It has been more than nine years since I resigned in protest over the escalation of the Afghan War from my position as a Political Officer with the US State Department in Afghanistan. It had been my third time to war, along with several years of working in positions effecting war policy in Washington, DC with the Department of Defense (DOD) and the State Department. My resignation in 2009 was not taken lightly by my superiors and my reasons for opposing President Obama’s “surge” in Afghanistan found support amongst both military officers and civilian officials at senior levels in Kabul and Washington.
I was repeatedly asked not to resign and was offered a more senior position within the State Department. Richard Holbrooke, then the President’s appointed representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told me he agreed with 95% of what I had written and asked me to join his staff, while the US ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, told me my analysis was one of the best he had encountered and stated he would write an introduction endorsing my resignation letter if I remained with the US Embassy in Afghanistan for the remainder of my tour. In conversation with the US deputy ambassador to Afghanistan he agreed the war was not just unwinnable, but also corrupt, and stated he would not let his children serve in such a war. Further support for my views was provided by my counterparts who were serving as political officers in the most violent parts of Afghanistan: Kandahar, Helmand, Kunar, Nuristan and Oruzgan Provinces. These men and women made clear their agreement with my assessment and my resignation. The support from the military was equally effusive and genuine, often such support included apologies along the lines of “I’d like to resign too, but I’ve got kids heading to college in a few years…” (the golden handcuffs are an incredibly instrumental and integral aspect of the US Empire’s infrastructure). When I asked Karen DeYoung, the Washington Post correspondent who wrote the front page, above the fold story on my resignation for the Post, why she wrote such a piece about me, she replied she could not find anyone at the Pentagon, State Department or White House who disagreed with me.
I relate the above not to cheer lead for myself, although the sadness and despondency from witnessing the wars up close and from afar and their cruel constant murder, does, at times, necessitate such crutches for me, but to relay my own personal observation of the great lie of war in action; the ability of the machine of war to propel itself forward even when those most intimate with the war, those most responsible for it and without whose support and effort the war could not continue, carry on the war whilst knowing and living the lie full well.
Nearly almost a decade after my resignation, there are reports of a possible peace deal in the making for Afghanistan. What I recognize, so clearly and sickeningly, just as my mind, and my soul, can recall the bright scarlet red of fresh arterial blood that dulls in contact with dust and cloth, or the clay-like frozen set jaw of a dead young man, whether he have been called an Afghan, American or Iraqi, are the same lies of the war that were so skillfully and effectively utilized by politicians, generals and the media to escalate the war in 2009 now being recirculated to defeat any current attempts for peace.
Sacrifice does not confer sanctity
When President Obama entered office in 2009 less than 30,000 US troops were in Afghanistan. Within a year and a half that number would reach100,000 US military personnel along with 30,000 NATO soldiers from Europe and over 100,000 private contractors. Since 2001, more than 2400 US service members have been killed in Afghanistan, nearly 1800 of them since 2009. European armies have had more than 1100 soldiers killed and more than1700 contractors have been killed while performing jobs that in previous wars would have been done by US soldiers. Tens of thousands have been physically wounded while hundreds of thousands suffer from traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), moral injury, depression, substance abuse and other “hidden” wounds of war. These hidden wounds have very real consequences: the US Department of Veterans Affairs reports young men and women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq (a great many of them have served multiple deployments to both wars) have suicide rates six times higher than their civilian peers, while infantry units, those that have performed the most killing and dying, have been seen to have suicide rates fourteen times higher than young civilian men their own age. In real numbers that means, since 2001, likely more than 9,000 US veterans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq have been lost to suicide after returning home.
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Matthew Hoh is a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy and a member of Veterans For Peace.