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Vietnam, Not Afghanistan, Still Longest War: Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

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Alex Wong/Getty Images

Afghanistan hasn't become the U.S.' longest war; Vietnam still is, according to someone who should know, Richard Holbrooke, the Obama Administration's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who also served as a young American diplomat in Vietnam.

Holbrooke spoke with All Things Considered co-host Robert Siegel Monday (we'll provide a live link when it becomes available) and took issue with what he sees as a revisionist history being peddled by some in the media who are dating the start of Vietnam to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964.

President Lyndon Johnson got Congress to pass the resolution on what many historians consider the trumped-up pretext of a North Vietnamese attack on a U.S. warship.

HOLBROOKE: Just to be technical since I spent three and half years of my life in Vietnam, and we were taking casualties, and then I read the date that makes the longest war and I think to myself 'Gee, that's funny. I was in Vietnam a year and half before they started the war, according to these new journalistic reports.'

They are dating the war from the Gulf of Tonkin incident. And that simply isn't right. American casualties began no later than 1961.

To those who date the start of the Vietnam War to August 1964, Holbrooke had a defiant message.

HOLBROOKE: You want to tell that to the families of the people whose names are on the Vietnam War Memorial? The first names are from 1961, if I'm not mistaken. And the last are after 1973. And I think we should respect the sacrifice and risk everyone took in Vietnam.

Be that as it may (Afghanistan) is clearly the second longest war in American history. That's clear. That's something I personally predicted in columns in the Washington Post.

... Let me be very clear. I have always felt that the war in Afghanistan would be one of, if not, the longest war in American history. And I wrote that in the Washington Post in a column before I came into the government.

Having said that, it is not longer than the Vietnam War yet. And I hope it won't be. And it is simply a misstatement of history, an arbitrary trick to pretend it is.

The difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan, and I'm the only person I think who's had extensive experience in both, who's so deeply involved, is that Vietnam was not directly related to our national security interest in the way Afghanistan is. We're there because of 9/11. And that's a simple matter of fact.