The Hawaiian Islands’ volcanic eruptions generating the long stream of hot lava is analogous to the extended years and upheaval it took to join America as a 50th state. As the lava flows in nature’s effort to reclaim territory, many of its citizens and towns are seeing their houses and roads taken over. This island paradise that has become a vacation spot and tourist destination surrounded by the Pacific Ocean is a stark contrast to Alaska, a frosty, just as remote scenic territory due north.
Alaska was a state that nobody wanted and many government administrators and elected officials thought Secretary of State William Seward’s venture to purchase the Alaska territory was ill-advised at best. The newspapers at the time called it “Seward’s Folly.”
Hawaii, in contrast, was not only wanted, but literally taken over with the Island Queen Liliuokalani under house arrest in the palace.
Why would the American government want the territory and the Islands as part of our eventual United States? The answer is found in that both were sought after for the same purpose and yet for a couple of different motivations. The United States government purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for 7.2 million dollars. At the time, the treaty to purchase Alaska seemed like wasted money but the purchase ended the presence of Russian influence in North America at the time. Russian influence allegedly would revisit us later in the form of hacking, spying and social media posts during our 2016 elections.
Later, the 1896 discovery of Gold in the Yukon and its strategic importance during World War II in the Pacific Theater vindicated William Seward’s push to purchase the territory which began before the civil war. Alaska became the 49th state a few months before Hawaii on January 3rd, 1959.
Alaska’s significance remains strategically important but today the state is well known for the large number of reality shows situated there from “Deadliest Catch”, “Gold Rush” and “Ice Road Truckers” to “Alaska State Troopers”. Who knew when Congress approved the purchase of the Alaskan territory that it would be a boon to the television entertainment industry in the 21st Century and make several Alaskan citizens relatively wealthy from something other than gold mining?
Hawaii took a divergent path that centered on what can be called, “the protection of the good old American dollar.” Specifically, the influence of plantation owners and their wanting to protect their financial interests from the rise of the Hawaiian Monarchy. The United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands in 1897 at the urging of the American plantation owners. This annexation was in the form of a takeover as the Queen Liliuokalani was put on trial before a military tribunal, forced to relinquish all claims to the Monarchy and imprisoned her. This just because she wanted to exert some power as as a monarch. This power threatened European and American land owner however so these men literally asked the United States government representatives to call in the Marines.
The financial interest was the primary reason for the forced annexation of Hawaii but it also served a military strategic importance for naval bases. Along with several other islands, such as Guam, the Philippines, the Kwajalein Atoll and Alaska, the annexation gave the United States a presence in the Asian theater. This first line of defense proved vital at the outset of World War II. The Hawaiian Islands had citizens that came from many countries other than the United States, like Japan and Portugal. Hawaii became the 50th state a few months after Alaska on August 21st, 1959.
Why so long of a wait for Alaska and Hawaii statehood? As with everything that the government does, it comes down to power and what the current political landscape at a particular time, as in Southern Democrats who didn’t want civil rights legislation passed. The number of democratic and republican votes in congress figured in the decision. The racial mixture of each state and Alaska’s low population figured in the long wait. The economic advantages with Alaskan oil reserves and Hawaii’s tourist industry added to the attractiveness of having them as states. In the end, the political issues and resistance from certain groups in Hawaii were overcome and the territories became states.
Becoming a state can take a long circuitous route as the Puerto Rico effort to become one shows to everyone following it. The status of statehood depends just as much on political concerns as the financial ones. The original 13 colonies had a significant issue to overcome on their path to become a member the select group of the United States of America-the war to gain independence from the crown.
The human toll these countries have paid due to both of them being a political football throughout the last century into the current one is staggering. The estimated death toll for the Vietnam Wars just from 1959-1975 is 58,000 US troops, 1.1 million of the North Vietnamese Army, and one-half to 2 million civilian deaths. If estimates include Cambodia and Laos, the death toll rises to more than five million. Afghanistan’s death toll numbers from 1979-2001 have been estimated from one-and-a-half million to more that two million. After 2001 to the present, the cost in lives for US forces is more than 1500 with an additional 20 to 50 thousand civilian casualties due to terrorist activity and the consequences of using modern warfare weaponry. These numbers are always being revised upward and in the case of Vietnam, the numbers don’t include the casualties that were inflicted during World War II and afterwards with Ho Chi Minh’s rebellious war with the French supported by the Soviet’s and Chinese communist governments.
Comparisons between Vietnam and Afghanistan are easy to understand. After all, the Soviet Union military leadership was discussing ways to get out of Afghanistan as early as 1980 due to tribal disputes, the difficulty and lack of mountain warfare training, and the strong Mujahideen force combating against the Soviet occupation. However, like the United States in Vietnam twenty years before, the muddy politics and refusal to understand the local culture thought process prevented them from acting on that understanding quickly.
In an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski with the French Le Nouvel Observateur, he stated that… “on July 3, 1979 US President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul…We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would. The day the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War…”
The sad history about the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan and the 30 years since is that women in the country were enjoying more freedoms and educational opportunities before 1979. Since the invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban control, those freedoms were stripped away and in its place abusive restrictions became normal procedure until the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Since the invasion, the progress toward more freedom for women has been slow but noticeable.
What is interesting to note in the timelines below is that Vietnam was unstable and volatile early in the last century but is now is relatively steady with economic opportunities. Afghanistan is just the opposite. The country was relatively sound early in the last century but was thrown into turmoil later on and into the current age.
