The Feeling And The SensingOld Blue | Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 | 7 Comments »
This blog is about the experience, and part of the experience is feeling it. I can relate to readers the way that it feels to be cold, I can relate to readers how it feels to crunch across gravel on the camp. I can try to relate how it feels to sit and converse with my Afghan counterpart. I can try to relate how it feels to ride in an MRAP through the streets of Mazar-e Sharif, the feeling of earphones and body armor, viewing the normal world of Afghans through armored slats and thick glass as we do our little part to influence their Border Police to make their lives better, safer and more stable so that we can have that at home, too.
How does one convey the feeling of being seven thousand miles from home while two countries go mad? I swear, it feels as if so many people have lost their damned minds both here and at home.
Many of my blogging friends are talking about nukes and smallpox-infested blankets and carpets.
I read the comments on the news stories on dozens of outlets both liberal and conservative. They blame the Afghans for the violence. They cannot understand how a book can be worth the loss of lives, especially American lives. They cry out in rage for our immediate withdrawal, as if their moral outrage is now an excuse for wholesale abandonment… failure… in an effort they have grown weary of and no longer… as if they ever did… understand. Our moral compass has no point upon it where an idea, much less the physical repository for that idea, is worth lethal outrage. They throw rocks and burn tires. We throw comments and flame those who dissent. It’s as much as we can care about anything.
Of course, we have those in our country who will destroy property and endanger lives over the outcome of a sporting event, but that’s usually a local affair and not a national outburst.
Of all the things one could do in this country with the demonstrated potential to cause such outbursts, burning the Quran tops the list. We have inadvertently bombed weddings and suffered only a fraction the outrage that disrespecting the religion, even if “inadvertently,” has caused. If there were one thing to avoid doing in this entire country, burning the Quran would be it. We spend literally tens of thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars to avoid causing civilian casualties… as well we should… in order to attain our exceedingly poorly stated goals. Yet we cause more chaos in ten minutes of book burning. We can blame the Afghans all day, we can talk about how most of them can’t even read the book that was burned, we can spout off about hypocrisy and curse them as a backwards people.
It solves nothing. All we are doing is feeding the insurgents.
How does it feel? Frustrating.
It’s frustrating to know that after ten-plus years, about a quarter of which I have been personally present, we still don’t have the discipline to not make such “mistakes.” To us, burning a book by “accident” is an understandable mistake. But in a country where our enemy is constantly telling the people that we are here to destroy Islam it may serve to some as confirmation, turning a skeptical observer into a rock-throwing rioter. In this country, piety is respected as much as education, regardless of literacy. It is a moral value. Millions of Catholics have given something up for Lent, and millions of others have not with no fear of reprisal. In all my time in Afghanistan, I have yet to see an Afghan willing to break the Ramadan fast in a way that would cause his fellows to judge him a poor Muslim. It is a core value in this religiously homogeneous culture. They have a word, “Qari,” (pronounced “Cory”) for those who can recite the Quran from memory. That doesn’t mean that they have to be able to read it first. And to be a Qari is a respected thing.
It’s not like being a Kentucky Colonel.
There is no way in hell I could memorize a book, much less the Bible.
Our people took a careless action with the one thing that could possibly inspire such widespread rage, and over 30 people are dead, four of them Americans. It’s like the perfect storm of ignorant jackassery. This rivals the bags of rice coming off the boat from the United States to a hungry Vietnam, each being stamped in Vietnamese as it came off the boat under the eyes of approving American supervisors who could not read Vietnamese, “A gift from the people of the Soviet Union.” Except it has greater weight to the insurgency both here and at home than the rice bags ever did. It is still an example of inexcusable ignorance of the environment in which you are operating. That, my friends, is a clear sign of a lack of discipline, of attention to detail in what is important in this particular mission.
The Afghans did not burn the books and blame us for it. We did it; and we freaking knew better.
It’s not like we didn’t know this type of thing had the capacity for such a nasty reaction when not even one year ago we saw such outrage when that “Christian preacher” in Florida decided to commit homicide by YouTube. It is THE red button that you don’t press in this country. My judging the red button to be inappropriate, backwards or hypocritical does not alter the value system here, and we are the ones who are seeking to gain security by working to stabilize Afghanistan. Making the strong appearance of attacking their value system at its core does not help them to edge towards progress. Following it up with a vitriolic reaction to their anger does not help me to avoid the problem in the future, only to feel justified in continuing to ignore and disregard the values of those I would help.
With many of my veteran friends and 99% of all citizens who bother to leave a comment on a news site raging about how these people are barbarians and not worth our time and effort… and with months to go on my third tour… how do I feel?
Isolated. Outcast. Alone. My will to fight the good fight has the gravitational pull of the black hole that is the loss of national will dragging it towards the event horizon. It feels different. It is a sea change that is occurring… or has occurred.
We have lost our national will to the point that the troops over here sense it. It’s an underlying feeling, a sensing more than a feeling… that whatever we do, it doesn’t matter. We are here, tasked with something that our own civilian masters, if not the majority of our own people, don’t support us in. Our poorly stated national objectives, the inexorable pulling away from a task that those of us who are close enough to see can tell is not ready… we sense it. Enough progress was made to say that we put in a peak effort, but that peak effort was always on a timer. It was given just enough of a chance that had it brought massive success it would have been welcomed.
And if it didn’t, a claim to have made that effort would suffice.
My efforts, and the sacrifices of my friends like Jon Stiles have been sold for the sake of domestic politics. It’s not about getting anything done; it’s about leaving. By a certain date. Or, as it used to be called in Congress, “a date certain.”
If our efforts and sacrifices are not made… and sold… in the intelligent pursuit… the purchase… of sensible and well-stated goals and outcomes that favor the United States for not just an election cycle but for the following decades, then they are being sold cheaply. This I resent with all my heart and soul.
My problem is that I actually think about that and what it means. Some people don’t think about stuff as much. They are happier. Still, even they know… they just don’t think about it.
I just got an email… as I was typing this… that was emailed to multiple recipients sent by someone who, if I gave you his name, Google would easily recognize. It started out, “So this is what it feels like to lose.”
Thanks, man. Do you realize that I’m still here????? Kinda like talking about how messed up a burn victim looks while he’s sitting in the room. Dude, I’ve got months to go, and I’ve got this coming at me?
My brother’s war was Vietnam, and I think that I’ve gained some small appreciation for how he felt, even though this is no Vietnam. The loss of will, the national fatigue that gives way to dehumanizing and/or demonizing those whom we are supposed to be helping to grow. I sense it more than feel it; the will to succeed has gone nearly completely, the will to excuse growing stronger. We are seeking our excuses and in this moment we have found one to add to the list so that the loss here will be a justifiable loss if not a moral imperative.