By Mary Hladky
This is my opinion as the mother of an Army Infantry Officer who served in Kandahar Province during President Obama’s surge in Afghanistan.
My son, Ryan, was an Army Infantry Officer who served 13 months, at the height of President Obama’s Afghanistan surge, in Zhari District, Kandahar Province. His men were sent into the heart of the fight, in the place referred to as the Heart of Darkness, the spiritual home of the Taliban.
My son fought and commanded in a war that could never be won, one of hundreds of thousands of Americans who have had their lives forever changed by this pointless and tragic war. As we pan back and view this war as a whole, the reality is far more disturbing than I could have imagined at that time.
The Afghanistan Papers, internal government documents published by the Washington Post in December 2019, detailed early on that the Afghanistan War was a debacle and could not be won. Yet, our military leaders chose to continue that war for another 16 years. So, briefly summarized below is some of what went so very wrong in Afghanistan.
As the Afghanistan Papers reveal, military leadership were more concerned about covering up failures and protecting their jobs than the lives of those on the front lines. Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, eagerly accepted large campaign donations from military contractors in exchange for their continued support of the war. Major media, heavily influenced by the Pentagon and governmental sources, rarely covered the war. On the rare occasions they did cover the war, they were more likely to cheerlead than to question or investigate. Antiwar voices were not invited to participate on any of the major news programs.
Most tragic has been that nearly everyone in the American public is disengaged from the country’s wars. Less than 1 percent serve in the military. The rest of Americans, the 99 percent, have been asked to sacrifice nothing. There is no draft and—since 9/11—no increased taxes to pay for these wars. So, with no “skin in the game,” the vast majority of Americans were incredibly indifferent to what was actually happening to our troops and the Afghan people. The hollow words, “Thank you for your service,” will never erase or be enough for what has been lost.
Those in power have deeply betrayed our service men and women.
Our troops gave their lives, limbs, and emotional well-being for this futile 20-year war. The Afghan people have suffered even more. The US, and its allies, have totally destroyed their country. Life in Afghanistan has been, and will be for a long time, a living hell.
One of the ever-changing missions we waged in Afghanistan intended to win over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. While the words that we spoke may have promised a hopeful, cooperative future, our bombs, drones, and night raids drowned out those words. Our commitment to violence buried Afghan hearts and minds beneath paralyzing fear, generational trauma, and the crushing emotions of human pain.
In reality, it is Americans’ hearts and minds that need to change. And until we get that—until we reflect upon our mistakes, until we seek to understand and value the humanity of others, until we reassess our foreign policy and choose to solve conflicts through diplomacy and negotiations instead of domination and violence—then nothing will change.
Our duty now is to tell the true story of this war. Those in charge must be held accountable. Many powerful documentaries and podcasts exist that tell the story of our soldiers and the people of Afghanistan. Watch them. Share them with others. Follow Afghanistan veterans Matthew Hoh and Danny Sjursen. Vote and contact your representatives. We cannot allow the story of this war to be told as anything less than a lesson, a cautionary tale, a devastating loss, and an international tragedy that could have been avoided.
–Mary Hladky, vice chair of PeaceWorks-KC, is a member of Military Families Speak Out and serves on the Administrative Committee of United for Peace & Justice.