We should have learned a lot from the Vietnam War. It showed how ill-suited we are to engineer “regime change.” We signed on with a very corrupt, French-speaking Catholic minority government. When we tried to change horses to a series of generals, things got worse, not better. Vietnam also made it clear that pouring U.S. troops into a place like that doesn’t change the situation on the ground, and it eventually fractured our own society and wore out our own military.
Mr. Just’s protagonist gets it. It takes two deaths to teach him. The first is when he visits a village to inspect an aid project and faces a man carrying a dead woman in his arms. The second is when he is trying to find his way out of the jungle and has to kill a young boy who otherwise would have killed him.
This doesn’t mean the United States can’t interact with the rest of the world without causing damage or getting banged up itself. It simply means that we must make a mighty effort to understand the people with whom we are interacting, and, even more crucially, resist meddling in their affairs, particularly with military force, until we are absolutely certain we know what we are doing. In nearly all cases, that will mean we do not.