This week we have watched the complete “undoing” of all that had been done by US troops in Afghanistan over the last twenty years. Within three days of our starting the withdrawal process (from a region some would argue that we never should have been in to begin with), the Taliban have quickly seized back control of the area and the proverbial shit has hit the fan.
Afghanistan has long been dubbed the Graveyard of Empires, but I am not going to pretend to understand the intricacies of such a layered and complex region like some of the armchair quarterbacks I have been listening to this week. The truth is, conflict is no stranger to the people of Afghanistan—they have been being invaded long before “Christ” was even a blip on our timeline. However, if the “powers that be” were truly interested in learning something from a more recent conflict, all they had to do was look to Russia for some enlightenment; but who knows, maybe they did and just weren’t that interested in being “enlightened.”
I live in NY. I remember watching in horror as the planes took down the Twin Towers. All Americans, no matter what your beliefs are currently about 9/11, were deeply affected by it. Of course, the logical reaction to all of those lives so tragically lost was to scream out for justice (as if justice could ever be attained for a loss so great). So when we were told by the US government that the Taliban not only assisted Osama Bin Laden in his evil plot but were also more than likely harboring him, most Americans were 100% behind the invasion of Afghanistan. In fact, according to a Gallup poll at the time, a whopping 88% of Americans were.
The real reasons as to why the US government wanted to invade Afghanistan (wars do generate a lot of money) we may never know; but you know what they say about a good crisis—never let one go to waste—and we never do. Post 9/11 I have heard a lot of different theories ranging from the logical to the downright insane, but if you do believe the narrative that we were invading Afghanistan purely to bring Bin Laden to justice, we lingered there for about ten years too long.
These days I am no longer as interested in the reasons as to why the government started the war in Afghanistan as I am about what we are going to learn from it (if anything), and what we are planning to do to help the innocent people whose lives are now in danger because they were sold a bag of goods by the US government—not to mention the brave women who are signing their death warrants by marching in the streets, united against the Taliban.
I am friends with a lot of veterans due to my involvement with a radio segment I used to produce called “2100 Hours” for Scott Ledger’s show, “Dangerous Conversation.” I have been a supporter of Veteran anti-war groups like Veterans for Peace and IVAW for many years, and my husband is in fact a Marine Corps veteran (although not a combat vet). He also happens to ride with a Marine Corps MC, so I have been exposed to many different viewpoints, not just the ones that reinforce my own.
One of the things that has been resonating with me this week, as I am sure it has with most Americans when it comes to the vets of these most recent wars is, “was their sacrifice worth it?” From the beginning of my involvement with VFP I have been listening to my Vietnam vet friends talk about the parallels between the war in Vietnam and the War on “Terror” in the Middle East. While this seems to be a new comparison in the media, veterans in the peace movement have been making it for years.
Now that this war seems to be coming to an end we are watching the chaos unfold in front of us nightly from the comfort of our living rooms. Rather than hopping on my soapbox and pretending to know things that I know nothing about, I have been asking my friends who served for their opinions. The following are just a few of them. I do not want to use names as it is not my place to do so.
Here are the thoughts from one of our friends who served in Iraq with the US Marine Corps:
“Although I believe we went in for the right reasons it was an epic failure on many fronts. I feel as though in some ways it was another Vietnam where politicians lied to the public to talk about how we were winning. In reality we were attempting to keep the Taliban at bay while training their forces to stand up for themselves and spending a shit ton of money equipping them, obviously that was an epic failure, in addition there is rampant corruption and a severe lack of logistics. There was no clear end state in mind, in my opinion and at some point we shifted the main effort and attention to Iraq before switching back to Afghanistan after the Sunni awakening. I retired because I didn’t want to deploy again for wars I knew at the time were unwinnable. This is not a popular view but I am not embarrassed to say it.”
While our friend is proud of his service, he feels terrible for the people of Afghanistan who put their trust in us, and he lives daily with the guilt that he has assimilated back into society far better than a lot of his friends, some of whom have committed suicide.
The following is from a friend of my husband who served in the US Marine Corps:
“This could have been handled better, it’s not like this was just something that was sprung on the US government. I also think there is something deeper going on. I believe there is a reason they did this so quickly and without thought, at least in our eyes. In my experience that’s never the case with the US government, yes even when Trump was in office, there’s always some backdoor hidden agenda. There is always something to gain or lose despite us, despite an individual’s sacrifice or intention. As far as what is happening in Afghanistan, I think it’s fucked up, I think it was going to happen this way, either way. I don’t think the media or us have a good grasp of what is actually happening there. The Taliban is part of the Afghan people, the culture is more embedded into the Afghan people then we as Americans would like to admit, we look at them as the minority, I believe it’s the opposite. We are trying to influence a country where a small minority wants to be westernized. They took back control because they are the ones whose country we are in. As far as and feeling a certain type of way war is an extension of diplomacy and the US troops are the tools used, we were nothing but tools.” (sic)
The last group of thoughts are brutally honest and come from a good friend of mine a combat veteran who served in the US Army Infantry and was deployed to Northern Iraq. We met back in 2012 at a march that was organized to bring attention to the issue of suicide (approximately twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day), and while they were tough to read, he touched on something that many are just not quite prepared to admit.
