RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The evacuation of remaining American civilians and military from Saigon took place in April 1975. At the time, it was the largest helicopter evacuation in history.
Now, 46 years later, similar images are seen in Kabul, Afghanistan. Both times there was the same effort to help those loyal to the American cause escape their own country.
“Certainly, the scenes from the airport, the chaos and hundreds maybe thousands of Afghans trying to desperately even cling to airplanes, that does have some reminiscent imagery of the helicopters leaving the embassy in Saigon,” said David Schanzer, professor of the practice at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.
That’s where many of the parallels stop. The goal of both wars will be debated for decades to come. On the surface, one was a fight against communism and the other a fight against terrorism.
“I think the strategy, the history, the time period are so different that these kinds of comparisons really don’t get you very far,” Schanzer said.
North Carolina’s military bases and posts contributed to both wars from Camp Lejeune to Seymour Johnson to Fort Bragg, and all stops in between and beyond. North Carolina’s own citizens fought and died.
In Afghanistan, two decades of trying to build a self-sustaining army did not end as many had hoped.
“The Afghan army just melted away. It’s just collapsed far more quickly than anyone imagined, and that has led to this level of chaos,” Schanzer said.
By the end of Vietnam, most Americans agreed the US should get out. Today, the same sentiment is shared as more than 70 percent of Americans say the country should not be in Afghanistan. This comes as the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches.
“If there’s no attacks on the homeland spawning from Afghanistan in three, five, 10 years, I think we’ll look back on it and say this was the right choice,” Schanzer said.