Supporting Our Troops, and Ending the War
The war in Afghanistan has been a long one. An entire generation, of Americans and Afghans alike, have grown up with parents who fought in the region, only to fight there themselves. Though the war was once popular, as years have passed and projected high expectations have yet to be seen, many have come to question our involvement. Three U.S. presidents have left their mark on the country, as the current Commander in Chief, Barack Obama, has been left the job of cleaning up quite a mess. The American public wants to know why we are still in Afghanistan, including military spouses and family members whose loved ones have served numerous tours in Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.
Now that we are in an election year, both dominant parties in the United States, the Republicans and the Democrats, are bringing all issues to the table. As expected, most Democrats believe we should withdraw from Afghanistan sooner than projected – 2014. However, in researching, I found it surprising that, in a recent poll, forty percent of Republicans concurred with an early withdrawal (Buhmiller). The support for the war is dropping rapidly across the ideological spectrum, with sixty-nine percent of Americans believing we should not be in Afghanistan – compared to fifty-three percent just four months ago (Buhmiller).
Several instances have led to where we are now in support of our involvement in Afghanistan. Though it is difficult to condense them into three points, there are some issues that stand above others, the first being the effect on the U.S. military. As stated earlier, our nation has been at war for years. Though any retaliation seemed justified after 9/11, as years passed, we’ve seen the toll it’s taken on us all, particularly those who serve. Families have lived years without their military member, soldiers have missed seeing their children being born and growing up, and all too often come home with psychological complications, if they’re lucky enough to escape physical injury or even death. We all suffer during a time of war, but it is the families of soldiers, and the soldiers themselves, that bear the brunt of the heartache.
The second issue causing less support for the war in Afghanistan is the lost sense of mission. Though commanders have ways of rallying their troops, the public sees it from a different perspective, often questioning the legitimacy of the fight. Due to the lack of media coverage and daily reporting on the subject, it is also easy for many to tune out. If one doesn’t have a friend or family member in the military, it doesn’t behoove them to stay informed; at least, that is often the case. Besides assassinating Osama bin Laden just over a year ago, there have been little results shown, at least in the view of the average American. People continually question, “Why are we there?” and don’t often receive a straightforward answer.
The last issue covered in this essay is economics. As one of my favorite political analysts, James Carville, coined in 1991, “It’s the economy, stupid”. Now more than ever American voters are evaluating their finances, as well as the national budget. Just as one would eliminate frivolous spending from their own budget, they expect the government to do the same. True, not all believe this war is inconsequential, but as stated in the previous paragraph regarding results and mission, most feel we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan. Therefore, they see any and every penny spent there a waste of taxpayer money that could be used on our failing health care system, education, or finally balancing the budget. In my opinion, this is what has led to an increase of Republicans preferring an early withdrawal. It looks like there finally may be an issue the two parties can agree on.
Before I go any further, let us return to the issue of military. As mentioned, military members themselves are becoming fatigued. Many deploy for a year, come home for year, and deploy again, and again. Not only are these women and men working long hours, fighting in harsh conditions, and risking their lives, they are missing out on so much back home. Working for DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity) schools, I have seen first hand what these tours do to families. Children are left without mothers and fathers, and while they are so proud of what their moms and dads do, they miss them tremendously. This all too often leads to disciplinary problems at school, uncharacteristic behavior, and academic setbacks. Though many parents present a nurturing environment along with a set of coping skills for the whole family, just as many do not. This is something that takes practice, awareness, and knowledge, and just as many parents aren’t able to offer this support, based on their own reactions to deployments. This leads to depression, anxiety, insecurity, resentment, insomnia; frequently resulting in divorce. Marriages have their ups and downs to begin with, but stressors that come with deployments are unforeseen and often dealt with alone. This, coupled with issues listed before, are a recipe for dysfunction.
