Leaving Afghanistan, finally

I understand why some people object to the U.S. leaving Afghanistan and ending its military involvement there. When my older brother Mike was killed in Vietnam on September 22, 1968, I felt the same way. I desperately wanted his death to have meaning, and the war machine had convinced us that the only way for it to have meaning was to destroy the Communists and force the American way of life into every single Vietnamese household.

That year, 1968, was the worst for the U.S. forces. According to the website, https://thevietnamwar.info/vietnam-war-casualties/, 16,899 American service members were killed in the war in 1968, fully 29 percent of the 58,220 casualties there since June 1956. The Tet Offensive, launched by North Vietnam during the Lunar New Year in January 1968, represented the largest military operation by either side up to that point, and the American war machine kicked into high gear in response. The military draft started inducting thousands more young men. By the spring of 1968, both of my older brothers, Frank and Mike, found themselves in basic training at Fort Ord, California. After completing basic and then more specialized training elsewhere, Mike shipped off to Vietnam and Frank was sent to what was then West Germany.

The war machine worked hard to convince us that victory was within grasp. Although I did not follow news closely then as a high school student, I was always surprised by the reports of battles in Vietnam claiming that dozens of North Vietnamese were killed and three Americans had suffered bruises and sprained ankles. I am exaggerating, of course, but much of the reporting at that time made it sound like the American soldiers seemed invulnerable and their enemies unable to shoot straight. After all, we had been raised watching movies in which one Good Guy with a handgun could defeat a dozen or more Bad Guys armed with rifles, machine guns and artillery.  This was true whether in Western cowboy flicks or World War II battle movies. One Good Guy could always stamp out Evil. And we all knew that the Americans were the Good Guys

As I said, after Mike’s death I wanted to go to Vietnam and kill people. Even my father, way too old for military service, boasted how he could enlist to help lead the charge to finally put a stop to the war. Mike’s death would have meaning because the North Vietnamese would learn the error of their ways, abandon Communism and wave American flags as they cheered their liberators.

But after his funeral and several more months of almost daily casualty figures in the news, I came to realize how many thousands of other families were suffering the shock of seeing two soldiers in dress uniforms standing at the front door, there to inform them that their son had been killed. And for what? So that the Vietnamese would provide a safe marketplace for American products, so they would drink Pepsi and watch Gilligan’s Island? If the American lifestyle were so superior, then why were the Vietnamese fighting so hard to resist it?

Back to Afghanistan. The U.S. started this war 20 years ago to root out the terrorists who had attacked us on 9/11. Fair enough. But then the war machine, cheered on by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, whose former company Halliburton stood to rake in many billions of dollars, launched the lie that Iraq was somehow responsible, and that Iraq was secretly creating Weapons of Mass Destruction (i.e., nuclear warheads), and we went to war there too. We sent thousands of troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq, originally to root out Al-Qaida but then to stay to stabilize and “give meaning” to the deaths of the Americans who had been killed, by bringing American democracy and our way of life to these far-off lands. 

It is time to stop trying to impose the American culture on other nations that have their own set of values. The rapidity with which Afghanistan fell in August 2021, even after the U.S. devoted so many years and trillions of dollars training Afghan police and military, proves that they had no desire to adopt the American lifestyle. Although we do not care for (and are actually repulsed by) some aspects of the Afghan culture, is for them to decide how they will live, not us. 

It was time to leave.

About pwandersen

Patrick W. Andersen's debut novel, Second Born, won critical acclaim for its reimagining of the life of Jesus as he grew up with his brothers and sisters in Sepphoris. His new novel, Acts of the Women, tells stories of how women, in the decades after the crucifixion, helped give birth to what eventually became Christianity.
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