One of the more interesting comments heard on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is that it may turn out to be the Soviet Union's Vietnam. The Afghan guerrillas do, after all, control much of the countryside. They will probably continue to resist the puppet government and the Soviet divisions, neither of which have popular support.
Sound familiar? Well, unfortunately, there's a crucial difference, not just between Afghanistan and Vietnam, but between the Soviet Union and the United States. Put simply, the U.S.S.R. will smash the opposition by whatever means necessary, with none of the indecision, none of the qualms we suffered. A free society may do some fairly brutal things in an effort to stamp out armed resistance. Wars are brutal by definition. But we learned in Vietnam that war looks even more brutal if one side is a high-tech, heavy-weight society and the other side wears pajamas.
The key word, of course, is "looks." Vietnam looked increasingly unacceptable as it came into the American living room night after night on the network news. But Soviet citizens won't ever see their tanks leveling Afghan villages. They won't see any atrocities or hear any criticism of Soviet foreign policy. If the prime minister of Sweden ever calls their actions in Afghanistan immoral, it'll never reach the home screen in Minsk or Pinsk. No politician in Moscow will rise to challenge publicly the leadership, no students will demonstrate in front of TV cameras, no Russian movie actress will visit the enemy and report back to her fans on how nice they really are.
So if we're wistfully hoping that the big, bad bear will be tamed by the Afghan experience, we've obviously been looking in a mirror. There's no ABC-ski, no Columiba Bolshevik System working on the Soviet conscience. It should be remembered that in the Soviet Union, they're still watching reruns of "Stalin Knows Best."