What do those fighting the war think? When searching “morale of soldiers in Afghanistan”, the most recent article I found was from a year ago, immediately following the death of bin Laden. In 2005, sixty-six percent of soldiers reported high morale, compared to forty-seven percent, as reported in May of 2011 (Zoroya). “More than half of those surveyed said they had killed the enemy, and 75 percent-80 percent described the death or wounding of a buddy” (Zoroya). Now, think of all that has taken place in the last twelve months. How is one expected to give their all to something that they aren’t sure about? Yes, they’ve trained for this. But at some point the mind takes over conditioned training, and interferes with personal morale. Though they are instructed through combat training, it is naïve to think one may continue normalcy after witnessing a comrade being injured or killed by an IED (improved explosion device). Soldiers aren’t robots; they’re humans, after all.
All of this leads to complications of the psychological perspective. We have all heard of Abu Ghraib, U.S. soldiers burning Korans, and the shooting spree of an American soldier in Kandahar. While I am utterly disgusted by all of these events, one must step back and realize that though many of these actions were conscious, some had to be the result of psychosis on some level. Repeated deployments paired with the stigma of mental health discrepancies causes troops to go without seeking help for various problems; particularly PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) and suicidal thoughts. As one can surmise, a soldier may continue to serve while unfit to do so, becoming a danger to her/himself, her/his fellow soldiers, and, in the recent case of Kandahar, civilians.
For families of those in uniform, and the GIs themselves, war brings about difficulties that otherwise would not exist. True, members of the military enlist or commission to serve their country against threats foreign and domestic, but the very act of war, especially when served in more than one deployment, the stigma of mental health and getting help, and the lack of resources available to hurting soldiers lead to a view that this war (not mentioning Iraq) has dragged on long enough.
The second point I would like to cover is the lost sense of mission and purpose. In no way do I mean this in regards to the military - our military leaders are excellent at motivating troops and fighting until the end. Rather I mean, the American public, who see very little coverage of the happenings in Afghanistan, unless a Koran is being defaced or civilians are being massacred by one of our own. I will never forget watching a documentary on PBS entitled “Obama’s War”. Last night I streamed it again, and the same feelings came flooding back as I watched Marines that were no older than my husband in an intense firefight against the Taliban in the Helmand Province. In the most defining moment, to me at least, a marine is shot in the neck. His comrades call out for medics and are eerily prepared as they remove him from the battlefield. The man died, and I watched his friends briefly mourn his passing and head back to the fight. My point here is, these images are kept from mainstream media. They are seen as incongruous and too obscene for the nightly news, but it is these exact images that give a purpose and name to the very conflict we are in.
Coverage of the war is minimal among mainstream media. The average American tunes in to the nightly news, CNN in the mornings, or heaven forbid, the atrocious sideshow known as “Fox and Friends” and other shows on the network. Here they may hear sound bites of politicians arguing either for or against the war with very little to back it up, the number of troops killed in the last month or to date (if they’re lucky), or debates on the withdrawal date. I just hopped over to the media outlet most Americans frequent, CNN.com, and didn’t even find the word “Afghanistan” on the homepage. They do, however, have a link titled “Bin Laden dyed hair, on Viagra”. You know, only the essentials. Instead of reporting on American military deaths, conditions in which they’re fighting, progress made, and difficulties in completing the mission, they’d rather address a deceased tyrant’s physical appearance and sex life. In a way you can’t fault CNN, because I’m sure plenty of Americans are reading this. Still, the fact that not a single story on Afghanistan is mentioned on the homepage is repulsive and appalling to me.
Those of us who read BBC, Al Jazeera, The New York Times, Army Times, and other more notable sources are more informed on the issue of Afghanistan and U.S. involvement, for better or for worse. I weekly do my research on current war zones to stay conversant, as it is my hobby as well as my job, being a student of International Relations and a friend to several soldiers serving across the world. John Doe, however, doesn’t have the same motivation and interest as me to remain connected to this issue, so he counts on the six o’clock news to keep him up-to-date. Sadly, very rarely will coverage of Afghanistan, the progress being made along with mistakes, ever make it into the living rooms of millions of Americans. This leaves many ill informed, but also questioning our mission. That being said, even knowing more than the typical American on this subject matter, I’m left questioning why we’re in Afghanistan, and I know many of those who fight do the same. If the majority of my countrywomen and men knew that their tax dollars had gone to pay off warlords, do you think they would be supporting sending our men and women to war? Probably not. Also, I’d like to think that most Americans are aware that we found and captured Osama bin Laden, a name synonymous with terror in the Western Hemisphere, in Pakistan, not even the country we’ve occupied. Naturally, this leads to confusion and mistrust on behalf of our government, particularly when situations such as the Kandahar shooting occur, questioning our mission and ultimate goal in a war that has lasted far too long.
