In August 1968 my company surrounded a Vietnamese village so that the “lerps” could search it. (from LRRP, long range reconnaissance patrol.) Five soldiers appeared carrying M-16 carbines with silencers. Why would they need silencers?
When it was dark, they went into the village. When morning came, they were gone.
Carlotta Gall’s book about Afghanistan, “The Wrong Enemy,” tells a similar story. An Afghan translator said he accompanied a U.S. team on a night raid. They carried “American assault weapons with silencers attached.” They kicked in the door of a house and, without saying a word, killed the three adults and left the children orphaned. The translator “was never asked to translate anything.”
Our military thinkers still don’t know right from wrong, but they have learned something from Vietnam and El Salvador ~ how to keep wars quiet and, to paraphrase Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero’s letter to Jimmy Carter, how to become more efficient at murder.
“The Wrong Enemy” should cause us to reflect on Afghanistan’s future. Our taxes have paid for war in Afghanistan for years. Isn’t it time to shift our spending and our creative thinking to peacemaking?
In Afghanistan, over the last 35 years of war, there was one constant: the Pakistani military armed the most extreme fundamentalists. During 23 of those years our government took sides and paid for these wars.
During the 1980s our government paid Pakistan to arm Afghan guerrillas (the mujahideen) as they fought the Soviet army. Since 2001 our government has sent our military to fight the Taliban but kept silent while the Pakistani military continued to arm the Taliban. A Pentagon assessment from July 2013 said, “so long as the Taliban can find haven in Pakistan, defeating them on the battlefield will be difficult if not impossible.”
We have spent more than $1 trillion on the Afghan war. Of that, about $100 billion went to “reconstruction,” but almost all of that went to prop up the Afghan government, National Army and Police. Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence wrote that only $3 billion of that $1 trillion (one third of 1 percent) has gone to aid the average Afghan.
The anti-corruption group Transparency International ranks Afghanistan as one of the three most corrupt nations on earth, yet our government continues to give contracts to corporations with long records of fraudulent practices. (See “Windfalls of War” from The Center for Public Integrity)
Nation-building didn’t fail in Afghanistan; it never started. Corrupt contractors took huge payments, sub-contractors took theirs, and on down the line until there was very little left ~ the trickle-down theory in action.
Before September 11, 2001, Iran opposed the Taliban while Pakistan armed and supported the Taliban. After September 11 our government illogically designated Iran as our enemy and Pakistan as our ally. This only makes sense if we see that our government follows a logic of its own, based on profit and control of other nation’s resources. Iran was already on the list of countries whose oil and natural gas was to be stolen in the future, so they couldn’t be our ally.
With Iran off-limits, Pakistan became the only route from Afghanistan to the sea. Our geniuses of foreign policy may not have realized that they gave Pakistan veto power over any U.S. corporate get-rich-quick schemes. The root problem of our continuous war is that U.S. soldiers are caught in a war of attrition over how much control the U.S. and Pakistan will allow each other over Afghanistan.
If we care about the soul of our nation, we must question the official story. Why does our government support an illogical policy? Why do we enrich a few well-connected Americans and Afghans while pushing the average American and Afghan even deeper into poverty? And why does our government remain silent while Pakistan still provides the weapons that have killed 3,400 U.S. and NATO soldiers, hundreds of civilian contractors and aid workers, and tens of thousands of Afghans?
It appears that our government values profits over lives. Corporations will profit enormously from building infrastructure and exporting trillions of dollars worth of minerals from Central Asia and Afghanistan to seaports in Pakistan. More profits will come from supplying arms to those who will guard the transportation routes. If we don’t demand that Congress change course, a coalition of the greedy will continue to shape our policies.
After 33 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, General Smedley Butler described himself as “a gangster for capitalism.” Writing in 1935, General Butler titled his book “War Is a Racket.”
Ann Jones, in her book “They Were Soldiers,” says “a clever person just needs to find the right racket to profit endlessly from America’s endless wars.” The war in Afghanistan is a racket, and those who promote it for personal gain are gangsters for capitalism.
We can still heal the wounds of war. We should: speak the truth about war, as we understand it, to our fellow citizens; identify the Pakistani military as the problem and withdraw all support from them; test a new alliance with Iran to break Pakistan’s economic stranglehold; and shift our spending to projects chosen and directed by Afghan civic groups.
We owe a debt to the broken families of Iraq and Afghanistan and to our morally and physically wounded soldiers. We can start repaying that debt by spending whatever is needed to repair the damage.
Bill Distler was a fire team leader and squad leader in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam from Dec. 1967 to Sept. 1968. He is a member of the Jonathan J. Santos Memorial Chapter of Veterans For Peace in Bellingham, WA. He spends his spare time thinking about Vietnam, El Salvador, and Afghanistan. He believes they are all one long war driven by greed, ignorance, and arrogance.
This article first appeared in the summer 2014 issue of the War Crimes Times.