The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

How to end the war in Afghanistan

 A cannon accents rubble from the demolished cyclorama, grim reminder of the demolished lives.(First published in the Gettysburg Times, 5/10/2013)

“Thirty-five million deaths leave an empty place at only one family table.” – News commentator Eric Sevareid, (1912-1992) in a radio essay on the 25th anniversary of the start of World War Two.

With less than one percent of our warrior-age offspring actually in the military force, the odds greatly favor that a picture on the evening news is all most of us will know about someone who has died or been wounded in battle.

It is easy to think the war in Afghanistan, virtual static beneath whatever car crash or blustery foreign leader takes top billing each night, has been going on a very long time. An editor for ABC World News declared the war in Afghanistan “the longest war in our nation’s history, surpassing the conflict in Vietnam.” That was June 2010. Let’s do the math.

In 1950, then-President Harry S. Truman authorized $15 million in military aid to begin official U.S. involvement in a war that, until then, had officially been a French effort to control South Vietnam against Soviet and Chinese-backed North Vietnam. In the ensuing years, we sprayed Agent Orange on the countryside, used B-52 bombers to destroy even more real estate and people, and saw a future presidential candidate imprisoned and tortured for five and-a-half years.

In 1970, National Guardsmen, called to quell a student protest against the war, killed four students and wounded eight others on the campus of Ohio’s Kent State University. Then-President Richard Nixon noted that “when dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy.”

In 1973, a cease fire finally was signed in Paris. Do the math.

Vietnam involved everyone. Initially, it was a place where we would halt the spread of Communism, blocking the dominos that otherwise would topple over onto U.S. soul. Virtually every young man over 18 served in some branch of the military, and when it was over, some 50,000 of our male offspring had died during what singing duo Simon and Garfunkel called “their senior trip.”

Almost 20 years later, the daughter of a friend graduated high school and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, largely for the education benefits. A year after that, in 1991, Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and our president, George H.W. Bush took us to Desert Storm to evict the tyrant. Stephanie was pretty sure she was bound for the killing fields, and very sure that’s not what she signed up for.

The last few years of the Vietnam War were marked by young men burning their draft cards – government issued tickets proving they had registered for the draft (for those too young to remember). They marched against the war, and many of them went to Canada rather than risk death in what they thought was a theater of interest only to arms makers.

When one of them went to Vietnam in an airplane and came home in a body bag, he was on the evening news and whole neighborhoods knew of the family’s loss, likely because it was not the first “casualty of war” in the neighborhood.

It has been only a dozen years since a band of malcontents stole three jetliners and killed nearly 4,000 of our country-folk, giving us reason to launch war into Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the publicity that got us there has died off. Now the War in Afghanistan is being held in secret. Secret weapons and secret “special operations” glorify Seal Team 6, whose members are secret. There are no draft cards being burned because if a lad fresh out of high school doesn’t want to go, he doesn’t have to.

Unmanned jets, their young pilots safely someplace in Kansas, launch missiles into the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan, burning through human life and treasure in amounts virtually impossible to comprehend, while the evening news chatters about the national obesity epidemic, and Reese Witherspoon’s arrest video going viral.

Reinstituting the draft might be a good idea, this time including the women. Maybe that is what will be required for us to notice that the only profit made is by the purveyors of weaponry, the gears of the dollar bill counters lubricated by the “ultimate sacrifice” of our youthful offspring.

Or maybe, while no one is watching, we will leave Afghanistan for Syria.


  1. You said it so well. I think all young people should give two or three years of national service. If they don’t qualify for the military they can work for AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Head Start, cleaning roadsides or whatever needs to be done.

    In this area we know more about Afghanistan than most of the country. Whenever someone who was stationed at one of our many military installations is killed, it’s on the news and in the paper, as are troop and naval deployments. Since units stay together now rather than the random assignments of the Vietnam era, the news can be devastating.

    • Thanks, Sharon. It would be cool to get a conversation going here, about war, draft, community (national) service.

      Why is it, for instance, the only time we hear about community service is when someone is sentenced to it by a court?

      And why should we not require some “dues” of everyone who is a member of this club we call the United States of America. Even if they qualify for military service, there are, as you mentioned, numerous other options to being an active participant-citizen.

  2. I think that “everyone serving” was the idea behind AmeriCorps but since it wasn’t required, very few signed up. All should register and be assigned to what suits them best. Some hospitals will pay for med school if the student agrees to serve x years at that hospital. The shipyards here offer apprenticeships with x years commitment. Why can’t that philosophy be stretched further? That could be a service option.

    Another hold back is all the kids on ADHD meds. If they take it after 11 yr old they are excluded from military service. At the theme park I see parents who don’t think they can control a child who has ADHD. You know what that means. They need an incentive – and I don’t mean ice cream.

    My son was a classic case. I refused the meds and he obeyed, at least until middle school, when his friends exerted more influence than I. However, once he joined the Marine Corps DEP, he shaped up fast. They told him, “if you get in any trouble, this contract will be voided.”

    • John

      May 17, 2013 at 21:28

      There’s the rub: it has to be mandatory service, and it must include a salary. Higher pay for work we need more. Whether is military or Peace Corps.

      Since 9/11 we’ve found one excuse after another to become the people we say we hate. I can’t remember when torture was acceptable, but enhanced interrogation is a different thing – unless you’re the one being interrogated.

      If more of us could see first hand what’s being done in our name, we might have a better turnout at the polls. It might not change the outcome, but at least we could have a majority of the population, rather than just a majority of the few.

  3. Did I dream this or did Obama make a proposal that had to do with student loans and community service? It was similar to a draft in that they pledged to give a certain amount of years to service in receipt of a student loan. If I dreamed it, then it was a good dream! Wonder what ever happened to the idea? Oh, I remember now. If it was an Obama idea, then it got the kiss of death from the other side.

    War just doesn’t work in the long run. When will we ever learn? We hated the Japanese at one time and now we love sushi. We hated the Russians and now they are our allies, or at least they were until last week. The Vietnamese have a corner on the nail salon markets in the U.S. and don’t we just flock to those, ladies? It just seems like an awful squandering of human life as well as resources to invade countries that don’t go along with what we’re about. Before you ask, no I do not have a solution, but we have some of the greatest minds in the universe, so I think we should stop, look, and listen to what they have to say and then see where that goes. We hear politicians say that war is the last resort. Really? Really, really? I think history would dispute that notion in a heartbeat. We have become a nation of bullies and we need to acknowledge it and just stop it!

    • John

      May 17, 2013 at 21:36

      War is only the last resort for those who actually have to fight it, but not for those who profit from the death and destruction.

      Pretty good game – convince us that our dead and maimed sons and daughters are heroes, and sell another drone and a box of ammunition. Or, to paraphrase a song from a previous age, “praise the Lord and send some kids to war.”

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