Finally, something most of us can agree on, rehabilitating our economy. As of June 2011, the United States had spent at least $3.7 trillion in the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq (“Daily Mail”). At the same time, Congress was debating how to balance our budget, a tenth of which is spent on the war (“Daily Mail”). Last month an article was published in the Washington Post, stating, “The U.S. military expects that sustaining the Afghan army and police forces after the planned withdrawal of American combat forces in 2014 will cost about $4 billion a year and that most of that money will have to come from the United States and other outside donors” (Jaffe). Though I believe the Obama Administration is doing their best to responsibly withdraw from Afghanistan, cutting their Afghan spending to $5.7 billion in 2013, this year they have projected funds to reach $11.2 billion (Jaffe). Though he advocates military cutbacks and withdrawing from Afghanistan, not to mention voting entirely against the war in Iraq, President Obama has spent more on the military than any other president in the last fifty years (Korb, Conley, and Rothman). I’d be willing to wager he has spent more on wars than any other U.S. president in history. Most of this is because once a war is started, you must keep up and continue the fight, progressing and rebuilding infrastructure. Still, I find it ironic.
Americans today are struggling, for the first time, more than the previous generation. Those who have grown up the American way (with credit cards, fast food, electronics, technology, you know, the “I want it NOW” culture) are finding themselves owing student loans, without health insurance, retirement, jobs, and oftentimes, money to pay the rent. Imagine you are fresh out of college and owe student loans, finally got a job that pays just over minimum wage with no benefits, and have a spouse with no job as well as a baby to feed and clothe. These scenarios vary, but the thoughts are often the same – “Why can’t the U.S. government be held accountable when I am?” “How can trillions be spent on a war we don’t even know we’ll win when millions of people don’t have health care, education is falling more and more behind, and I can hardly pay my bills?”
All in all, now more than ever, Americans want their loved ones home from tours of duty, want a military budget that makes sense and can be held accountable, and an answer to why we are still in Afghanistan. These three factors have led to a decrease in support of the war in Afghanistan, not the troops that fight it. Still, because of the lack of confirmation towards the conflict, the very women and men that put their lives on the line question their duty to the cause, leading to a drop in morale. With more and more civilians and military alike questioning our nation’s motives in a region peppered with extremists just waiting for us to leave so they may return to wreak havoc, U.S. officials cannot help but evaluate our presence and purpose in Afghanistan.
1) Buhmiller, Elisabeth. "Support in US for Afghan War Drops Sharply, Poll Finds." New York Times [New York City] 26 March 2012, n. pag. Web. 26 Apr. 2012.
2) Zoroya, Gregg. "Morale plunges among troops in Afghanistan." USA Today, via Army Times [New York City] 09 may 2011, n. pag. Web. 4 May. 2012.
3) "Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan wars: US cost is $3.7 trillion and up to 258k lives." Daily Mail [London] 29 June 2011, n. pag. Web. 26 Apr. 2012.
4) Jaffe, Greg. "Afghan army to cost U.S. billions of dollars after 2014 withdrawal." Washington Post [Washington DC] 16 Feb 2012, n. pag. Web. 26 Apr. 2012.
5) , Lawrence Korb, Laura Conley, and Alex Rothman. A Historical Perspective on Defense Budgets:What We Can Learn from Past Presidents About Reducing Spending. 2011. Graphic. The Center of American ProgressWeb. 4 May 2012. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/07/historical_defense_budget.htl. *pretty stellar link*