“It’s become quite obvious that we could have done a better job planning and executing this drawdown and withdraw from Afghanistan. But I’ve seen some comments on social media disparaging the US Military in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Those comments are misguided at best. I don’t want to argue geopolitical issues. That’s not my specialty. But at the end of the day, the Afghan National Army (not all of them of course, but most) laying down their weapons and retreating is on them, not us. We provided them with the weapons and training for 20 years. And they have fallen to a numerically inferior force of religious extremists in just a few days.
“I feel really bad for the innocent people of Afghanistan who will now return to life under the thumb of the brutal Taliban. But don’t blame American soldiers for the atrocities that will come. At the end of the day, these cowards laid down their weapons instead of fighting to the death for the freedom of their women and children, let alone their country. To a man, I don’t know a single American I served with who wouldn’t fight to the bitter end. Who wouldn’t give up their life. Not just for our country, but for the innocent people of Afghanistan. In fact, I knew a couple who did just that. So, 20 years… Yeah, it was probably time to go. And yeah, perhaps the administration’s planning could have been better. But at the end of the day, that country will once again come under the control of the Taliban, not because we didn’t train them, not because we didn’t supply them, not because we weren’t willing to fight and die with them… but because they weren’t willing to fight for themselves. You might say that the phrase ‘freedom isn’t free’ is a tired cliché. And maybe it is. But it’s also true. Fucking pick up your weapons and earn it.
“I have other Veteran friends who keep asking “What was it all for?’ I don’t know, man. We joined up to fight. A lot of folks don’t like to say that out loud. We volunteered for combat arms, because we wanted to take the fight to the enemy, and at some level, to prove ourselves as warriors. We got to do that. And hopefully we did some good along the way. And now, for better or worse, it’s over. It’s time to move on with our lives. Easier said than done, I know. But we have to find a way to move on. Until the next one.”
“Until the next one”—and if history has taught us anything it’s that there will be a next one. Why is it that we never seem to learn from our past mistakes? Is it as simple as greed, or just wanting to prove oneself as a warrior? I don’t have the answers, but I do know—much like after Vietnam—this country is long overdue for a reckoning with its veterans. We keep sending our troops off to these wars and ignoring their issues when they return. We love to spew platitudes like “support the troops,” but when it comes to putting our hands in our pockets to fund programs that would actually support the troops, we are suddenly nowhere to be found.
Last Saturday I went to listen to my friend and Vietnam (Marine Corp) veteran Camillo “Mac” Bica speak at a local anti-war rally hosted by the North Country Peace Group. The North Country Peace Group has been standing on the same corner protesting the war since it began. On the opposite corner stands “The Setauket Patriots” (mostly Trump supporters) who have been countering the North Shore Peace groups message of love and compassion with one of hatred and vitriol for years. They claim to be pro veterans; however, Saturday, that did not stop them from shouting and heckling a man who served this country and carries with him the moral injuries to prove it. Mac heads up the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace and always speaks from the heart. He is also a published writer and Professor of Philosophy. Needless to say, I am fairly certain that he has done more good for this world than all of the “Patriots” combined.
I first heard Mac speak years ago on Memorial Day in the Village of Port Jefferson and we have been friends ever since. Like me he does not suffer fools kindly and our approach, or should I say reproach, of them is similar. I have lost all interest in trying to have conversations with people who hide behind flags and their blind nationalism as if those things somehow make them “more American” than the rest of us. As they called us Communists, Pacifists, Marxists and Socialists (all simultaneously), I had to wonder if they could even define any of those things; from the looks of that crew, I’d have to guess probably not. I also don’t think they realize that it was their president—President Trump—who sat down and made this deal with the Taliban but, much like intelligence, facts have never been their friend.
Standing on that corner, Mac answered the question that I have heard asked so many times this week, “Was the sacrifice worth it?” As always, his answer was brave as well as honest. “No, it wasn’t.” As brutal as that may sound, I agree with him. To believe that this was all worth it, that the deaths, the suicides, the lives ruined by this war, would somehow give validity to it…
If we truly do not wish to continue repeating the mistakes of our past, we must be brave enough to admit them—and not only admit them, but learn from them. Until we do, we are destined to continue on this path of war, rinse, repeat.
Author: Cynthia Tarana is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.
Contact Cynthia at firstname.lastname@example.org