of NBC Nightly News, Richard Engel reported from a base in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley that the U.S. Army was about to leave, both because of the high casualty rate and the fact that the locals still hated them. (This was the Army’s own admission.)
A soldier said that the plan was to blow up anything they couldn’t take with them, because the Taliban would swarm over the base within 15 minutes of the Americans’ departure.
To me the report was eerily similar to stories I’ve heard from the Korean War about desperate, forgotten fights on nameless hills to hold off Chinese “human wave” attacks.
How many more Americans will die in our current Asian war? How many more years will it go on with no clear result? Why did the “news” — actually many years old — surface recently that Afghanistan sits on $1 trillion in natural resources? Is someone trying to reboot a failing effort? Have we become more patient as a country? Or, as I fear, even more forgetful?
CORRECTION: In last week’s “A fight for the right,” we mistakenly reported that Ray McKinney said he’d contribute $100,000 to the Republican nominee if it wasn’t him. That of course is illegal; the personal limit is $2,400.
What he said was “Should someone else win the primary I would stand beside them on a podium the next day and contribute the maximum to their campaign, and should I win the primary I would put $100,000 of my own money into the campaign.”