Back in 2005 we had a rude awakening. The “war on terror” had been underway for nearly four years when a friend of ours died in Irag. I found the column I wrote then just the other day and decided not to put it up on this site. I changed my mind hours ago as Kabul fell.
Though the friend died in Iraq, not Afghanistan, it still makes sense to post what I wrote then.
But first, go back to 2001. September 11, 2001, to be exact. My response was the same as many, horror and sadness, but I wasn’t surprised. Live overseas for a while to find out how the rest of the world views the U.S. Live in Germany while terrorists are putting bombs on cars in American military bases. So I wasn’t surprised.
I married my military husband as we were winding down in Vietnam. I met him while teaching on an Air force base, my first experience with active duty military. Most were there to avoid the draft, to avoid actively fighting a war. I had been anti-war, anti Vietnam for some years. I was happy not to meet any gung ho airmen. Then came the fall of Saigon. I was glad we were out but I had watched closely up til then to see how badly botched it all was.
I saw immediately the tar baby Afghanistan represented. I saw the future, 20 years ago. I said it would end like this. Of course, one did not say that much out loud back then. Today I say that I told you so. A possibly foregone conclusion.
Saigon CIA station chief, Thomas Polgar’s last cable from Vietnam says it all:
“This will be final message from Saigon station. It has been a long fight and we have lost. . . . Those who fail to learn from history are forced to repeat it. Let us hope that we will not have another Vietnam experience and that we have learned our lesson. Saigon signing off.”
Please let’s learn that lesson this time.
So that no more wonderful young men and women die for stupid causes.
From 2005 I wrote:
War has come home to us for the first time in our lives: we buried a wonderful young man today, Benyahmin Ben Yahudah. Neither of us have ever known anyone who died in combat. Now we do.
Benyahmin died while handing out candy to Iraqi children; today he was buried with full military honors. Athens-Clarke law enforcement cleared the way for the hearse to travel from Bernstein’s to Evergreen Memorial; the Oconee County Fire Department assisted in blocking the road – shutting down the Atlanta Highway for quite a while. Reporters and cameramen stood sweating the heat with the rest of us.
Many words were said at the graveside service – true words about the kind of man Benyahmin was. So many times when someone dies, many words are said sincerely but frequently have little basis in fact. This time they were true.
The attendees were an unusual mix of folks, from family and friends to Athens Tech faculty to the group from our karate school. It was horribly hot but so incredibly bearable- sweating and hurting. Firemen handed out bottles of water to the mourners who didn’t even have to ask for such assistance.
The slow, solemn ceremony immaculately performed by the military detail, the bugler sounding taps, the presentation of medals – three of them to be exact – and the flag. It was plenty of ceremony. I watched, interested, in how it was all done.
I didn’t shed a tear.
Benyahmin died doing what he did best – helping others. He chose to join the army. He chose to become a medic. He chose to do what he could to make better the lives of the soldiers and civilians alike in Iraq.
Now we have to go on with our lives, but in some ways I feel if my life has stopped, stalled in a nightmare of someone else’s choosing.
I was one of the few who did not approve of going to war in the first place. I was afraid it would become another tar baby. I was right.
I do not advocate pulling out of Iraq like others who feel the way I do. We have destabilized a country; there is potential for destabilizing the region. We now have an obligation to try to put things to rights. We have an obligation to our troops and to those, like Benyahmin, who have and will sacrifice their lives.
I fear, however, that those sacrifices may be in vain. I’m sure that eventually the American public will tire of losing their sons and daughters. I’m sure eventually we will leave that country. I only hope that Bush’s unjustified decision to start this conflict does not end up having us leave that country like we left Vietnam. I don’t believe Americans have the stomach for a long term commitment. I know I don’t.
There are no quick and easy answers. I certainly have none.
I don’t think we should be there. I wasn’t convinced by Bush’s “reasons”. I think we have made a mistake.
But, we must stay until there’s some sort of resolution. We can’t abandon them.
The Iraqi people deserve better. Our soldiers deserve better. Benyahmin and those who love him deserve better.
Now I weep. I weep for all of us, Americans and Iraqis alike. And I weep for Benyahmin, a good man.