Before us is a rare case of author’s luck. Mark Atwood Lawrence actually wrote a study about a rather ancient history – how the war in Indochina (ended in 1975) changed America and the world. Books do not endure haste, they take a long time to write and take a long time to typeset, and the author, of course, could not foresee that his work would be published soon after America’s August catastrophe in Afghanistan.
But it happened, and the book was immediately famous. There was no such review that did not draw Afghan parallels. At least this one reminds that the entire post-World War II era the United States tried to change other peoples, but very few such attempts failed as demonstratively as the Afghan one: 20 years, many lives lost, uncounted billions of dollars, and it all ended like in Vietnam, – by flight. There from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon, here from the Kabul airport. Let’s say it again: the author was lucky with the book published on time. America and Afghanistan are not.
Consider the most interesting idea for us, which this book brings up. By the way, it is called “The End of Ambition: The United States and the Third World in the Vietnam Era”. The idea is simple: what would have happened to the world and to us if we, then in the format of the Soviet Union, had not won that war?
That is, the Vietnamese people won it, of course, first of all, but they would have had a bad time without the military assistance of the USSR (who helped shoot down American pla-nes, including the one in which the future Senator McCain was flying?). But China also helped, and ev-en fiercely competed with Moscow for the primacy in this aid (our relations with the great neighbor were then worse than ever).
And if everything wor-ked out for the United Sta-tes in Indochina, it would be bad. A completely different world would be created than today. The book looks very valuable to describe the wild enthusiasm that distinguished President John F. Kennedy and a large part of the nation for the fact that America can do anything in the world. Let’s say that it is better not to touch the USSR and the PRC, but dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America are easy.
This is reminiscent of a conversation with one of our Latin Americanists about the numerous attempts on the life of Fidel Castro – it was about what kind of people were then working in the CIA. They were simply geniuses who gushed with ideas and were ready to personally risk in the process of their implementation. But the same fountains were observed throughout the United States: remember how the same Kennedy created the Peace Corps and other organizations to export American values, and mostly very young enthusiasts worked there. And there were millions of them – the Kennedy era began with an unprecedented nati-onal upsurge and a thirst for renewal. In all areas, up to world domination.
It seemed to them that i-ntervening in civil conf-rontation in Vietnam, for example, instantly breaking the balance of power there, raising the local economy for a penny, creating a libe-ral paradise is a trifle. And the same can be done th-roughout the third world, which was only then for-med. Back in the mid-19-50s, people in the USSR began to say that the former colonies were a natural ally of Moscow, but the Americans simply laughed at this idea.
And when today we hear from American and other human rights activists that “democracy is retreating all over the world,” it began with the Vietnam failure of the United States. After which there was a completely different America and a much more complex and interesting world than anyone expected.
What then prevented the victory? Mark Atwood La-wrence identifies three key factors. The first is, of cou-rse, what the United States began to hate in the very third world that America wanted to take under its wing. And then, not under Kennedy, but under Nixon, a tradition took shape to support any rulers, but rather military regimes, including outright beasts, if only they spoke the right words about the United States and democracy.
Another factor: if under Kennedy the country was ruled by die-hard optimists, then the enthusiasm in the ruling class for the conqu-est of the world sharply we-akened. Moreover, fatigue from adventures manifested itself already in the 60s. Because, you say, millions of young Americans opposed the war and themselves came into a state of war with their own power? Yes, but with clarifications. It turns out that it was in the 60s, the era of endless anti-war rebellion, that its opposite was born – the strengthening of the conservative flank of society, people on this flank were increasingly unpleasant not only with the war, but also with compatriots who wanted any kind of reforms and other rejuvenation of the country. A familiar phenomenon bo-th today and the 30th, when the United States generally wanted to sit behind its two oceans and not meddle in the affairs of Europe and everyone else. It turns out that the nationwide myth of absolute American superiority died back in the 70s – it cannot be.
That is, after Vietnam, they became, by their standards, kind and careful. Wow: what would have happened to the world if Kennedy’s idealists had held out? And most importantly, why, then, America’s military sorties did not disappear after that? Yes, here is the same Afghanistan, not to mention Iraq.
And this is different, modern analysts explain to us. Afghanistan is not Vietnam at all. Let’s take a look at the August survey of experts from The New York Times in the wake of the disaster. It says: Vietnam was the first defeat of the United States, people were not ready for this in those days, but now it is a common thing. Further, millions of conscripts fought in Vietnam, and now there are professionals in Afghanistan. That is, then society realized that anyone can be sent to death in some kind of jungle, but now it is not.
Also: Vietnam then determined everything, it was at the center of any disputes about the country’s domestic and foreign policy, about its very essence. And this Afghanistan of yours – yes, no one noticed this story against the background of a furious split within American society on completely different issues. Today, the role of the United States in the world has generally diminished, but then it seemed to the Americans that, apart from them, there was no one in the world at all or should not be. And the unexpected conclusion of American experts: all this means that America will not fall into a long-term depression over the Afghan collapse. So, they will be sad and calm. This means that the authorities will get into another such adventure whenever they want. That is – “we can repeat”. I would like to say: repeat, repeat. But better not.