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Is America Losing Its Soul in Afghanistan?

October-November 2012

U. S. at War

Is America Losing Its Soul in Afghanistan?

by Bill Distler

Bill Distler is a Vietnam veteran and a member of Veterans For Peace.

Our war in Afghanistan is immoral and dishonest. Every day in Afghanistan lives are destroyed, homes and communities are blown apart, and US soldiers and Afghan children are psychologically ruined.   Meanwhile, war profiteers, ours and theirs, continue to enrich themselves.

This war had a false beginning and, unless we act, it will have a false end. We were given false reasons to justify this war: going after bin Laden and al Qaeda; helping women; stability, democracy, reconstruction. But these stated goals did not receive serious priority or funding. Instead, military spending was the only option taken seriously by our government. If anything, this war has had a negative effect on all our stated goals. The illogical explanations for our actions (see “A few of the biggest lies...” below) can only be explained by the logic of greed.  Our government has spent thousands of Afghan and American lives and hundreds of billions of our tax dollars not to bring peace to Afghanistan, but to give tens of billions in profits to their corporate buddies in the mining, natural gas pipeline, military contracting, base construction, and weapons industries. Unless we act to change this, the lives that were sacrificed will have been for a false ending.

The war in Afghanistan has been a murderous hoax, started by George Bush and continued and, in the case of drones, made worse by Barack Obama. But the American people have learned to tolerate murder by our presidents because it has been given another name. When presidents murder, it is called foreign policy, and only “experts” are asked for their opinion.

As citizens, I believe we are called on to be experts on our own beliefs and opinions. I know that I am the world’s greatest expert on what happened to me in Vietnam and how it made me feel. I am also the world’s greatest expert on what I believe and why I believe it. This leads me to have opinions, which every American is supposed to have. It also leads me to attempt to express my opinions, which every American is supposed to have the right to do.

My opinion on war is that all wars include a moment when we sense a betrayal of everything we have been taught to believe. It is such a shock to the system that most of us can never come to grips with what we have seen. It defies our understanding of how life is supposed to work. For me that moment came when we were hit by our own artillery during my second month in Vietnam.

Innocent children are killed by war and that is not God’s work. That is the work of men who ignore God’s commandments. We should not follow these people but, because they are given endless air time as “experts”, we are, in the words of the poet Wendell Berry, forced to take seriously what we don’t really respect.

We hear insane and soulless verbal formulations such as: “We do everything possible to minimize civilian casualties,” usually said after a “precision-guided munition” hits the wrong house. (God help me. I just unconsciously bought into half of the insanity. In a world guided by God’s word, all bombs would be said to have fallen on the wrong house,)

All wars could be avoided if we put our hearts and souls into asking ourselves: what does a merciful God want me to do? First on the list should be: don’t kill people. Second should be: don’t joke about killing people, it breeds disrespect for human life. Say everything as if God is listening.

Our public conversation has drifted far from the good words that God wants to hear, and it is led by men who seem not to care what God wants. As citizens, let’s not allow our discussion to be dragged down the ladder to hell. Isn’t it our moral work to raise our words and actions to a higher plane?

A few of the biggest lies that keep us in Afghanistan:

Pakistan Is Our Ally. That can only be true if our government is grateful to the Pakistani intelligence service (the ISI) for organizing and funding the two scourges of Afghanistan; in the 1980s the ISI funded the fundamentalist mujahideen, and from 1994 to the present the ISI funded and directed the Taliban. The Pakistani people might become our allies if we stopped aiding their oppressors, but the Pakistani military and the ISI stoke anti-American sentiments because they have a different agenda. Does the desire of the US government to build the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline give the Pakistani military blackmail power over US policy?

We Are Doing Nation-Building In Afghanistan. A recent study by Anthony Cordesman, titled “The U.S. Cost of the Afghan War,” ( makes it clear that about 97 percent of our money spent in Afghanistan has been for destruction and for securing the rubble, not for reconstruction. We now have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. We also pay for 120,000 contractors and 350,000 Afghan National Army and Police. While 97 percent of our money supports this army of over half a million, 3 percent is left to support the other 30 million people of Afghanistan, distributed through the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai. The idea that we are supporting nation-building is, like the war itself, a murderous hoax.

In his brilliant speech at Riverside Church in April, 1967, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam”. ( His words were prophetic, because they apply to Afghanistan today.  Our “experts” have improved their techniques for aiming bombs and controlling the media but they have not improved their sense of right and wrong.

In one of his columns for The Progressive magazine our beautiful friend and peacemaker Howard Zinn asked: “Are We Politicians or Citizens?” He said we should not start from a position of accepting timid offerings from compromised politicians; our first job is to determine what we believe, and then ask for it. One of our jobs as citizens should be to tell our friends, family, and our morally bereft politicians that we must seek the path of righteousness as a nation.


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