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An Open Letter To My Fellow GWOT Vets On The Fall Of Afghanistan

We did a thing, you and I. A thing that can never be undone and we will carry with us to the grave. It is hard to put into context for those who didn’t serve and yet, still difficult to summarize for an entire generation of veterans whose experience may have vastly differed depending on when, during the 20 year Global War on Terror you served. For me, I was already in the Marines on 9/11 and as such, there was no doubt what was coming. I marched off to Iraq in 2003 with visions of sugar plums, the recent fall of the Taliban, and fairies from Desert Storm dancing in my head. Perhaps the most challenging thing about truth is that we often avoid it at all costs if we believe the outcome will be emotionally unsatisfying. Yet, as in war, one can declare it over all we want, but the enemy gets a say in the matter. Truth has a way of establishing itself as self-evident no matter how hard we close our eyes or drink away the night, hoping that tomorrow it will have tired of making its point. The emotionally unsatisfying truth that we have all been avoiding was made self-evident the moment the last chopper left the American embassy in Kabul.

We Did A Thing That Can Never Be Undone

The experience of going to war against legitimately bad human beings and doing so with your brothers in arms can’t be undone. The Taliban are bad people. Saddam was a bad person, though he was perhaps just extra credit in the post 9/11 era. Along the way, lots of bad people were gifted their final dirt naps. We don’t chose the time and season in history that we were born and while it might not have been morally satisfying like WW2, as the great General Patton said, at least when our grandkids ask us what we did during the GWOT years, “we won’t have to tell them that we spent those years shoveling shit in Louisiana.” Apologies to the manure workers of Louisiana, I’m sure you are all very fine people.

Look, I didn’t ask to come of age prior to 9/11. Yet, when our number was called, we answered. I’ve always said if a movie was made about my platoon, it would be a comedy long before it would be an action movie. However, when we heard the snap and crack of a bullet fly overhead in our direction, we marched forward rather than retreated. Something the men of Afghanistan shedding their uniforms cannot say and they will live with that for the rest of their miserable lives. We did a thing, you and I, and that can’t be undone.

Dick's destroy's rifles

You cannot let the end political result of our wars get you down, because you know damn well that we were never fighting for that. We were fighting for the Marine to our left and to our right, and little else. I would rather watch Kabul fall a thousand times over than to watch any one of you break over this end result. We, more than most, have deserved to live a life not defined by this war and that’s the marching orders of the day now that the flag is down at the embassy. You can’t say that it was all for nothing, because that very real something you and I did is a very real part of us. It can’t be undone. Granted, that’s partially because that’s what the doctors told me about my lower lumbar arthritis the Marines gave me, but also because I don’t know life not defined in some part by these wars. We did a thing you and I, and who rules the streets of Iraq or the valleys of Afghanistan don’t change that.

Monday Morning Human Rights Activists Can Suck It

Perhaps one of the more infuriating aspects of the fall of Afghanistan has been all the journalist, human rights activists, and twitter humanists of the day lamenting the future plight of women and girls in Afghanistan. No one has to tell a GWOT veteran about the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan, because we can still see their faces. We played with the kids in the streets, kicked around any dudes that looked like woman beaters, and I can remember two particular young Iraqi girls who were playing hide and seek with us across from our rooftop post that faced the roof of their house.

Trump Go After Terrorist Families

The women and girls of Afghanistan have lost any ounce of liberty, dignity, and honor for the sum of their lives. That will likely be the case for generations to come and it crushes us GWOT vets more than most. So spare me the Monday morning human rights quarterback talk that you are now somehow deeply concerned. They are done for and there is no one that knows that better than us. I sort of feel like Hawkeye felt when they returned from the End Game time heist and The Black Widow was dead. Thor is like, it’s not over and Hawkeye is fed up the outcome, because he was there and he knows what the red floaty man said. Here, you just watch it now.

Yes, I know the plight of women in Afghanistan now, but don’t spit that out now that it’s over. It’s not coming back. Maybe you wanna go talk to the Mujahedeen about it. Right, go get your hammer, you go fly, and you go talk to them about the rights of women. Because we were there and took pleasure in kicking around worthless men who couldn’t care less about little girls. I can remember throwing candy to the kids and when one cute little girl picked up some and then some young teen boy slapped her to the ground while the men around laughed at the scene, a squad of Marines was about to kill every male in sight. So you go get your hammer, and you go talk to the men in that region about women’s rights. You go do that, go grab your hammer and your tweet, is about all I can say and feel about that.

As One War Ends a New One Begins At Home

The past 20 years of GWOT may have shaped many of our lives, but we have a new mission that should consume the next 20 years. Namely, that is to declare in a unified voice as a generation of veterans that we will no longer send our sons and daughters to a war of folly. Righteous retribution was warranted after 9/11 and it was dealt. What think tank or military industrial complex agent conceived of all the extra is beyond me. But we have to say never again. My son is just 6 and I have two older daughters that should be the beneficiary of our lessons here. Your kids should not go to a war that you and I both know shouldn’t happen. That’s our mission.

Listen, I served and you served with good men and women of every political stripe. We don’t have to agree on much, but we should agree on this. We cannot send our sons and daughters to war in order to enforce and gift a way of life that people don’t understand and seem to not care very much about. We’re a young nation and we have to learn. So Vietnam, that was one. Fine, in the post 9/11 era, you got us trying it again. But what’s that quote that George W screwed up? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me… you cant’ get fooled again? We should not go to War unless the ROE is 100% shock and awe, or nothing at all. Never again and that’s a tall order considering the depth of the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about. Then again, Marine Legend Smedley Butler warned us even earlier.

