The utter confusion and tragic futility of the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan are well documented in Bob Woodward’s 2010 book Obama’s Wars, but I happened to pick up an old copy of Mary McCarthy’s eye-opening reporting from Vietnam in 1967 for The New York Review of Books collected in the succinct book Vietnam. To read it is to be reminded what a lucid, powerful writer McCarthy was but also hard not to be saddened by its unmistakable relevance to our current military-dominated political predicament and the lessons not learned by our nation and its leaders 44 years ago.
The war does not threaten our immediate well-being. It does not touch us in the consumer habits that have given us literally our shape. Casualty figures, still low, seldom strike home outside rural and low-income groups — the silent part of society. The absence of sacrifices has had its effect on the opposition, which feels no need, on the whole, to turn away from its habitual standards and practices — what for? We have not withdrawn our sympathy from American power and from the way of life that is tied to it — a connection that is more evident to a low-grade G.I. in Vietnam than most American intellectuals.
Mary McCarthy, Vietnam, 1967