War Without End
August 8, 2018 5:29 AM   Subscribe

"It is beyond honest dispute that the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] did not achieve what their organizers promised, no matter the party in power or the generals in command. Astonishingly expensive, strategically incoherent, sold by a shifting slate of senior officers and politicians and editorial-page hawks, the wars have continued in varied forms and under different rationales each and every year since passenger jets struck the World Trade Center in 2001. They continue today without an end in sight, reauthorized in Pentagon budgets almost as if distant war is a presumed government action." This is the story of one of the survivors of America's seventeen years and counting in Afghanistan, Specialist Robert Soto of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Infantry, and the year he spent at a remote outpost in the Korengal Valley.

Not gonna say much else about this, other than to note my belief that we owe it to Soto and the others we sent abroad to fight and die in our names to hear their stories, whatever our own politics — and to SMDH at the obscene richness of this material appearing in the New York Times, whose commissioning editors have presumably failed to recognize themselves in the shade Chivers throws at "editorial-page hawks."
posted by adamgreenfield (27 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
the obscene richness of this material appearing in the New York Times, whose commissioning editors have presumably failed to recognize themselves in the shade Chivers throws at "editorial-page hawks."
Just a quick note to point out that this is appearing in the NYT Magazine, so the "commissioning editors" have nothing to do with the Opinion section. So the irony might not be quite as delicious as you imagine. The Times is a big ship.
posted by neroli at 5:58 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


In October of 2001 I was one of 10,000 people who marched in New York City to beg the government not to make war on Afghanistan. "Our grief is not a cry for war," was one of our messages. Similar marches took place in Washington DC (20,000 people) and San Francisco (10,000 people), and other marches took place in other countries. It was obvious to me even then both that the nation-coming-together swell of patriotism we'd been seeing was about to sour into nationalism (as I told a friend two days after the attacks, "I'm afraid that waving the flag is going to turn into waving the flag at someone"), and that attacking the nation of Afghanistan was an overkill response to an attack from a small guerilla terrorist group.

The government ignored all of those expressions of the will of the people - even the very people who had been attacked - and went to war anyway.

I have been repeatedly disappointed both by the government's actions post-9/11, and by my fellow citizens' actions. That was the first disappointment. It has left me with the feeling that the rest of the country sees my hometown as nothing more than a convenient prop for performative patriotism, and that there are several people who have no qualms about exploiting the worst day of my life for their own personal advancement.

A plague on all their houses.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:52 AM on August 8 [25 favorites]


Countless people died, and countless people will continue to die, but it generated a lot of value for shareholders.
posted by SansPoint at 7:08 AM on August 8 [14 favorites]


And to reiterate: My curses are for the generals and policymakers, and not people like Robert Soto. Soto was multiply exploited - his natural passion for his country that drove him to service, his status as a New Yorker, his status as a survivor of the attacks.

I now have Tom Waits' song Hell Broke Luce in my head:
Listen to the general every goddamn word
How many ways can you polish up a turd
...
How is it that the only ones responsible for making this mess
Got their sorry asses stapled to a goddamn desk
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


David went to Afghanistan three times, in 2002, 2007, and 2011, and once to Iraq in 2005. We live near Fort Bragg, NC, and I've seen so many of these soldiers, and their spouses and kids at home. I've known paratroopers, combat engineers, Special Forces, so many people who have dedicated their lives to protecting their country. (Ironic quotes deleted. They are sincere.) So many lives just pissed away over there, some ours, untold numbers of theirs, and for nothing.

NOTHING
posted by corvikate at 7:50 AM on August 8 [10 favorites]


Restrepo and Korengal are both really excellent and I recommend them both!

It makes me angry how few people making decisions about military involvement have any actual standing or experience or skin in the game (beyond defense contracts) to understand the consequences. My brother was 7 when we invaded Afghanistan and not quite 10 when we invaded Iraq, and now he's in the middle of the desert in the US southwest training for their eventual deployment, probably to Afghanistan. None of this needs to be happening. We don't need platitudes and early boarding for uniformed service members and sham parades. We need leaders who are diplomacy-minded, who understand the complexity of foreign policy, who don't want to be colonizers for corporations, who understand the value of life in and out of the United States.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:11 AM on August 8 [16 favorites]


This goes back further than 2001 though - we've been meddling in/perpetuating war in Afghanistan since the late 70s - our shortsighted attempts to stop the country from becoming Communist led directly to us arming the Mujahideen which led to the rise of the Taliban, etc etc. That was 40 years ago.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:12 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Seeing as how this is a generation ship now, here's a wee* bit of perspective, context, and history.


