Consider how far off the radar screen our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fallen.
Both wars proceed, almost on their own, with too little awareness of their objectives, with too little urgency attached to reaching those objectives, and with too much ongoing misery and tragedy suffered by our troops and their families.
These are wars that we don’t spend much energy thinking about, yet civilians continue to die and a whole generation of American soldiers is suffering impacts that, for many, will require a lifetime to overcome.
Pauline Jelinek, writing for the Associated Press, describes the damage in a recent article entitled, “Morale sinks among troops in Afghanistan.” In terms of combat casualties, at least 1,468 American troops have died in Afghanistan since 2001 and some 11,411 troops have been wounded.
But the psychological impact is staggering. According to the Defense Department, nearly 80 percent of soldiers and Marines fighting in Afghanistan have seen a member of their unit killed or wounded. Two-thirds of troops say they have been within 55 yards of the explosion of a roadside bomb. About half of the soldiers and 56 percent of the Marines say that they have killed an enemy soldier.
These surprisingly high numbers reflect an intense level of combat. The only low number reported in the survey is the 20 percent of soldiers who say that they are suffering from psychological problems such as anxiety, severe stress or depression. But traumatic combat experience has a slow fuse, and we can expect that a significantly higher percentage of our soldiers will eventually experience these problems and others, including alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide.
So it isn’t only the financial costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that we’ve kicked further down the road. But is nonviolence a feasible principle by which to negotiate the pitfalls of an increasingly violent world? Perhaps not. On the other hand, wars have nearly always created more problems than they’ve solved.
Afghanistan is a good example. Unless we demand revolutionary ways of resolving conflict, we have a lot of hard fighting ahead of us.
John M. Crisp teaches English at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.