While granted, the ordinary soldier is often thought to be little more than a name, rank, and serial number to those in "authority," at least, a man or women who knowingly takes an oath to protect and defend a nation has some options, inadequate as these may be. A civilian in a war-torn country has few to none. On any given day, a military missile might pierce the wall of a home. A youth, on the way to school, if it is open, might step on a land mine, or an improvised explosive device [IED] can detonate under the feet of a person who never caused another harm.
Hence, as I mused of what might be, more war and wounded, I felt the pain pound in my chest. The throbbing was not new to me. It might have begun weeks ago, during the Thanksgiving festivities. I was challenged to express gratitude for the simple life, I as an American have, as I pondered fallen soldiers and civilians on foreign fields.
Perchance, the soreness commenced years ago, when bombs first blasted in the Middle East. The question is which time, during which incursion, and why? Now, as I suspect was true in centuries past, opinions are offered. Reasons realized.
The intent is to protect the people from tyrants and totalitarian rule. It is vital; ideologues must be subverted. Democracy must be spread throughout the globe for the good of mankind. Out of necessity, the threat of terrorism needs to be contained. Those who hate us harbor Weapons of Mass Destruction [WMDs]. The presumed foe attacked "us" first. Appraisals amass. Empathy eludes citizens of a country intent on combat.
Robert Pape in "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," found that most suicide bombers are members of communities that feel humiliated by genuine or perceived occupation. Almost every major suicide-terrorist campaign-over 95 percent-carried out attacks to drive out an occupying power. This was true in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Chechnya and Kashmir, as well as Israel and the Palestinian territories. The large number of Saudis among the 9/11 hijackers appears to support this finding. . . .
We have had tens of thousands of troops stationed in the Middle East since 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The presence of these troops is the main appeal, along with the abuse meted out to the Palestinians by Israel, of bin Laden and al-Qaida. Terrorism, as Pape wrote, "is not a supply-limited phenomenon where there are just a few hundred around the world willing to do it because they are religious fanatics. It is a demand-driven phenomenon. That is, it is driven by the presence of foreign forces on the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. The operation in Iraq has stimulated suicide terrorism and has given suicide terrorism a new lease on life."
I know not why Americans, or people from any nation, engage in murderous mêlées. I am only certain that as the President Elect postures of a prosperous future, I fear. The tenderness I experience does not fade as Barack Obama proclaims; "When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans and I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling, even more than those who have not served - higher unemployment rates, higher homeless rates, higher substance abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate - it breaks my heart."
As it pains mine, Mister President Elect. As I stated, I do not recall when the grief began. It has been with me for so long. As does the Barack Obama, I too ruminate on the ruin war fashions. Thoughts of troops' trials and tribulation cause me to feel faint, flushed, and forlorn. I applaud the sentiment that we must care for the ill and injured who served in the Armed Forces. Yet, my distress is not diminished by words that might advance awareness for those Americans physically maimed or emotionally scarred in military maneuvers.
I remain haunted by the unanswered question, the topic not discussed, and the truth that is not set free by this selection. Deep within, where my sense of doom lives large I inquire, who are the veterans, those most affected by battles abroad. As President Elect Obama and his Cabinet propose a continuation, an escalation of the feud fought on Afghani soil I think the query must be addressed.
I (Tamim Ansary, an Afghan who has lived in America for near four decades) speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York. I agree that something must be done about those monsters.
But the Taliban and bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan," think "the Jews in the concentration camps." It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban, and clear out the rats' nest of international thugs holed up in their country.
Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan -- a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban.
For so long, the Afghanis, just as the Iraqis, experience a despair I, as an American cannot fathom. As bullets and bombs whiz past their heads, daily, the veterans that cannot dream of a quiet homeland to which they might return, search for family, sustenance, a sense of normalcy. Some do not recall when their grief began. Nor do most have time to think of what now has become trivial, probably a moot point.
The foreign "veterans," the presumed foes of persons who reside in civilized Western States, are not paid to endure conflict. Innocent inhabitants in the Middle East, receive no recompense. These civilian veterans of combat are offered no promise of ongoing medical care. No one attends to the Post-Traumatic Syndrome [PTSD] of parents or the children born into bloody circumstances. Reductions in never-ending reprisals are the only reward the truest war veterans believe they can expect.
For these victims, these survivors, hostilities give rise to a heartache so great, they cannot clearly recall a beginning. Nor can they comprehend a conclusion. Afghanis and Iraqis immersed in warfare do not have the time to consider as Americans might.
I observe; citizens in this country are also busy. Perchance too assiduous to attend to what causes my anguish. It is the holiday season. Many bustle about. Several shop. Others stress. Financial concerns consume the newly unemployed. They have no time or desire to fret of what occurs on distant shores. Yet, I cannot forget.
