As the United States continues its withdrawal from the Afghan capital, social media has been filled with images of helicopters evacuating individuals from the US Embassy in Kabul.
It is a familiar image to some.
In 1975, photographer Hulbert van S took a now-famous photograph of people rushing into a helicopter on the roof of a house in Saigon at the conclusion of the Vietnam War.
Analysts and US lawmakers – Republicans and Democrats – are comparing the so-called fall of Saigon and the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.
How was the fall of Saigon?
The Vietnam War was a conflict between the communist government of North Vietnam, South Vietnam and its main ally the United States.
It was a long war, lasting nearly 20 years, costly for the United States, and deeply divisive among Americans.
The phrase “The Fall of Saigon” refers to the capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam by the communist forces of the Vietnamese People’s Army, also called the Viet Cong.
The Viet Cong captured Saigon on April 30, 1975.
There was a Cold War, with the north backed by the Soviet Union and other communist allies, and the south backed by Western forces – including hundreds of thousands of American troops.
The United States withdrew its army from South Vietnam in 1973, and two years later the country declared its surrender, after northern forces captured Saigon – later renaming it Ho Chi Minh City, after the late North Vietnamese leader.
The capture of the city, like Kabul, came much faster than the United States had expected.
In response, the United States abandoned its embassy in Saigon and evacuated more than 7,000 Americans, South Vietnamese and other foreign nationals by helicopter in a stampede known as Operation Repeated Wind.
Is the comparison with cable fair?
By its end, the Vietnam War had become unpopular in the United States, costing billions of dollars, and the lives of more than 58,000 Americans.
The fall of Saigon was, to some, a blow to Americas standing on the world stage.
In the decades that followed, the term Vietnam Syndrome emerged – signifying the reluctance of American voters to commit to military force abroad.
A number of US politicians have pointed out similarities between Saigon and Kabul.
“This is Saigon Joe Biden. A fiasco on the international stage will never be forgotten,” Elise Stefanik, the Republican House convention chairwoman, wrote on Twitter.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, last month dismissed the comparison.
“I don’t see this as what events are revealing now. I may be wrong, who knows, but you can’t predict the future, but … the Taliban are not like the North Vietnam Army. The situation is different,” Milly told reporters.
Regardless of the symbolism of it, there are major differences between the two.
The fall of Saigon came two years after the withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam. The evacuation of America from Kabul, currently, is taking place at a time when the United States was already preparing to leave Afghanistan.
While the political consequences for former US President Gerald Ford were limited in 1975, it is unclear what impact current President Biden will feel, despite the war’s unpopularity at home.
“I have some doubt that this will hurt Biden,” says Christopher Phelps, associate professor of American studies at the University of Nottingham. “People will view what happened as a loss, perhaps a shame – and it was his decision, right or not.”