Afghanistan: A Veteran’s Perspective


E Battery Royal Horse Artillery escaping from the overwhelming Afghan attack at the Battle of Maiwand, from “Maiwand: Saving the Guns” by Richard Caton Woodville. In the public domain.

by Michael J. Corgan

I don’t consider myself a pacifist. I believe there will always be those who choose to resort to war for little or no good reason and others of us must deal with them. However, sometimes we ourselves are the ones who resort to war for little or no good reason.

Those of us who were in the military as a profession have a particular moral responsibility to speak out.

Like my longtime colleague Andy Bacevich, I am a service academy graduate. I served several tours in wars whose justification was uncertain at best. Like him I am concerned about our propensity to get into wars with no justification: Mexico in 1846, Spain in 1898, Woodrow Wilson’s 20th century Latin American invasions, Granada and Panama in 1982, Iraq in 2003, and others.

At the Naval War College in the late 1970s we began  studying Thucydides and Clausewitz to try to determine why we, a supposed 1st-rate military power, lost to North Vietnam, a supposed 4th-rate military power.

From Thucydides one learns how easily the arrogance of power leads to foolish and disastrous military adventures, in which many are killed for no worthy aim.

From Clausewitz a more important lesson, know when to quit–when you’re not going to ‘win’ and all you’re doing is killing people, however worthy the original reason.

What prompts my concern now is our war in Afghanistan, the longest war in our history. According to New York Times interviews with commanders there,  we are farther from ‘winning’ than ever.

According to international law, we probably had justification for going to war after the Al Qaeda attacks of 9/11 – that group operated with either the acquiescence of the Taliban or the inability of Taliban to prevent using their country as the operations base. But after 14 years, what is our justification for continuing this war that kills civilians without end?

Five hundred years ago, the Mongols couldn’t control the land; 200 years ago the British began their futile attempt to control it; in the last century the Russians also failed.  Now, in our arrogance we think we can create a stable country- though we come as foreigners, don’t speak any of the languages, and are infidels.

It isn’t working. and meanwhile people who want no part of either side are dying. There needs to be a solution to problems in that unhappy land but we and our war aren’t providing it even with all our incredible precision weapons and dropping of the largest conventional bomb ever.

The only right thing to do is to extract ourselves and admit the final answer, if there is one, will be attained by those who live there. The moral imperative is that we must go home.


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2 Responses to Afghanistan: A Veteran’s Perspective

  1. Barbara says:

    If there ever was a more sensible summing up of what’s going on in this strife-ridden world, I haven’t seen it. What should we do about it? Pay serious attention to the final sentence in this essay, especially to the word moral. Going home doesn’t mean we are cowardly or lazy or indifferent. It means we have our eyes open and our minds functioning, fully aware that there isn’t a simple solution to the strife, such as throwing our weight around by dropping bombs. The best way to help is to stand ready to help the perennial warriors see the value of negotiations, the only bloodless way to come to terms with each other, ending with a handshake.

  2. Stefan Schindler says:

    Many thanks for your astute observations and virtuous sentiments. I applaud your courage in speaking out. However, in referring to “the Al Qaeda attacks of 9/11”, you seem to be quoting the Cheney-Bush and mainstream news-media cabal of liars that said Iraq had nuclear weapons and was involved in the 9/11 attacks when you say “According to international law, we probably had justification for going to war ….” I appreciate the word “probably”! But really, that’s hardly enough. Any rational person willing to consider ALL the evidence must consider the possibility or probability that 9/11 was an inside job. Read David Ray Griffin’s “The New Pearl Harbor” to realize that the “9/11 Commission [omission] Report” was as deceptive, sophistical and absurd as the “Warren Commission [omission] Report” on the JFK assassination. The USA had no more reason — moral or legal — for invading Afghanistan and Iraq than it did in launching America’s Indochina Holocaust (euphemistically called The Vietnam War, as if Laos and Cambodia weren’t also tragic victims of American imperialism in Southeast Asia). As Robert McNamara declared at the end of his first book on that war: “We were wrong. Terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.” But most Americans never learned the lessons or heard the reasons (guess why); so “our” post-9/11 attacks on the Middle East are Vietnam Redux, launched by a similar set of lies. In short, and to put it more precisely: According to international law, America should be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Read Michael Parenti’s “The Terrorism Trap: 9/11 and Beyond” as a prelude to Griffin’s book. And recall that the Cheney-Bush Administration initially planned to call their Iraq attack “Operation Iraqi Liberation”, until someone pointed out that the initials spelled “oil”, which, of course, is what the entire tragedy — in both Iraq and Afghanistan — was, and is, all about. Thanks again for your courage of conscience. We need your voice: brave, lucid, and astute. But we also need it to be just a little more inclusive of all that we know about American imperialism. I know you have the courage to do the additional research, and I hope you do. And to fully appreciate the senselessness of the war you were sent to fight — “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) — you might consider reading my short, illustrated, paperback book: “America’s Indochina Holocaust: The History and Global Matrix of The Vietnam War” (available from Zip Publishers in Ohio for about 12 dollars; while Amazon is charging 265 dollars, to discourage potential readers from gaining actual insight into just how immoral our government is, and has been for far too long). The last two chapters draw the parallels between “our” (1945-1975) war on Vietnam and “our” (i.e., not mine! nor many other Americans!) wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. I think you’ll agree with John Lennon’s comment: “We are led by lunatics.” So kindly allow me to end with three quotes. Mark Twain said: “It is easier to deceive people than to convince them they are being deceived.” He also said: “The lie is half-way around the world before truth has its boots on.” And a colleague of ours in the peace movement said: “We must put an end to war, or war will put an end to us.”

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