Another commonality with both wars was the formation of resistance fighters. One fought against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, the Mujahideen, while the other, The Viet Cong, the communist organization in Vietnam, waged war against US and other NATO forces. Both civilian populations played a part in accepting or covertly disrupting operations. Both wars, especially before 2001, were proxy wars funded by superpower money and weapons, sometimes masked and filtered through their allies. The initial social and tribal readings by intelligence analysts underestimated local politics and influence by local leaders in both wars. The Soviets misread the conviction of the Mujahideen and the influence of Islam throughout the nation. In addition, the PDPA, the communist leadership, was never as unified as the Soviet Politburo leaders were led to believe before invading on the request of Afghanistan PM Amin. As with Vietnam, the diplomatic and government phenomenon of mission creep occurred for the Soviet military, the Soviet army initially occupied the country to protect cities and installations. Over time, the army, composed of reservists and regulars, began to engage in combat missions that expanded. Like the US in Vietnam, the Soviet Army had to fight a guerilla war they were not prepared to prosecute in the beginning. They were fighting against rebels who knew their own terrain.
There are differences between the present Afghanistan War and the Soviet Union invasion. The US war in Afghanistan is retaliation against aggression from elements inside the country on September 11th, 2001. The US force went in knowing the units had to fight in addition to securing cities and installations. Military leaders also had studied Afghanistan terrain, the climate, and tribal politics in addition to the lessons learned from the Soviet occupation. The US leadership didn’t say this at the time of the invasion, but the fight on terrorism was a long-term commitment to Afghanistan. That meant, if necessary, they were willing to stay past 10 years in the country to secure the region.
I can write for days concerning this topic. If you have any comments or notes, please post them. I am looking forward to reading other ideas about this topic.
1919-Afghanistan regains independence from British occupying forces.
1933-Zahir Shah becomes King and Afghanistan remains a monarchy for the next four decades.
1953-General Mohammed Daud becomes prime minister with King Shah a figure-head and implements many social reforms. Gen. Daud asks for help from the Soviet government.
1956-Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev agrees to aid Afghanistan and the countries become allies. Daud’s reforms include women attending university and working.
1963-Daoud’s social reforms continue agitating the conservative religious community.
1965-The Afghan communist party forms.
1973-The former PM Daud seizes power in a coup, deposes King Shah and declares a republic
1978-PM Daud is overthrown and killed by the leftist People’s Democratic Party during a coup. Hufizullah Amin wins a power struggle, becomes president. The People’s Democratic Party (PDPA) struggle for power. 1979-The Soviet Union occupies country at the request of Afghanistan’s communist party leaders.
1980-With occupying Soviet troops supplying power, Party Leader Babrak Kamal becomes the countries leader.
Other Significant Dates
1980-Afghan Army soldiers defect to Mujahideen rebel force, led by Ahmad Massoud.
1980-US and other nations supply rebel forces.
1986-US supplies stinger missiles to rebels to shoot down Soviet air power.
1988-Last of the Soviet troops leave Afghanistan.
1996-Taliban seize control of Afghanistan and carry out harsh Islamic doctrine controls.
9-9-2001-Massoud assassinated by suicide bombing.
9-11-2001-Terrorist attacks on US Soil.
2001-US and Great Britain launch invasion of country after it refuses to hand-over Osama Bin Laden, the master mind of the 9/11 attacks on US soil.
2001-Taliban ousted from power.
2004-Democratic elections held in country, electing Hamid Karzai as President.
2012– Continued US and NATO presence in the region. Karzai still in power. Taliban force strength reduced but still launches attacks from mountainous region bordering Pakistan.
Vietnam Timeline-Comparison Timeline
1919-Ho Chi Minh emerges after WW I and tries to petition Woodrow Wilson for Self Determination
1940-Japan invades Vietnam. 1941-Ho Chi Minh organizes pro independence league. 1945-Japan surrenders. Minh declares independence and unites all French colonial provinces to form Vietnam.
1946-National Chinese, French, and Viet Minh struggle for control of the Viet Territory. 1946-Beginning of First Vietnam War between French and Viet Minh. China and USSR back Viet Minh. US back French to stop the spread of communism.
1954-Viet Minh defeat French at Dien Bien Phu, leading to Geneva negotiations diving Vietnam at the 17th Parallel.
1955-1956-Emperor Bao Dai is forced from power by Ngo Dinh Diem. He declares himself president and gains support from US. US sends advisors
1960-National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) forms to fight against US Forces and President Diem. 1963-US supports military Coup against President Diem. Diem’s murder during the coup leads to a number of successive leaders.
1964-Gulf of Tonkin Resolution give President Johnson war powers. 1965-US Combat Troops arrive in Vietnam (Second Vietnam War). 1968-Tet offensive launched by Ho Chi Minh and Viet Cong.
1969– Ho Chi Minh dies. 1973-Nixon and Kissinger negotiate peace treaty. US withdraws a majority of troops. 1974-President Ford balks at sustaining aid to South Vietnam Forces. 1975-Viet Nam unified under communist rule after taking Saigon, which they rename Ho Chi Minh City.
1978-Vietnam invades Cambodia, trying to take over from the Khmer Rouge. Tensions with China increase.
1986-Vietnam revises strategy and commits to social and market reforms. 1995-Diplomatic relations normalized between US and Vietnam.
2010/2011-Academic year-More than 14,800 students studies at US colleges and universities. 2012– Trade between US and Vietnam continue to increase.