Welcome to the Emotionally Unsatisfying Truth

I think we all knew it at the time, but part of us didn’t care. About half of us were just happy to do something patriotic in the post 9/11 era and the other half were just thinking about what all the girls would think when we got him. We all did it for a variety of reasons, but most of all, once we put boots on the ground, we did it for each other. We can’t be forever bothered by the outcome, because we have a life that no longer depends on the outcome. Today, my son asked me for Micky Mouse pancakes and below is what he got.

Granted, it was sort of Micky Mouse meets Silence of the Lambs, but after he was done crying in fear, he really seemed to enjoy the taste. I’ve got two daughters who I’m looking to raise into strong independent women. I’ve got a life, family, and country that needs me here. This is my life now and your life is here now as well. Our country needs you and me for many reasons, but chief of which is to fight for the principle of never again. We had our war, it was a blast, but our season to fight is over.

Again, I would rather watch Kabul fall every morning for the rest of my life than to see any of you hurt or falling on this side of the uniform. Our life is now and personally, I don’t give a damn who rules Kabul so long as each and every one of you are ok today. We did a thing, you and I. It was what our generation asked of us and it can never be undone. We owe it to those who never came back from our war and though the fall of Kabul is the emotionally unsatisfying answer we didn’t want, it might very well be the answer some of us needed to close this chapter and move on. We did a thing, you and I, and that will never, ever, be undone.

Jeff Edwards

13 Comments

  1. Thanks for that. I did not serve in Afghanistan, but have been in uniform or supporting DOD since before 9/11. Still painful, but your perspective helped.

  2. Again, the military didn’t lose the war, the politicians did. That is the way it was in Viet Nam. We shouldn’t go to war unless we are willing to do what it takes to win. Since WWII our strategy has not been fighting to win, but fighting not to lose. We don’t seem to understand that we have a different set of values from a lot of the rest of the world. They don’t value life as we do and they don’t value the same kind of freedom we do. Thanks to all vets of all wars. We did our best and we will continue to do our best to be good citizens and family members. We need to lead our country in the right direction.

    • It’s easy to blame “the politicians” but they are doing exactly what most (70%) of Americans wanted: getting out of Afghanistan (path started 2 Presidents ago, accelerated by the last one, slowed slightly by this one). That’s how our system works. I have 35 years in DoD (in uniform and out), and we have plenty of blame to share. Not the junior folks who did most of the fighting and dying, but plenty of SNCOs, Field Graders, GO/FOs, and SESs that combined poor assumptions, wishful thinking, “best version of the truth” statistics, “I know best, doing it my way” approaches that were counterproductive, and wasteful spending to get us where we are. In the end, much of the blame falls on the men (since they make most of the decisions there) of Afghanistan for corruption, greed, and self-dealing that facilitated the collapse. The people of Afghanistan never saw their government as a solution or something to fight for (just like Viet Nam). A counterinsurgency effort can never work if the local government isn’t supported. All that said, a generation of Afghani’s are largely better off (it would take several generations to make a lasting change to their way of life) and tasted what freedom can be like.

  3. I suspect the Taliban will find this time around they’ll have a tougher time imposing their tyranny. Once the corrupt leaders are swept away or run away the Taliban will have to find a way to govern an ungovernable collection of tribes and ethnicities who have briefly tasted some measure of freedom over the past 20 years. Like most people, they resented foreign invaders, even if well intentioned. The foreign forces are gone, now let’s see how well the Pastun heavy Taliban fair against the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Baluks, etc. over the next few years. Some of whom did learn to fight under American training. We’ll see if an insurgency or two or ten appears, particularly if the Taliban get heavy-handed and their power ultimately corrupts them as well.

    Once again the US Military won all the battles, and the politicians figured out how to lose the peace.

    • No it will not be difficult they will execute civilians until total domination they will not let a pocket of resistance live

      • Everyone wanted out. It needed to end for the US at some point – and it was the time. I wish that we would have taken the “negotiated window” – and gone home. Having said that, I am just saddened and stunned at the immediate capitulation of the Afghans to the Taliban. We spent too much treasure to help them evolve upward….. they didn’t.

  4. I a father of 5 now. 3 boys and 2 little girls needed to read this. I remember the face of the little kids as I was in Kandahar. We played soccer with them, threw candy, beanie baby type stuffed animals. The little girls just treated like hot garbage. We would sneer the little girls candy and tell them to run off. So they didn’t get beat and candy stole from them. And yes as it’s a shame and it truly is disheartening it is not our place to change a people if they don’t want to change. No. Seeing Kabul fall is heart breaking, seeing that we were there doing a job and it all feels as though it was for nothing. Then I read this. THIS is what I needed! I never thought of it put in terms like this. Thank you Ans I agree. Never again unless warranted! With the full fist of god using all or nothing shock and awe. Our kids deserve better and we shall give it to them now. No not the out come I wanted to ever see of the place I have been. But to be fair, I can not tell you what I truly expected it to turn out like. But to see it fall back to where it was, is not what I expected.

  5. Jeff, thanks for this. We ever go anywhere again, we need to be allowed to do what we’re trained to do and we deserve well-defined exit criteria.

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