* additional info

As always, the legacy of empire has been constant ongoing conflicts and a never peace

Afghanistan: The Legacy of the British Empire. A Brief History
posted by infini at 9:13 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I know well two beautiful men who returned from tours in Afghanistan. One continues to serve in the military in a non-combat capacity. He is a little twitchy, but the tell for me is his inability to tolerate gentle intimacy. Even holding his hand, he can tolerate for only a few seconds before unconsciously pulling away.

The second man, he’s.... if you were to take a lightbulb and dip it in latex, and then after that hardened, smashed the lightbulb within. All of the form of being pulled together, but just shards inside.

There’s everything they experienced and eveything they witnessed and the PTSD and a brain so sloshed by concussive damage (bother theirs and ours) that it’s close to impossible to stay focused well enough to be able to stay within the mindfulness and cognitive actions that help.

May everyone who has been responsible for the continuation of this monstrosity lie soon, unmourned, in unmarked graves.
posted by Silvery Fish at 9:34 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]




A friend of mine signed up for the Army way back in the late 1990's, was out by 9/11 and was deployed to Iraq in 2005 or so because apparently if you'd ever been in the Army they can drag you back and force you to fight in Iraq anytime they want.

He left more than a few marbles behind and has been unable to function well since returning. Due to the nature and expression of his mental damage he was discharged less than honorably and as a result gets no benefits and no assistance with his mental problems. As far as the US Army is concerned he's an embarrassment to be swept under the rug and forgotten.

Just another casualty of the war.

I can't help but think that if Trump just literally signed over every US possession and interest in the middle east to Putin it'd be better than continuing what's going on. There is no peace with honor, there is no minimizing the damage. America has done unforgivable damage to the entire region and is continuing to do unforgivable damage and the longer my nation stays involved in any capacity the worse it will get.

Lift all the sanctions, pull out all the American soldiers, and just stop meddling over there. Take in 100% of the refugees seeking asylum, we made them so they're our responsibility. But no more bombs, no more sanctions, no more trying to influence things, no more soldiers, no more America in the Middle East.

It is self evident that America is incapable of doing anything there but spreading further misery.
posted by sotonohito at 11:07 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I went through the Bangor, ME airport about 2005, and it was just packed with servicepersons shipping out for deployment, They looked so young. ( I was in my late 30's then). And it was a solemn thought that some of them would not come back. We are asking quite a lot of them, and the least we can do is have a coherent and reality-based goal for a war.
posted by thelonius at 12:30 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I met someone from Cajun Country, Louisiana, who enlisted because he literally had no other resources to go and he was a young, healthy, white man. He was really intelligent and knew that the US military and imperialism was a sham, but he felt he didn't have many options, and I think he was in his early 20s. He told us horrific stories of how the bootcamps were really abusive and absolutely didn't give a shit about his injuries or his health, and I think that is a tell-tale sign of not only how awful the military-industrial complex is, but also how meaningless this war without an end is that people's lives are just being used up for it.

I'm from a city with the largest Afghani population, and I didn't even know we had Afghani people until 2001 as well, since I was 10 years old and trying and struggling to be aware. I didn't go to school with any Afghani-American children that I knew of, since our city was segregated based on class and racial lines, even though it has been reported in the media for being a 'very' integrated city. Lies really.

I sometimes feel like I want to love this country, but I feel fraught with how much blood has been shed for this kind of society. But I think nationalism is its own sort of poison, and growing up where patriotism was at an all time high after 9/11, even though anyone could point out that the War in Iraq had nothing to do with Saudi terrorists...so I refrain.

I think what's more honest is that, I like the privileges that comes with being a US citizen, and in a way, I don't know how to not feel complicit in a country does so much awful based on that, especially with the horrendous mistreatment of all the asylum seekers and undocumented folks. I think the most important thing to do is acknowledge my privileges with that, and work against the axis of oppressions that we all are complicit in, the best we can.
posted by yueliang at 12:39 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Very well written piece. I hope he turns this into a book.

We are fighting the longest war in American history, and it's amazing how rarely most Americans discuss it.

