“They were careless people.” Thus did F. Scott Fitzgerald memorably describe Tom and Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby.” “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness,” letting others “clean up the mess they had made.”
Nearly a half-century ago, after smashing up things and creatures in South Vietnam, the United States engaged in a comparable retreat. It does so again today in Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden promises that “there’s going to be no circumstance for you to see people being lifted off the roof” of the US embassy in Kabul. Maybe not. But the similarities between the debacle that culminated atop the US embassy in Saigon in 1975 and the one unfolding before our very eyes demand thoughtful attention.
In life, walking away from the mess you’ve made makes a recurrence more likely. Acknowledging the mess makes learning at least a possibility. Americans learned next to nothing from Vietnam. Might we do better this time?
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