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Forget about victory and honor — just focus on getting it done


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POSTED: Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Wall Street Journal editors recently wrote about Afghanistan that President Barack Obama “;now has the an obligation to stay the course until our soldiers can return home in victory and with honor.”;

That sounds great. Victory and honor. The Scots vs. the English in that Academy Award-winning film “;Braveheart”; by director-actor Mel Gibson. Victory and honor come quite easily in movies, but not in real life. Scots did get Robert The Bruce as king in 1306 after he stabbed his English counterpart at a truce meeting, but today — where's that independent Scotland the movie left us to believe exists?

I fear that Afghanistan today will be as unmanageable as Scotland was for England then, or Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia were for America in the '60s and '70s. There are some places that by culture will not accept foreign troops — even if it's very good for them.

I'm no theoretician writing from a privvy office. I worked in the “;theory”; of the U-2 spy-plane project in Giebelstadt, Germany, in 1956, and for three years after with NATO on nuclear strike plans against East Germany and Czechoslovakia. As a reporter, I covered Vietnam and Laos during our war for four years between 1964-1973.

There was never any reasonable discussion of victory and honor in my military life. In Germany, we only discussed how to survive the nuclear fallout. In Southeast Asia, the White House wondered how to survive 250 American deaths a week without the public rebelling. Nobody said, “;Can we go home with victory and honor?”;

Gen. Fred Weyand pulled down the American flag in Saigon in 1973 and we went home without victory or honor. And we lived with that and quite well. Today, my daughter is with the World Bank in Hanoi, helping yesterday's enemy recover.

I don't know if victory and coming home with honor are possible or not in Afghanistan. I just wish we would not discuss things in those terms. Keep it to combat terms. We're there, here's the estimated cost in American lives and dollars per year. What do you say?

Nobody does that. I didn't mention my earliest reporter days in France and Algeria during the Algerian war in 1961. French President Charles de Gaulle demanded victory and honorable withdrawal of the Foreign Legion from Algeria. I witnessed a very unhonorable withdrawal and an era of terror bombings in Paris and senseless killings in Algeria. And then withdrawal of the French Foreign Legion and Algerian independence under much less than honorable conditions.

And have we forgotten the very recent dishonorable Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan?

I'm not a we-can't-win sayer. We possibly can win, in the sense of establishing a for-the-moment stable government in Afghanistan. But victory over the Taliban? You must not know the history of guerrilla movements.

Our veterans coming home with honor? We didn't honor Vietnam veterans and we barely acknowledge those from Iraq and Afghanistan. They only get honors on their bases.

We've had so much war so long we no longer care.

Families care.

But they're military families and they suck it up because they're military families.

Victory and honor aren't their first thoughts.

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Bob Jones is a Midweek columnist.