(I work in higher ed, and the war rarely comes up.)
posted by doctornemo at 1:43 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Looks like you're in luck, doctornemo: This article is adapted from ‘‘The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq,’’ published by Simon & Schuster.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:22 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


This goes back further than 2001 though - we've been meddling in/perpetuating war in Afghanistan since the late 70s - our shortsighted attempts to stop the country from becoming Communist led directly to us arming the Mujahideen which led to the rise of the Taliban, etc etc.

And somewhat more directly, as well, to the early prominence of a guy named Osama bin Laden.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:29 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Bush and company. literally predicted the Iraq war would last a week. When asked what they would do if it lasted a month, they laughed. I knew we were screwed when they outlined their plan for needless "shock and awe", which was simply to bomb all of the country's infrastructure to dust the minute before occupying it.
posted by xammerboy at 7:22 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


This article is adapted from ‘‘The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq,’’ published by Simon & Schuster.

(It's by C. J. Chivers, for those who don't RTFA.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:02 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


When asked what they would do if it lasted a month, they laughed

And they forced into retirement any generals who told them they were wrong
posted by thelonius at 11:34 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


It has left me with the feeling that the rest of the country sees my hometown as nothing more than a convenient prop for performative patriotism

New Yorker elite liberals/not "real Americans" when alive, salt of the earth workers who we must respect by bombing anywhere desired when dead.

But the long travails to actually get decent medical care for 9/11 responders made that explicit.
posted by jaduncan at 6:37 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Countless people died, and countless people will continue to die, but it generated a lot of value for shareholders.

Did it? People say this stuff but apart from a few defence contractors and logistics operators like KBR, nobody made money off this.
posted by atrazine at 2:28 PM on August 9


Doggerel:

we'll welcome our troops home,
again and again.

Welcome home, welcome home,
oh, please, welcome home.
posted by mule98J at 2:37 PM on August 9


Someone up-thread mentioned the documentary Restrepo, which is excellent, and I also very much recommend Junger's book War. Probably the book that best captured that experience (written by a journo) that I've ever read (I was not in the Korengal Valley but I did a combat tour elsewhere in Afghanistan).

One of the things that I always think about when people talk about the seemingly endless amount of time we've had troops on the ground there is that even before we rolled in in late 2001, there had been more or less continuous fighting there since the 1970's. That is generations of folks who have grown up with war as a fact of life.

I'd like to think our impact (both as a country and for me personally) has been more positive than negative, but it's also hard not to look back and think about opportunities missed and things that could have been done differently (ie abandoning the country after the Russians left, not supporting Massoud enough and/or listening to his warnings, most of our dealings with Pakistan, getting bogged down in Iraq, the list goes on). But hindsight is always 20/20, and the world is a complicated place.

I think the main thing we can do as citizens is stay informed, stay engaged, and vote accordingly. And be glad that even with the myriad of issues we face at home, at least we haven't been systemically fighting each other for 40+ years.
posted by Man Bites Dog at 2:45 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


at least we haven't been systemically fighting each other for 40+ years.

Give it time.
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:23 AM on August 10


People say this stuff but apart from a few defence contractors and logistics operators like KBR, nobody made money off this.

In early 2006, I left active duty with the U.S. Army and was hired by a contractor that, three years previously, had about two dozen permanent employees and existed mostly to link up retired EOD techs with temporary gigs in the southern U.S. My job was to expand support of company operations in Iraq, which had turned from "link up retired EOD techs with temporary gigs in Iraq for a few months" to "provide security for those EOD techs in Iraq for a few months" to "provide security and logistical support for other customers in Iraq for as long as the contracts keep coming" to "provide security and logistical support for other customers in the Middle East if we can scrape them up" to "fuck it, we're a global provider now". I expanded those operations from about 800 people to more than 5,000, and we were only the plurality of the company.

In late 2008, the U.S. Army called me back to active duty. The last thing I did for that company was deliver a proposal to provide security to the U.S. Embassy in three Central American countries, employing more people on that single contract than the entire company employed on the day I first showed up to work. Since then, that company has split off several subsidiaries, merged with a competitor, and been sold twice. I personally made six figures off that job, which only existed because of the shameful war in Iraq, and I was a middle manager who was on the books for thirty months.

"a few defence contractors and logistics operators" is a lot of people, and a lot of money.
posted by Etrigan at 6:51 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]


Afghani population,
Just a note that Afghani is currency, the people are Afghan.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 6:23 PM on August 10


the people are Afghan.

this might be specific to the English language
posted by infini at 3:00 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


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