OPINION: Our Duty to Remember


Gage Hoekstra, PR Manager

Most of those who read this will not have lived through the events that precipitated the war in Afghanistan. We cannot remember where we were on that infamous September morning. We cannot understand the fear and horror of a nation struck by such tragedy. We could not have felt the righteous fury of a people so unjustly and horrifically brutalized. And yet, we too have been shaped by it, brought into a cultural zeitgeist forged in the smoldering ruins of those towers. Since we were old enough to understand, and perhaps before, we were sat in class and made to watch as the events of that day played out. We may not have lived through 9/11, but we too are duty bound to never forget.

For 10 years and three presidencies, this nation has continually been promised an end to the war in Afghanistan. As the conventional wisdom went, too many lives and too much wealth had been spent in a conflict that was not our own. Finally, after all this time, that promise has been fulfilled. A complete withdrawal has been ordered, and at last a war which so many of us born into has been brought to an end.

Within little more than a week of this retreat, the fledgling democracy had fallen: its government collapsed, army broken and leaders in exile or worse. After 20 years of semi-liberal democracy, advances in women’s rights and unprecedented freedoms, 38 million people have been condemned to theocracy, despotism and terror. The Taliban, a regime that at one time provided sanctuary to the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and has a long history of human rights abuses (documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other NGOs) reigns victorious. A generation of Afghans, the eldest only just barely older than us, have been cast into a world they have never known. Some of those who called themselves our allies have managed to find refuge, the rest must live with the constant threat of execution.

In return, we have been forced to make only greater sacrifices. Billions of dollars of abandoned military equipment has been seized by our enemies, a vital ally in the region has been replaced by a group with a history of supporting terror, and most tragically of all 13 brave service members have been forced to give their lives in order to protect those attempting to escape, the first combat casualties in more than a year. This has quickly become the most embarrassing U.S. military disaster in-at the very least-our lifetime, and the current administration’s refusal to accept responsibility for, and continued hesitance to even acknowledge the direness of the situation we now face, is nothing short of unacceptable cowardice.

Coming away from these events I have been struck with two conclusions, at least one of which I believe the American people must accept if we are to continue our way of life and maintain our global position.

First, if we so desire our nation can be an unimaginable force for good in this world. For 20 long years we spent a fraction of our wealth, an average of $113,000,000 each year (less than 2% of last year’s federal budget) to protect some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. We ensured girls could attend school and walk the streets alone without fear of state sponsored violence. We protected religious and political minorities and activists from fundamentalist persecution. Even if it may have been halfhearted, we continued a history of democratic nation building to which Japan, South Korea and Germany all stand as shining exemplars of success. Even with a skeleton force of 2,500 troops, we maintained a status quo in which the majority of Afghans could live in peace. For a time we had the moral capital and willingness to protect those who could not protect themselves, living out our principles and reminding the world of the shining city on a hill we were always meant to be.

The second conclusion, I’m afraid, is far grimmer. If we continue on this path of isolationism, out of either a belief in our own invulnerability or a disbelief in our right to assert our own moral authority, we are doomed to repeat the history we have for so long tried to prevent. As we abandon our allies, our enemies will overtake them. Our global adversaries will legitimize and work with these now resurgent powers, and our ability to counteract these forces will greatly diminish. Already we have felt a microcosm of these affects, many of our citizens lost behind enemy lines and the lives of some of this nation’s bravest sons and daughters cut brutally short. Our generation has been given a taste of how it feels to be made powerless in the face of theocrats and barbarians, because our leaders have forgotten the strength and courage with which they once promised to defeat such foes before our time. For years now, foreign policy has simply not been a key voting issue, and as we begin to exercise our rights as citizens, we must do our part to make it one. It is now that we must remind them that even those of us who were not yet born when they made such promises, have not and will never forget.