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Drawing parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam

The year was 1968 — one of those years that ranks with 33 A.D., 1066 and 1776 as an inarguable landmark — and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had spent hours in executive session struggling with the Vietnam War. Sen. Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee dismissed concerns that holding public debates about the war would be divisive and undercut America’s chances of victory. Another senator, Joseph Clark of Pennsylvania, reported that he had asked the U.S. commander, William Westmoreland, “If there would be a military victory in this war, and he said no.”

In this essay, Jon Meacham calls upon Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to revisit a role he played 40 years ago, when Kerry took to the Senate floor to question the morality of the Vietnam War before Chairman William A. Fulbright. Meacham revisits Kerry’s arguments and asks him to assess the war in Afghanistan.



  • David Jerrard Givens

    “Drawing parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam” that aired this evening on PBS was a specific call for a specific public figure to perform a specific public purpose. It struck me in its difference to typical pundits on cable news, left and right, self righteously pontificating about nothing. The program is in the old Bill Moyers’ spot and is called Need to Know, but I doubt it will live in any shadow if this is any indicator. If this is the kind of journalism that we can expect, it is a Need to Watch. Kudos to you, Mr. Meachem and all involved.

  • David Jerrard Givens

    I ask if you agree with Mr. Meachem as I do, please contact Senator Kerry’s office to implore his assistance. The stakes of this call are for the Nation itself and indeed Senator Kerry’s standing in history.

    Thank you.

  • Di Ro

    Kerry is too controversial to be asked to lead what Mr Meachem asks. While he might be a hero to those of Mr Meachem’s persuasion he would only bring up all the hatred and mistrust of those who do not favor his views. A discussion is definitely needed but please NOT KERRY in charge, it wil go nowhere but downhill.

  • David Jerrard Givens

    Senator Kerry is too controversial? A former presidential candidate, though he lost in 2004, was nominated by his party as a respected figure with national appeal, with strengths in foreign policy and military experience. The campaign invented the verb, “swiftboated”, a term which means that somebody has been smeared wrongfully. One can easily see the arc of history that Mr. Meachem calls into light and why Mr. Kerry, as he himself offers, has a unique obligation to call these hearings. Perhaps he can do so with Senator McCain as co-chair. The call to action we agree upon. These two men, I will grant you Di Ro, are controversial in some senses and perhaps could provide a counter balance for an inquiry into a matter of importance that should never be subject to partisan politics. But as you prove – that is not the age in which we currently live. I believe it may be redemptive in a sense for both men and both are indeed uniquely qualified. This is a clarion call and must be heard. What if we had a Vietnam and nobody noticed?

  • David Jerrard Givens

    If your persuasion is to the right of center and you believe it is time we have a public discussion about the longest conflict in the history of the United States, please contact Senator McCain’s office with the suggestion. In the video clip, Mr Meachem quotes Senator Fulbrright, “If lawmakers fail to weigh in on matters as important as declaring war, I don’t see how we have any real function.” If nothing else, perhaps it could begin to restore the faith that everyone, of all political persuasions, has lost in our legislative bodies.

  • Mark Smith

    You just shot your credibility. We do not need advice from another politician so inept at practicing what he preaches. Sen. Kerry is of such character as to demand of others that which he never requires of himself. His record is clear on this. Even as I watched this piece I well noted Sen. Kerry’s evasion of his home port taxes in the berthing of his new multi-million dollar yacht. Perhaps he has taken you aboard Mr Meacham? PBS’ “Need to Know” has run aground with all the grace of a Kerry swiftboat.

  • David Jerrard Givens

    Even with my call of compromise that should assuage both parties that the public inquiry would not be brought about for political points but rather to address the most important issue which faces a nation, its own security, there are those too invested in partisan politics to give such an idea a chance. We have been suffering as a nation under toxic partisan politics and such shortsightedness will surely lead to our own demise. Citizens of Massachusetts or mongers intent on political chicanery may be upset about a non-story of where the Senator that married into the Heinz fortune parks his yacht. I suggest to such individuals that they pause a moment and concentrate on issues rather than side shows. These individuals have been fomented and duped by the talking heads that are not interested in the nation but rather perpetuating the erosion of dialogue.

  • Mark Smith

    Personal character is never a side issue. It strikes at the very heart of honest inquiry. Additionally the good Senator from Mass. has made political point scoring his life’s work. Again, the record is clear on this issue. To suggest that Sen. John Kerry be put forth as some non-partisan, apolitical, insightful arbiter of US policy in Afghanistan is absurdly laughable.

  • David Jerrard Givens

    As the chairperson for the Foreign Relations Committee, the honor of chairing would fall to John Kerry. Reason being the Democrats currently control the Senate. Kerry would not be sole arbiter, nor would he be alone in conducting the inquiry. An inquiry is not a trial. End of story unless more ad hominem is on its way.

  • Mark Smith

    You are tilting windmills here. Engaging in a fleeting fantasy of political theater.
    As for “ad hominem” your posts prior lay that clearly at your feet with your assertions of “dupes”,”mongers”, and such. Being rather convinced as you seemingly are of your own gravity in the vast universe of internet background noise, I leave you to it.

  • Ken Maass

    Mr. Givens has the right idea. Hearings must happen soon; the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating daily. Both parties will have spokespeople available for questioning and commentary. If Kerry and McCain are too controversial, how about Levin and Lugar? The main point is to get the ball rolling so discussion and debate can occur. Academics and policy-makers can be heard. The American public needs and wants an open forum where some meaningful questions can be asked and answers given. Partisanship is widespread throughout the country, not just in Congress. Here may be an opportunity for the American people to regain some confidence in government. My main concern, being an American History high school teacher, is the deep cynicism and apathy so widespread amongst our youth. Let’s get going on this crucial topic of concern to many!

  • M. Conway

    Totally agree it’s time we start debating the war — or both wars, actually. As long as both Kerry and McCain (or Levin and Lugar) put their heads together and make some headway in galvanizing talk about these inherited wars — so that Americans can latch onto some real facts and make some informed suggestions to their elected representatives this time — I’ll ignore for now whatever feet of clay either has demonstrated in the past (and both have had to wipe the clay off their feet on mats as they entered issues).