Veterans deserve a more honorable Afghanistan exit

By Aaron Rice
August 20, 2021

When Americans see images of the fall of Saigon which marked the end of the Vietnam War, several descriptions immediately come to mind: failure, quagmire and (fairly or not) defeat. Vietnam veterans fought bravely and do not deserve to be remembered in this way, but that is the reality of the legacy created by the indecisiveness and failures of the civilian political leaders who oversaw the war.

Our Afghanistan veterans deserve a more honorable and dignified ending to their war. They too fought bravely. They put their lives on the line for their country. They sacrificed their friends, their bodies, and their spirits for our country and the people of Afghanistan. We should have been able to learn from Vietnam and ensure that we leave a better legacy for them.

Our veterans do not deserve to be remembered this way. Fairly or not, the images coming out of Afghanistan will go into the history books and will shape the way we remember this war. We have seen scenes of desperate Afghan citizens pleading with the American military to help them leave the country; of fear and uncertainty gripping stranded American citizens, our allies, and our friends; and of violence, unrest, and chaos.

It is a stain on America and the Afghanistan War. Our veterans, our stranded American citizens, our friends and allies, and the Afghan people deserve better. We owe that to them at a bare minimum.

We knew this was coming. We had plenty of time to prepare for an orderly and safe withdrawal. That we would leave Afghanistan on this note is shocking and inexcusable.

Many veterans already struggle with thoughts of hopelessness and despair. The events of this week have caused many more to struggle with anger and grief. When friends of yours don’t come home, you want that to mean something. Veterans can’t help but attempt the impossible task of weighing the sacrifices made against the wartime accomplishments. Some decide the sacrifice was too great. Others hope that the accomplishments were enough to justify the sacrifice. But all must carry that burden and face their own uncertainties.

As we watch the events in Afghanistan with heavy hearts and deep concern for what lies ahead, we should also make sure our veterans know that they will not be remembered for these disgraceful scenes. We are proud of them. They fought bravely and served their country honorably. They made the world a better place and gave hope and resolve to the Afghan people to strive for a better way of life.

They kept America safe by fighting the enemy overseas and stopping the fight from coming here. They prevented terrorist attacks on the American homeland by destroying and degrading terrorist networks. They brought to justice those responsible for the horrific attacks of Sept. 11. For all of that, Americans are grateful.

We should also remember that the war in Afghanistan was a just war. In fact, the invasion of Afghanistan was the most clearly justified act of war that America has taken since our entrance into World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Civilians were attacked and killed on American soil on Sept. 11. The Taliban was harboring and sponsoring the terrorists responsible for that attack. We even gave the Taliban the opportunity to turn over those terrorists and avoid war. But they refused and America defended itself. We were right to do so.

That doesn’t mean we all have to support staying in Afghanistan for the past 20 years, or nation building, or so-called “forever wars.” But we should remember the reasons we sent our young men and women to fight in Afghanistan in the first place and we should honor them for answering the call. The best way to do that right now is to ensure a safe and orderly evacuation of Americans, our friends and our allies.

This opinion piece by Aaron Rice, Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, originally appeared in the Clarion Ledger.


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