The day – No one left behind should go looking for our Afghan allies too
Watching and reading the news recently has brought back memories of Vietnam for us – not of fighting, but of a look of despair and fear. We now see it on the faces of thousands of Afghan citizens as they rush to Kabul International Airport in the hope of being whisked away from their crumbling country and into the arms of the kind of democratic nation they are. they have been fighting to build for two decades.
Where have we seen this look before?
In April 1975, one of us was 19 and was heading to Misawa Air Force Base in northern Japan to serve as a Mandarin Chinese translator for the US Army. The other was in his mid-twenties, married and living in Norwich and having already served three years in the Marine Corps in Vietnam where he received a Silver Star for “outstanding bravery” in combat.
That month, reports about the Saigon evacuation were everywhere on television, in newspapers and on the radio. Almost everyone remembers the photo of the CIA officer helping evacuees climb a ladder to board a waiting helicopter flying over 22 Gia Long Street, which was a hotel about half a mile from the United States Embassy. It was a heartbreaking scene.
Fewer people remember the story of Francis Terry McNamara, the consul general of the town of Can-Tho, about 160 kilometers from Saigon, who was ordered to evacuate 18 Americans but demanded that he also rescues hundreds of Vietnamese citizens loyal to America – which he was allowed to do, but only by sea, not by helicopter. McNamara requisitioned barges, descended a tributary of the Mekong Delta, survived rocket fire from the Viet Cong, and plunged into the ocean for a few hours before being picked up by a CIA-chartered freighter.
One of those saved by McNamara was 3-year-old Anne Pham. She then became an American foreign service officer.
“By saving me on that fateful day, they sowed the seeds of strength and hope that helped me realize my dream of working for the State Department,” Pham later told US officials. “Although I am the product of a painful chapter in history, I am also a product of America’s greatness, with its diverse society, democratic ideals and opportunities for all.
Now, in August 2021, psychologically, we and other military veterans are back on the roof of 22 Gia Long Street. We think a lot of America is too.
In 2009 – nearly a decade after the start of our war in Afghanistan – Congress created what is known as a “special immigrant visa” to provide refuge for Afghans who had worked with Americans as an immigrant. interpreters, translators and advisers. It was a way of recognizing the service of our allies in the country and helping to save those who might be targeted by the Taliban for helping the United States. Afghan security forces, government officials, journalists, judges, students, women’s rights defenders – they are all potential targets of retaliation.
These are the people who need our help. Of course, we need to get all US citizens back, and we think we will. But it’s a sad reality that the battlefields of war are filled with all kinds of rubbish and loss: minefields, shell casings, MRE packaging, bottled water, boots, keyless jeeps. And human beings. It happened in Saigon. It happened with the Kurds. And this is happening again right now in Afghanistan.
We cannot leave behind the human capital that has accompanied us. It is imperative that we change our long-standing national policy of leaving behind those who have helped us. We are not making a political statement about the 20 year war in Afghanistan and how it ends. We all have our own opinions, and this topic will be debated in many forums as we seek to share both praise and blame.
What we will say is that as Americans return home to a grateful country, many of the people who have helped us are fleeing their homes, leaving behind clothes, furniture, bank accounts, businesses, as well as their hopes and dreams for a better future in their home country, Afghanistan.
If the lessons of Vietnam and other wars have taught us anything, it is that we must save and welcome as many of these Afghan allies as possible. We must not leave behind the men and women who stood by our side and risked their lives and the lives of their families to serve America and our ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights. Somewhere in that crowd is another Anne Pham, another future American citizen who is waiting to do great things for the country she cherishes and befriended. Don’t let them down.
Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, is a United States Army veteran and the Democratic State Senator for the 19th Senate District. Harold Tucker Braddock of Norwich spent three years in Vietnam with the US Marine Corps.