Kabul: What Might We Learn?

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 08-22-2021

The US Army did not win the war in Europe in 1945. Leaving aside any argument about what the US and the British and others did versus what the Russian Army did, the two tasks given to the US Army were somewhat more limited in scope: Marshall tasked the Army to “Enter the Continent of Europe, and Destroy Germany’s war-making capability.” The Army did.

Well, two points. The first point is that the final victory came long after the defeat of the Nazis and the destruction of the German war machine.

The Army’s task (and the task of the British and Allied armies) was far narrower in scope than removing Hitler, installing new leadership, and rebuilding Germany. That all came after. And all this depended on a great deal of sustained effort, because the final victory came in the 1950s when Germany was able to stand on its own, able to function as an independent nation again. And America - the nation as a whole - was willing to carry the cost of that entire “production.” Remember Elvis? Elvis went to Germany in 1958 after being drafted (served with 3rd Armored Division), he didn’t volunteer to go.

That willingness to carry that cost - in dollars and in lives - was central to the victory in World War II. And it leads to the second point, that the victory in World War II was a victory won by the American people. Carrying the cost of the war meant a draft, bond drives and a host of other things. The point is that the entire nation knew it was at war and agreed to it.

But the draft ended in 1975 and was replaced by the All Volunteer Force (AVF). The AVF was originally so structured that the US would be unable to conduct a large-scale sustained operation without a mobilization. This was done deliberately to ensure that the United States would never again go to war, or sustain a war, without the support of the American people.

It took some sleight of hand on the part DOD and the complete acquiescence of Congress, but that idea was “stood on its head.” Thus, the US conducted the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq within the bounds of the All Volunteer Force.

From that, we get this: According to the Veterans Administration in the 20 years since 2001 approximately 2.3 million Americans have deployed in support of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, that is 2/3rds of 1% Said differently, 99.3% of Americans have not been directly involved in the war. And since the war - and everything  else - is funded by deficit spending, there have been no bond drives, no hardships, etc. If you or a loved one is not deploying, the last 20 years have been something seen but not felt.

In short, for more than a generation the vast majority of Americans are not, and have not been, involved with America’s wars.

And so, as we try to understand what Afghanistan means, and try to place the debacle in Kabul into some sort of context, we are left wondering just exactly what that war was for, and what of the lives lost or bodies and minds damaged by that war?

To begin, operations in Afghanistan served to protect our nation from further attacks. 330 million people have lived 20 years free from any meaningful terrorist threat. Even today there’s no immediate, meaningful terrorist threat to the US. That may change as a result of what is happening, but 20 years free of that threat is something to be valued.

Two countries were freed from the rule of tyrants. Now, in Afghanistan, the tyrants return. But for nearly a generation they had a taste of freedom. Many were able to leave and go to the West where they can be free. Many more learned what freedom means. Perhaps there’s among them a future Washington or Jefferson. But at least they were given a chance.

In the case of Iraq the justifications may have been garbled, but the fact remains that Saddam and his regime is gone and that country is on a better path. It isn't perfect, but they have a chance, something they did not have before. Between those two countries that means 70 million people have been given a chance they otherwise would not have had. That, too is worth something.

And, US presence in Afghanistan served US interests in South and South-West Asia; the US presence has helped and continues to help to keep some crises from spreading; that, too is worth something.

So, those sacrifices have not been meaningless, even if our leadership seems incapable of articulating that fact. But where do we go from here?

There are a host of issues to address, but perhaps the most important is that the American citizenry and the Soldiers and Sailors and Airmen and Marines must regain contact. That is the first step.

The second step is that the citizenry must give Congress its marching orders: go back and relook at the All Volunteer Force. We must not engage in wars when disconnected generals and politicians want it. In the end wars involve the whole nation, and Congress needs to ensure that the whole nation is in on the decision.

The third step is that our senior officers have demonstrated they are utterly unable to connect with the American people, or for that matter, with the troops. If there’s one benefit of the current disgraceful behavior of some of our senior officers, perhaps it will serve to remind field grade officers, junior officers, and all the troops that they owe not a smidgeon of loyalty to their generals. They owe loyalty to the Constitution, and to the man to their left and right. Maybe that point will sink in to the generals and they will either regain their sense of honor and decency, or they will at least retire.