I am left to live with the pain that penetrates my being. Where does it hurt; a doctor may ask. It gnaws at my core. The wound that causes my woe grows larger as it weighs heavy on my heart.
Only yesterday, during a discussion, as I spoke of the need to love thy neighbor and work for peace, a man said, "Tell that to them." Oh, that I thought there was reason to speak to those who wish to be cherished as fellow creatures, or that they could communicate to Americans of what it means to treasure life.
The gent's words were as the knife that turned at a time of commemoration. On Veterans Day, I mourned those who passed. I found it difficult to celebrate the physical survival of warriors who fought in wars that never cease. I know too many troops, all of whom suffer. Most of the injuries that impair them are invisible to the human eye. Yet, they are seen through the spirit. Battles, just as the throes I feel seem to have no beginning. Surely, they have no conclusion.
My heart grapples with wonder, as I contemplate the President and his appointment, the individual who will likely head the Department of Veterans Affairs. If only anyone at the press conference had inquired as I might have; how does a warrior, and one who proposes battle, demonstrate veneration for the veterans of combat?
Stunned by a deeper affliction, I realize the burden of apathy. Egocentric as Americans can be, Correspondents ask nothing of the nomination. Nor do the Journalist concern themselves with victims of war, plans to advance the combative progress into Afghanistan. The media is mesmerized, as the nation is, with issue number one, the economy.
Question after question speaks to money, the movement towards bailouts, mortgage securities, or the overall mess of this fiscal malaise.
On the anniversary of perhaps the worst of too many days to live in infamy, December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, a passing mention by the President Elect does not move the press to think of what the Americans and our allies have wrought. Barack Obama refers to this historic occasion. However, the symbolism, the history of horrific hurts, and the repetition of patriotic rampages seem lost on the reporters in the room.
Perchance, perpetual war has numbed the collective consciousness. Our country has come to accept there will always be another battle. On what was once Armistice Day, Americans acknowledged the First World War was not the conflict to end all other clashes. It seems for most, the excuse of self-defense serves to excuse massive slaughters of innocent. If only that rationalization satisfied my soul. It does not.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when viewed from the receiving end, are state-sponsored acts of terrorism. These wars defy every ethical and legal code that seek to determine when a nation can wage war, from Just War Theory to the statutes of international law largely put into place by the United States after World War II. These wars are criminal wars of aggression. They have left hundreds of thousands of people, who never took up arms against us, dead and seen millions driven from their homes. We have no right as a nation to debate the terms of these occupations. And an Afghan villager, burying members of his family's wedding party after an American airstrike, understands in a way we often do not that terrorist attacks can also be unleashed from the arsenals of an imperial power.
I believe I too understand as an Afghan rural dweller, or an Iraq city feller does; war is war. Terrorism cannot reasonably be defined as a righteous fight for freedom, and also as intimidation. A Commander cannot conclude that aggression is the correct course of action if they truly wish to bring about peace. Yet, that is what Americans have often done, and what Barack Obama, who plans to escalate attacks in Afghanistan, thinks to do.
This paradigm is the source of my agony and apprehension.
My fear is furthered when a Secretary of Veterans Affairs is announced, and those in the vanguard do not discuss civilian veteran casualties.
Possibly, others do not experience the ache as I do. They may have accepted physical distance as an emotional, intellectual separation. Certainly, Americans and I cannot touch the tragedy that fills the lives of those who are the truest veterans of war. I can only empathize and recount. My desire is that some day, the dull ache that began, I know not when, will pass from within me. All citizens in the Middle East, West, North, and South will experience no more war.
Whilst I may be ignorant of whenst war, and the ache it causes, came, I yearn for the day each ends.
Sources of sorrow; soldier and civilian suffering . . .
- Obama Picks Bush Critic to Head Veterans Affairs, By Paula Wolfson. Voice of America. 07 December 2008
- Obama Announces Veterans Affairs Secretary. CSPAN. December 7, 2008
- In quotes: Reasons for the Iraq war. British Broadcasting Company. May 29, 2003
- The 1991 War Against Iraq: Did the U.S. Government Desire to Have People Informed about Going to War? By Michael Hauben. 199
- Just War Theory. The Internet Encyclopedia.
- How to Not Spread Democracy, By Shibley Telhami. The Brookings Institute. September 17, 2007
- Poignant memories of Armistice Day, By Ross McKee. British Broadcasting Company. November 11, 2008
- An Afghan-American Speaks, By Tamim Ansary. Salon. September 14, 2001
- On this Veterans Day, By: Camilla "Mac" Boca. Truth out. November 11, 2008
- A Holiday to End All Wars, By Alexander Watson. The New York Times. November 11, 2008
- The 'Good War' Isn't Worth Fighting, By Rory Stewart. The New York Times. November 23, 2008