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Afghanistan’s debacle ‘a striking resemblance to Saigon,’ historian says

Professors from history, political science and journalism are available to provide analysis and commentary on the recent events in Afghanistan.

EVANSTON, Ill. – Michael Allen, a historian of the Vietnam war and professor at Northwestern University, said the sudden collapse of the Afghan government bears a “striking resemblance” to the fall of Saigon.

Northwestern University professors from the fields of history, political science and journalism are available to provide analysis and commentary on the recent events in Afghanistan.

Michael Allen is an associate professor of history. His research interests are U.S. political and diplomatic history. He is the author of “Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War.” His current work-in-progress, “New Politics: The Imperial Presidency, The Pragmatic Left, and the Problem of Democratic Power, 1933-1981, treats evolving left-liberal relations to presidential power in the postwar era. He can be reached by contacting Stephanie Kulke in media relations at stephanie.kulke@northwestern.edu

Quote from Professor Allen
“The sudden collapse of the Afghan government bears a striking resemblance to Saigon and the precipitous collapse of the South Vietnamese government in April 1975. Both teach the same lesson: American troops cannot outlast determined indigenous forces with nowhere else to go. Americans tried and failed to do so in Vietnam, where they battled communist insurgents for two decades before conceding this difficult truth. They have tried and failed to do so again in Afghanistan, fighting just as long only to arrive at the same end.”

Rajeev Kinra is a cultural historian of early modern South Asian, Middle Eastern and North African history with an emphasis on religious history. He is director of Northwestern’s Asian Studies Program and co-director of Northwestern’s Global Humanities Initiative. His teaching interests include the undergraduate course, “Afghanistan: From Alexander the Great to the Anglo-Afghan Wars.” He can be reached by contacting Stephanie Kulke in media relations at stephanie.kulke@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Kinra
“Hopefully it won't be as bad as some of us fear. But one can also rest assured that once the dust settles in Kabul, the other regional powers are not going to just sit idly by. Afghanistan shares borders with Iran, Pakistan, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, with India and Russia lurking just beyond.

“They're going to try to leverage their relationship(s) with Kabul vis-a-vis their regional rivals, both overtly and covertly. Because there are also huge economic stakes. Afghanistan may be relatively poor in modern amenities, but it is quite rich in natural resources, particularly minerals and precious metals.”

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd is a professor of political science in Weinberg and the Crown Chair in Middle East Studies. She teaches and writes on religion and politics, the politics of human rights and the right to religious freedom, the legal governance of religious diversity, U.S. foreign relations and the international politics of the Middle East. She can be reached by contacting Mohamed Abdelfattah at mohamed@northwestern.edu

Quote from Professor Hurd 
“The jig is up in Afghanistan. How long it will take the U.S. to come to terms with tragic price of empire remains to be seen, but at the moment we should listen closely to the Afghan people and make good on our promises to all of those who helped us during the war and occupation.”

Brent E. Huffman is an associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University as well as a working documentary filmmaker. Recently, he has been examining China’s international presence in Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He can be reached by contacting Mohamed Abdelfattah at mohamed@northwestern.edu.

He spent 18 months in Afghanistan filming the frantic effort to save antiquities at the ancient Buddhist site Mes Aynak. Now it has fallen to the Taliban.

It’s a 5,000-year-old religious site with a 2,000-year-old Buddhist city on top. Located along the Silk Road that in Marco Polo’s days linked China with the Roman Empire, it is home to more than 200 Buddha statues, devotional temples and an approximately 100-acre monastery complex 25 miles southeast of Kabul. The vast majority of relics and structures are underground; many are too large and fragile to be moved.

“Mes Aynak served as an al-Qaeda training camp, and miraculously survived three decades of war and looting,” Huffman said in 2012. 

In a series of distressed tweets, Huffman said he is “angry and heartbroken at the nightmarish situation in Afghanistan.”

“At #MesAynak alone there are over 5,000 years of history, much still buried in the ground. What will happen to this priceless heritage now? What happens when the history of #Afghanistan is erased like this? What happens to the #Afghan people?” he added in his twitter thread. 

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