As Americans fled Kabul and desperate Afghans sought to follow, Jerry and Brett Young stood in the yard of their rural Rochester, Ill., home recently and remembered their boy who never got to see his 26th birthday.
“He loved to skateboard when he was younger. And he loved all kinds of music. He especially liked jazz, the blues and hard rock,” Brett recalled of her son, Chad.
His father, Jerry, pointed to two road signs hanging on a nearby shed.
One designated a portion of Illinois Route 4 as “Cpl. James ‘Chad’ Young Memorial Highway.” Another recognized him as a 2003 Glenwood High School graduate killed in that distant land.
This nation honors its war dead, as well it should. I admire the willingness of our servicemen and servicewomen to sacrifice for this great nation. But, I’m left wondering if our nation is too willing to send men and women into harm’s way.
I’m not a pacifist, but I often find myself skeptical of our government’s intentions.
Jimmy Carter, perhaps the best person to be president in my lifetime, annoyed many when he said the U.S. is the most warlike nation in history. That’s a tough pill to swallow. However, it’s worth noting that, of the 245 years this nation has existed, we have been at war in 226 years of that time.
A Brown University study found that since 9/11 the U.S. has spent more than $6.4 trillion on military actions in the Middle East.
Think of how many schools, highways, bridges and parks could have been created with that money.
Of course, those figures understate the cost of war. For people such as the Young Family, the cost has been immeasurable. Tears still flow freely 11 years after Chad’s death. And, he was one of nearly 7,000 American service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At least 801,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Pakistan. Many were civilians.
“You know that all politicians lie,” Jerry Young said. “They will say things that aren’t true, or they will vote for something they really don’t believe in because someone did them a favor.”
While he had a strong opinion about the integrity, or lack thereof, exhibited by our elected officials, his opinion on the Afghanistan war is muted.
“I really don’t have an opinion on what is happening over there, other than it’s sad. It’s like when Osama Bin Laden was killed; some reporter called and wanted our opinion. What are we supposed to say, ‘We’re glad he’s dead’?”
For Rock Island native Tyler Carroll, the war was almost half his lifetime ago. The 41-year-old was one of the first soldiers to fight in Afghanistan after 9/11.
“I had friends killed over there, and I know others who were badly wounded,” he said. “And, others came home with mental issues.”
The Afghanistan war is the longest in U.S. history.
“It’s not affecting me as much as others,” Carroll said. “It was so long ago for me. Was it worth it? Well, our initial mission was to destroy Al Qaeda and make sure the Taliban was not in control. Al Qaeda was damaged; Osama Bin Laden has been killed; but the Taliban is back in control. Perhaps they weren’t ready for democracy. But, many of the people we interacted with there seemed to want it.”
Democracy runs in Carroll’s blood. He’s a scion of a Quad-City political dynasty. His grandpa is former state Sen. Denny Jacobs; his great-grandfather was state Rep. Oral Jacobs; and his uncle is former state Sen. Mike Jacobs.
Still, he is skeptical whether the U.S. should impose democracy on other nations.
One shouldn’t be surprised. Most wars end in ambiguity. We honor the abstract causes for which men and women fight—freedom, patriotism, service—but we can also question the wisdom of policies that deployed them into harm’s way.
When I was a child in the 1970s, I didn’t think much about war. I was in fourth grade when Saigon fell in April of 1975.
Not long after that, I was canoeing down a river with my parents, and we met another family paddling downstream—a husband, wife and two little girls.
The man in the other canoe had no legs.
For the rest of the trip, my mother was quiet and contemplative.
Finally, I asked her, “Why doesn’t that man have any legs?”
Her voice cracked, and she said, “He lost them in that awful, awful war. We should never have been there.”
When I saw the hurt in the eyes of Chad Young’s parents and heard the reports from Kabul, I couldn’t help but think the same thing.
Editor’s note: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.