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Notes from the Apocalypse

Afghanistan, 16 Years Later

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By Charles Morgan III

 

In 2001, gasoline cost $1.45 a gallon and eggs were 90 cents a dozen. Timothy McVeigh was executed for the Oklahoma City bombing. Dale Earnhardt died.

 

Americans knew nothing about iPhones, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or Gmail because they hadn’t been invented. There was little conversation about same-sex marriage, electric cars or legalized marijuana.

 

Then there was 9/11. Then there was the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan.

 

Jane, my youngest daughter, was seven years old in 2001. She graduated from college two years ago. Our country has been at war for 70 percent of her life.

 

The Afghanistan War has lasted longer than the Civil War, WWI and WWII all together.

 

Over the next 12 nights, Ken Burns is bringing the Vietnam War back to our living rooms. The PBS documentary will be an exhaustive 18-hour history of our involvement in Vietnam. The parallels between that catastrophic experience and the Afghanistan War are going to be remarkably unavoidable.

 

Sixteen years after we went to war in Afghanistan we are no closer to any kind of victory. We’re not at war with Afghanistan—their government is our partner. They are not good partners. It is a government that is not dependable or remotely democratic, and corruption is at the crux of their economic life. We’ve been funding them with the lives of our soldiers and with trillions of dollars.

 

In Afghanistan, it’s not even a civil war. It’s trickier than that. The enemies are a collection of Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, jihadists, numerous tribes and God knows who else. They are hard to identify and difficult to find. They’re scattered around Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

 

Some things are clear. The enemies are fiercely committed warriors who confidently defeated the British and the Russians. They are dedicated to causes for which they are willing to commit suicide. They have been fighting wars for centuries. They are killing our soldiers with weapons we gave them to defeat the Russians. They have an enormous home field advantage.

 

We’ve killed many of their fighters. But for every innocent person we’ve killed (collateral damage), we’ve created far more enemies—enemies who will have an enduring, passionate hatred for the United States.

 

Our country is war-weary. Sadly, this volunteer army is largely forgotten. The sacrifices made by our troops and their families are known to all of us. But as long as others are willing to make these sacrifices, the rest of America stays glued to their cell phones.

 

The Vietnam War had a compulsory draft. That kept the war in our minds and protests in the streets. Much of the countercultural revolution in the 1960s was due to the war. Knowing that men born between 1944 and 1950 could be forced into military service had a way of capturing people’s attention.

 

Whether it is arguments over the federal budget, climate change, health care policy, same-sex bathrooms, Russia, North Korea, President Trump’s tweets, seemingly endless hurricanes or Caitlyn Jenner and the Kardashians, there’s not much room for war coverage in the news.

 

We as a country are weary of war. Once again, old men (most of whom never served in this country’s armed forces) are sending youngsters to battle on the other side of the world. The blame can’t be laid in political terms on the Democrats or the Republicans. Just as in Vietnam, leaders in both parties are responsible.

 

One lesson we should have learned by now is to be careful anytime we decide to declare war. If you’re keeping score, the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs were not winning efforts. As long as crazed, suicidal humans are committed to strapping bombs to their bodies to blow people up, we’re not going to win a War on Terror.

 

It is time to support our incredibly brave troops and their families in the most meaningful way possible. It is time to bring them home.

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