Let's pretend. Let's pretend that a foreign country has decided to attack the United States mainland. Originally, these intruders had planned to infiltrate from the far northwest entering off the coast of Bellingham and slowly make their way across the panhandle of Idaho to Montana. Of course, the US military would have been tracking their movements from Colville to Sandpoint and into the Kanisku National Forest as they drove eastward towards the nuclear sites in the Dakotas which they so desperately want to capture. But on-ground reconnaissance suggested that taking the northwest passage was not a good idea. Instead, they decide to invade from the south, from Baja California and so they land at Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. They have studied well. They have maps and photos. They have satellite pictures and computer enhanced topography. The one thing they don't have is direct knowledge of the terrain and a palpable sense of the determination of the American people to thwart foreign invasion.
And so, as they progress north from Casa Grande to Prescott to Williams and finally to the Grand Canyon itself, they discover they're in trouble because The Battle of the Grand Canyon will be their ultimate defeat. Why?
One need not go into all the parallels between and among the imaginary Battle of the Grand Canyon, and the real battles fought at Dien Bien Phu and Zhawar to figure it all out. One can really reduce those things to something patently simple that every invadee knows about its invaders: "I know my land better than you." It's a lesson the French learned in Vietnam and the Soviets learned in Afghanistan and that's why they left. It is a lesson the United States did not learn from the French or the Soviets and so we keep repeating what Santayana only needed to say once. Perhaps Eisenhower knew it best when he said, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." Perhaps, that would coincide with Santayana's Law of Repetitive Consequences since there doesn't seem to be any clear understanding of the disasters of perpetual military engagement while ignoring historical resonance.
In 1963, the number of US troops in Vietnam was approximately 17,000. Four years later, the number was approximately 485,000, a year after that, 535,000. To put that in proper perspective that's equal to the population of Oklahoma City. So, from 1963-1968, the number of US troops in Vietnam increased by about 32 times and even with an army the size of Oklahoma City, we couldn't defeat the Vietnamese for the same reason that the army which invaded the US was decisively defeated at The Battle of the Grand Canyon.
Of course, the irony of the Vietnam War is that according to the US State Department, "U.S. relations with Vietnam have become increasingly cooperative and broad-based in the years since political normalization. A series of bilateral summits have helped drive the improvement of ties, including President George W. Bush's visit to Hanoi in November 2006, President Triet's visit to Washington in June 2007, and Prime Minister Dung's visit to Washington in June 2008. The two countries hold an annual dialogue on human rights, which resumed in 2006 after a two-year hiatus. Vietnam and the United States signed a Bilateral Trade Agreement in July 2000, which went into force in December 2001. In 2003, the two countries signed a Counter-Narcotics Letter of Agreement (amended in 2006), a Civil Aviation Agreement, and a textile agreement. In January 2007, Congress approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for Vietnam. In October 2008, the U.S. and Vietnam inaugurated annual political-military talks and policy planning talks to consult on regional security and strategic issues. Bilateral and regional diplomatic engagement expanded at ASEAN, which Vietnam will chair in 2010, and continues through APEC. The two sides have consulted regularly on a broad range of international issues at the UN Security Council, where Vietnam has a seat (January 2008-December 2009) as a non-permanent member."
So, after all those years and all those deaths, the US and Vietnam are not only "trading buddies," but buddies on several fronts. One could easily make an argument that those troops who lost their lives or lost their limbs in that losing war lost them in vain. One could make that argument since Vietnam, albeit a "buddy" of the United States is still under control of the Vietnamese Communist Party and though the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon "falling domino theory" has not held, what held for the US-Vietnam War and the Soviet-Afghan War will likely hold for the US-Afghan War and that does not bode well for the United States; namely, "I know my land better than you."
I shall refrain from repeating Santayana at this point.