Never Start a Land War in Asia

Just FYI: Afghanistan in the news again–you know, that country whose most famous gross domestic product is blankets. I always wondered how Osama managed to fund his sprawling terror operation and then it dawned on me that trade in afghans must be really lucrative. It seems like every American household has one draped over the couch. In fact, my in-laws have several that are just for decorative purposes. If I want to keep warm, I have to use the ratty blanket stuffed in the closet, as afghans are off limits for conserving heat. 

To be honest, I’m not sure what the difference between a blanket and an afghan is and I’m not sure why American troops were in Afghanistan for twenty years. You know a war is a bit dated if it gives you feelings of nostalgia, but, in a strange way, it kind of does. When Osama decided to send his minions into the Twin Towers and Pentagon, I was in eleventh grade English class. My brother had just finished college and was working in Washington DC. The teacher said she needed to tell the class something, that there had been bombings (turns out, it was hijacked planes) in New York and Washington. I remember getting called out of class so my mom could talk to me on the phone and tell me my brother was okay. I remember walking down the stairs to the school cafeteria that day and a girl who I didn’t know just turned to me and asked, “Do you think we’re going to war?”

And that camaraderie with complete strangers extended over the whole country. For once we weren’t democrats or republicans or city dwellers or country folks–we were Americans, united, and hellbent on avenging those who died. We wanted that lunatic with a turban on his head, dead. And it’s that fleeting unity that I look back on with nostalgia. 

At the time, everyone rallied around our president as he stood in the rubble with a bullhorn, and I suspect that even the most anti-war among us watched proudly as we lit up the Afghan sky with bunker busters. 

Now, there’s a certain irony to the ending of the war in Afghanistan: once again it’s uniting us. Republicans and even democrats are asking existential versions of WTF!?–Why are people falling from planes? Why are we negotiating with the Taliban–the bad guys, remember? How were we defeated by thugs in Toyota Tacomas? (We have tanks, big tanks.) Why did 2,000 American soldiers have to die? At least, these are some of the questions running through my mind.

Personally, I don’t blame Bush for going over there, and I don’t blame Biden for getting out. But it just seems sad. Sad for my classmates who served and came back physically or mentally scarred. And you can’t help but have a visceral reaction to desperate people clinging to the sides of cargo planes. And you can’t help but wonder, What was it all for? 

9 thoughts on “Never Start a Land War in Asia

  1. Hopefully, those that served there can take solace in the fact they kept terrorist at bay for twenty years. We needed to get out, but just up and leaving was not the way. Stranding citizens and allies was not the way. Good article.

  2. You answered your own question about why we went in in the first place: “we were Americans, united, and hellbent on avenging those who died.” But we went in without a clear mission, and with the example of the Soviets failing before us. Hubris, maybe? I do think some incremental gains were made – education for women and girls is a genie it’s going to be hard to put back in the bottle. There’s a whole generation of educated women, who have a better idea of what is possible. So – will we learn from this, and from Vietnam before?

    1. It is somewhat encouraging to see that protests against Taliban rule are already popping up. Those are some brave people who are willing to do that. Maybe the lost taste of freedom will spur more.

  3. I’ve been grappling with how I feel about this whole thing. It’s a weird swirl of emotions which altogether form some kind of a vague sense of sadness over a large plot of land inhabited by a people who mystify yet intrigue me. Most of us who went on regular combat patrols alongside the Afghan army and police forces, took for granted that the Taliban would take over again when we left (though I think most of us didn’t think we’d ever truly leave). Nonetheless, I feel much sadness watching the unraveling of something in which I invested a big part of myself and saw others lose their lives over, a feeling of failure and even shame. For the first time I think I might understand at least a little bit what it must’ve been like for the Vietnam vets.

    1. I can’t even imagine. All I know is you have nothing to be ashamed about. You served your country, protected people, and planted seeds of freedom. Even though the situation seems dire now, though seeds may yet sprout. Vietnam was a cluster but it’s a lot freer today than it was then.

  4. I read your title and immediately planned to make a Princess Bride reference in my comments. But, now it seems wrong {did it anyway, though, didn’t I?}. I don’t have words concise enough for this issue. It sucks.

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