It’s been a week since I posted on my blog. To me, it felt like a vacation. But the world kept on spinning, and life, for most of us, kept on going, too. It was a week of tragedy for a lot of people. Fires are still burning out west, flash floods swept away people in Tennessee, and Hurricane Ida left a path of destruction from the Gulf Coast up the eastern seaboard of the US. All of those were local catastrophes for America. Meanwhile, an entirely man-made disaster unfolded on the other side of the world. Western forces withdrew from Afghanistan after a twenty year occupation.
Afghanistan captivated my attention, but first, a disclaimer:
This post is not political, I have little to no faith in either polarized political party in Washington, D.C. beyond their mutual short-sighted self-interest. This post is my opinion as an American, a veteran, and a human being. The American occupation of Afghanistan signifies twenty years of tragedy and triumph, all of which may be swept away and rendered irrelevant in the days ahead. Worse yet, it may spur years of more brutality and oppression.
History shows a longer story, a deeper struggle.
There were lessons we should have studied before launching an invasion. European and American interests have rarely coincided with Afghan needs. But regimes from all over have been willing to squander money and human lives despite failing to understand the lives of the people there. Afghans, or their ancestors, have been resisting occupation since Alexander marched to India. The resilience of the Afghan people is legendary, it’s called the graveyard of empires for a reason. Its people possess an ability to endure and rebuild after outside occupation. But there is a growing fear of what comes next from the Taliban, and how much bloodshed comes with those changes.
I’ve never joined the bandwagon that said we should invade Afghanistan. I supported my brothers and sisters who were ordered to go there, but for me, their mission has always been dubious at best. Twenty years of failed nation building, lives lost, and a people abandoned is a legacy no one wanted. Yet, here we are, far from the promise of a free and democratic Afghanistan.
Those we left behind will haunt us forever.
We left people behind. America promised we wouldn’t. Some of those people are Americans, who we swore not to leave behind. Afghan allies and their families were left behind, even though we gave our oath not to leave them surrounded by those who wanted their blood. We left weapons and equipment behind, because taking it would have been too troublesome. This is not our finest hour.
Years from now, if there are years to be had, history will look back at this event differently. But right now, my emotions are raw over what I’ve seen and read about how American forces withdrew. A handful of honorable Americans risked life and limb to sneak some of our allies and their families out of Kabul under cover of darkness. I suspect Hollywood will make a movie about that eventually. That’s one way Americans deal with tragedy, I guess.
For me, the real tragedy isn’t that we withdrew from the country, and left it in the hands of people who hate us, our way of life and anyone who helped us or benefitted from a western presence. The real tragedy began twenty years ago, when we invaded Afghanistan.
The price is seldom paid by those who make the decisions.
Yes, toppling the Taliban was a good deed. Trying to rebuild Afghanistan so another generation of extremists didn’t grow up under their influence was noble, too. Neither has proved worth the price we’ve paid so far, or the bill we’ve yet to pay for ending our occupation. That bill will come in years yet to come, likely by people too young to know it’s coming. They didn’t start the fires, cause the weather, or invade another country.