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Afghanistan: We Didn't Have To Do This
17 October 2001
As long as we still have it, I'm going to make the most of the First Amendment: What we are doing in, above, and to Afghanistan is short-sighted, counterproductive and immoral. That I am among a mere 6 or 10 percent of Americans (depending on the poll) who feel this way hurts my heart.
The amount of nonthink, or flat-out denial, that is required to support Operation Enduring Freedom is painful to contemplate. Sending thousands of kids -- "our brave men and women in uniform" -- to risk their lives for it is unbearable.
We Americans have never been known for critical thought and analysis. Context and historical perspective rank low on our national priorities list, somewhere below foreign language skills but above gas conservation. Add to that our deliberate myopia and chronic impatience, and you have the U.S. military trashing big chunks of Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-I- Sharif in pursuit of a cave-dwelling, mass murderer and his worldwide band of suicidal disciples.
Damn the advice from seasoned experts on terrorism and the Middle East; full speed ahead with the cruise missiles.
After all, we had to do something.
That phrase. It has been uttered so many times since Sept. 11, I expect to see it printed on our currency any day now. People who call themselves pacifists, people who admit that they are uneasy with the destruction we are raining down on Afghanistan -- people who can't see how this frenzy of B-1's is actually going to get Osama bin Laden -- offer up the phrase as if it were a bona fide moral escape clause: We had to do something.
Lord, yes. We'd waited more than three weeks before we started dropping bombs. Such restraint. Why don't we at least cut the b.s., and own up to exactly what it is we are doing?
First, does the phrase "collateral damage" sound familiar? When Persian Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh used it to describe the 168 children and adults he murdered in the Oklahoma City bombing, we took it as proof of his evilness, as the justification that we needed to execute him.
What is it proof of when U.S. generals use it to describe the Afghan civilians that our bombs already have killed? How about the untold numbers who will die from hunger or disease on their way to refugee camps that can't take them?
Likely, because McVeigh shocked us with the term, "collateral damage" seems to have given way to a new euphemism. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it last week:
"There is no question but that when one is engaged militarily that there are going to be unintended loss of life." Lest anyone think him cold, Rumsfeld added, "And there's no question but that I and anyone involved regrets the unintended loss of life." When U.S. civilians are killed, it's a travesty. When the dead are from someplace else -- especially a backward, poverty-stricken country such as Afghanistan -- it's regrettable.
Second, let's be honest about the blowback, the truly lethal, political time bombs that we plant with every payload among millions of mainstream Muslims in the Middle East and Asia. George W. Bush can insist that "the United States is a friend to Islam." How many regrettable losses of life do reasonable Muslims tolerate before they begin to doubt our friendship?
Without a doubt, after Sept. 11, we did have to do something, something that takes time, deep and true coalition-building and patient cunning. Instead, we've chosen to play into a mass murderer's hands and prove that our reverence for human life starts diminishing at America's borders.