August 11, 2012


The husband and I watched Restrepo the other night.  I sat there numb with a choke in my throat the whole time.  From the moment the captain said, "When they told me I was going to the Korengal Valley, I didn't read anything up on it, I didn't want to, I wanted to go in there with an open mind..." until I fell asleep that night.

I thought about how many units this has happened to.  The willfully ignorant -- purposefully ignorant -- commander comes into an area, tells the "elders" to forget how things were done under the old unit and that this time, this time I will fix things.  And we will have cooperation and harmony and win your hearts and minds.  So we use whoever we can get to translate important policies -- my husband made the analogy that it would be like if the Germans invaded backwater Alabama and used Quebecois translators to talk to the natives --and hope that our message is being accurately conveyed.  Which it's absolutely not, because there is way too much cultural baggage that gets in the way of the words.  So some of them die, and some of us die, a year later the remaining guys breathe a sigh of relief and go home, and a new group of guys shows up, tells the "elders" to forget how things were done last year, and this year, this year it will work.

For a decade, we have been reinventing the wheel.  Led by people who decided not to study wheel-building because they thought their good intentions and gut feelings could guide them better than centuries of history and anthropology could.  

And the men under them died defending a valley that a few years later the US decided wasn't really worth the effort anymore and ceded it back to the Afghans.  Those grizzled old crypt-keeper, henna-bearded ingrates who care more about dead cows than dead humans.

I am jaded and broken.

I will never forget sitting on the arm of the sofa in my hotel room on Fort Knox, cheering as the Iraqis pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein.  Back when I thought everyone in this world deep down wanted to live in freedom.  That the world deserved liberty.  That all men were endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I just didn't realize that what makes many Afghans happy is to be left alone to bugger little boys and honor-kill their daughters.

A decade later, what I see is that most Americans don't even want liberty.  Not true liberty.  They will trade liberty for security nearly every time.  And if we can't get more than 15% of Americans to vote for personal liberty and responsibility, how in the hell did we think we could export that desire to the Middle East?

I really believed that what my country and Army was doing was noble.  But I was willfully ignorant too, ignorant that the task was monumentally too difficult to ever succeed.

And not worth it.

Posted by: Sarah at 09:57 AM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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1 I agree with you so much on this. 

Posted by: Jenn at August 11, 2012 12:45 PM (LHZib)

2 This is how I've felt for seven years now. Welcome to my world. It's a bleak place. I'm scared.

Posted by: Amritas at August 11, 2012 01:34 PM (/MyR6)


For a decade, we have been reinventing the wheel.

For lots longer than that.  The period 1965-73 comes to mind.

Posted by: Glenmore at August 21, 2012 12:11 PM (h/mwe)

4 I really believed that what my country and Army was doing was noble. But I was willfully ignorant too, ignorant that the task was monumentally too difficult to ever succeed.
The likelihood of success never had anything to do with the nobility of the undertaking.  On a national policy level, if ever we had such a thing, we have no chance to succeed in Afghanistan and we never did.
But we can and do have small victories, and we find what nobility we can in a Sisyphean task well-executed.
I wouldn't feel much different deploying there now than I did in 2005--my task is to take care of my people, and lead them in trying to do a thing that can't be done.  We will succeed within the sphere of our influence; it's just a much smaller sphere than we'd like to believe.  That's as true for nations as it is for five-man teams.

Posted by: Sig at August 21, 2012 09:28 PM (DfX6p)



American history didn't begin with the Vietnam War.


I get where you're coming from, but the reason I can't think this way about it is because I served in Korea. Not in the war, of course, but standing where they stood with the hindsight view of the war 50 years later.

I spent time with Korean War veterans and know they, too, felt "jaded and broken" from their experience. I know enough of the war's history to know that many of our Korean War veterans and Americans in general felt, at the time, that Korea "was not worth it" and the "task was monumentally too difficult to ever succeed".

While north Korea continues to be a testament to what we failed to achieve now-60 years ago, South Korea is a testament to what our sacrifices and commitment did help achieve. The South Korea at the time that hostilities were suspended was radically different than the South Korea of today. The likelihood that South Korea would stand up as it has seemed unlikely when the war ended.

Of course, comparing the South Korea of today to the Korea of 60 years ago can't guarantee the same positive development for Iraq and Afghanistan, but it does remind us that changing the course of a country doesn't bear fruit right away. It may take a lifetime.

Posted by: Eric at March 19, 2013 05:14 AM (4yRgM)

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