Having read Sebastian's seasoned response
, I've had awhile to think of my own.
Unlike Sebastian, this war stuff is new to me. My resume reads less like a human rights campaign than it does a bookworm who happened to raise kids. Sure, I'm an Army wife now, but for 23 years I was just a regular civilian wife with absolutely no ties to the military, and any engagement with world events was entirely selective.
I think that's how most Americans live. We can turn off the tragedies, violence, inequities, murder and suffering at our choosing. We can spend more time thinking about Fair Trade and buying relatively green goods to make our houses more pleasant, than about infant mortality rates in the Sudan, or the selling of girls in Burma into prostitution rings in Thailand. There are people who don't even know about this stuff, and I can't blame them. It's heavy, and not everyone is equipped to deal with it emotionally or intellectually, or feel they're going to be able to make a difference. Truthfully, this is the stuff that can really make a person desperate, because if anything, Americans like to see themselves as problem solvers.
So a good many of these people do
put their energy into other areas where tangible results can be seen: volunteering in their communities, giving to local charities, even being a good neighbor.
But I guess this is at the crux of this whole question. What the question "Should we be in Afghanistan?" really means is, "Will our presence make a difference?"
If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have said "no." I couldn't have listened to what Sebastian said about his earlier experience in Afghanistan, nor about what happened afterward. It might not have mattered because I had a very black/white, good/bad view of peace and war. Besides, I was busy.
Crank the clock forward. Time stops, my heart pounds, when the phone rings at 3 AM and it's a wrong number. Today, I say yes, we should be in Afghanistan. Maybe should have been there after the late Charlie Wilson did his gig. I have clarity now that my involvement isn't elective. A few years ago, my husband, at the ripe age of 52, was recruited into the military. They needed guys like him who have run the gamut of healthcare. From busy surgical practice in big hospitals in a major metropolis to the Army, where everything isn't necessarily bigger --it's just different. War pushes it to the extreme, a MASCAL event at an FST is L.A. County x200. A clinic in Afghanistan is East L.A. x 100, however, the patients don't threaten to sue and they are reverent of what a doctor can do for them.
So while I can't run through the politics, won't go into the intricacies of military strategy, I can --off the top of my head think of local Afghans whose lives have been saved by the ISAF medical teams.
Each day, locals are brought in by the soldiers, or sometimes they just show up. Their needs run the gamut from burns, amputations made necessary from IEDs, or other injuries and illnesses. All would have a greatly diminished life, or be dead were it not for the consideration of the soldiers on the ground and the medical teams at the bases.
But this isn't the only story. Glance through the PRT-Kunar blog
and read daily stories about small differences. Literacy, schools for girls, starting home businesses from keeping bees to gem stone processing are projects being discussed by Nasima Sadat, the Kunar Women's Affairs Director. There are even Female Marine Engagement Teams
deployed to make inroads with the Afghan women and girls (OORAH!). Or go to Jalalabad, and read about the civilian projects run by MIT's FabLab
is doing to wire the town with WiFi, enabling a generation to go online, begin ordering books for a reading room, or learn digital photography.
Each effort spells promise, an outlook to a future that wasn't there ten years ago. But it's fragile. It could go away, and it's no exaggeration that all of this comes at great risk. Afghans who partake in these programs risk their lives just showing up to the clinics, schools, shuras, and classes. Can you see this is humbling? People willing to gamble their life in order to gain a stake in a better future? It takes my breath away because things like this are taken for granted here.
I hate war. I am tired of war. I wish it would go away. I hate sending my husband off to war. I hate thinking about what he will see, how he will change. I hate it that so many who serve can't sleep at night. I hate seeing veterans sleeping on the streets. I hate that innocent people die because of it, and some assholes derive power and get rich off it.
But I also hate oppression even more. And I think there are times when we have to fight like hell. Were we to leave, every literacy project for women and girls would be gone. Those who had gone to the clinics
, the shuras for women, the men who had worked with any projects that could be tied to the ISAF or westerners, would be maimed or dead. Gone too, would be educational opportunities like the Fab Lab or the School started by the San Diego-Jalalabad Sister Cities
project. This school is funded by diligent Rotary Club members in La Jolla. There's even a Rotary Club in Jalalabad
Are we making a difference? Yes we are. Is it going to be easy? No it isn't. Will more people die? Sadly, yes. But if a kid is willing to risk his or her life to go to school, I happen to think it's worth being there to help. Like Sebastian said, they might not like us, but god forbid, if we should leave. The prospect of anyone losing freedom is a far more troubling thing to have to bear.