Saturday, September 1, 2012

Time to end this endless war

Defense Secretary Panetta felt compelled recently to “remind” Americans we are at war. He didn’t have to remind the family of Command Sgt. Major Kevin Griffin of Laramie. An Afghan trained by our soldiers to police his own country so that we can leave in 2014, killed Griffin.

The war in Afghanistan started more than a decade ago on October 7, 2001. World War II, the last necessary war the nation fought, lasted one day over six years. World War I, the “war to end all wars,” lasted only four years. But America has been trudging through Afghanistan for 10 years and 10 months.

Viet Nam veteran John Kerry, now a Senator, first served heroically and then worked to end that war. In 1971 Kerry asked a question that haunted a generation, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Forty years later America is again asking both men and women to die for another mistake.

Why are there no widespread protests of the continuing war even though 75% of us are opposed? We suffer “Apocalypse Now” syndrome. Remember this dialogue?

Kilgore (Robert Duvall): Smell that? You smell that?
Lance (Sam Bottoms): What?
Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that.
Kilgore: I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

Americans are addicted to war. They like it. When there’s no money for anything else, they’ll find a way to finance a war. But the warmongers, if no one else, learned their lesson in Viet Nam. If the children of Americans are conscripted to carry the guns and all of us are taxed to pay the costs, people protest loudly. Today’s warriors are volunteers. The cost, a billion dollars per week, goes on the credit card. People who have to contribute their children or their money to a “mistake” tend to get angrier faster. Those who don’t have to sacrifice anything will tolerate a longer war.

Also the Viet Nam era had what this generation lacks, a few politicians with courage. When the Johnson administration made up a story to persuade congress to authorize the war, Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon was one of only two senators who opposed the so-called Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing LBJ to send massive numbers of soldiers to war. He spoke out against the war knowing that was an unpopular position. In 1968 Morse lost to Republican Robert Packwood, who criticized him for opposing the war.

Arkansas Senator William Fulbright was another. Fulbright not only voted for the Tonkin Gulf resolution, he sponsored it. Fulbright finally realized he had not been told the truth, that the war was a mistake. He had the courage to stand against his own party and worked to end the war.

But there hasn’t been a single demonstration of courage on this war in either the executive or legislative branches. Admittedly, finding the courage to oppose a war is easier when the folks back home are protesting. But if courage were easy, everybody would be courageous. The party line is easy, but always following it is not a “profile in courage.”

Few members of congress would risk less by exercising political courage than Wyoming’s senators. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso could serve this nation by calling for an end to the war. Even though they initially supported the war, they must know it has lasted too long, taken too many lives and continues to cost us money we don’t have. Imagine the impact if one of their standing said, “Enough is enough. The value of continued death has been outlived.”

Unless some politician finally exhibits the courage of Morse or Fulbright, we’ll spend another 100 billion dollars before Obama’s 2014 withdrawal. More Americans alongside countless (literally countless) Afghan children, women and men will die.

Again, the United States finds itself asking someone’s son, daughter, husband, or wife to be the last to die for another mistake. That will haunt America for yet another generation. Unfortunately, we’ll probably get over it again.


  1. Kerry's quote referred to Vietnam in comparison to Iraq. Iraq was a mistake because Bush (mostly Cheney) intentionally misidentified it as being in pursuit of nuclear weapons.

    I agree that Afghanistan is an unsustainable occupation, but I disagree with the notion that it was an unnecessary war or that the American public as a whole is addicted to war. First, the Taliban were in collusion with Al Qaeda, providing them with shelter in exchange for their financial help and their "foreign legion" of, well, sadistic thugs who kept the Afghan public on their knees. The WTC/Pentagon incident was one of a number of campaigns against American citizens that Al Qaeda waged. They could not be uprooted or even placed on the defensive without an invasion of Afghanistan. The difficulty in building a sustainable future in Afghanistan is that it has historically rebelled against any sort of strong central government, settling instead for a fragmented tribal system of what amounts to warlordism. What provides social stability in that model are the paternalistic religious doctrines that secular, materialistic westerners recoil from. Our latest attempt at "nation building," as it is called, backs a national government that is infamous for its venality, because it is the one sizable bloc of the Afghan polity that is receptive to foreign intervention and aid. We know that eventually we will have to abandon this regime to its own devices but, as the continuous green on blue violence indicates, it is more likely to fall apart than stand for long. When we pull out Afghanistan will become, once again, a failed state of brutality and lawlessness, which is precisely what brought the Taliban to power in the first place after the communist regime degenerated into chaos, promising to restore order through harsh religious doctrine.

    As westerners, we have to be willing to accept the fact that Islamic societies prefer to mix religion with government-- they very passionately prefer it-- rather than aspire to the kind of hedonistic materialism that dominates western societies. We have to accept the fact that what we often oversimplify as "religious fundamentalism" is really the foundation of contemporary Islamic culture in nearly all Islamic countries. We have to learn to work cooperatively with it instead of demonizing it in the same way that Al Qaeda demonizes us. We have to see traditional organized religion as a potential friend, not an implacable foe, because at its core traditional religious values champion integrity and decency over profligacy and corruption. We also have to, through humility rather than dependence on military force, accept the fact that other societies are going to reject our values as false and even evil. The things that we believe in, the thoughts that we even attempt to impose on each other in civil debate within the country, are not necessarily universal or even "right" or "the truth." It is our moral conceit that our civilization is the best civilization that is something of an American addiction, not our military aggression, which is easily exhausted.

    1. Excellent remarks. Thanks for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully. And I don't disagree tat we needed to go in to disrupt Al Qaeda but that should have been the end of the mission. The troops should have been home by Christmas of 2001.