GETTYSBURG — On an overcast day, the national park that has preserved the history of one of the bloodiest and most significant battles of the American Civil War is filled with people from all over the country. It is a testament to the desire everywhere not just to know our history, but also to honor the soldiers who fought and lost their lives to protect our country.
They mattered, and we as a nation want them to know they are not forgotten.
This week, President Joe Biden made a dark political bet that Americans would forget a 20-year war. Biden and his aides, many of whom have lived and worked inside the bubble of Washington for most of their adult lives, believed the political fallout would be limited because people were war-weary.
Their exit strategy was based on internal and public polling that showed the Afghanistan withdrawal was popular, even though the same polls showed it was not something people were paying attention to.
In short, it was all about what made Biden popular with voters.
This has backfired. The Biden administration, filled with people who make their living in a plastic world of political calculations, believes based on polling that this will blow over. It will be just fine.
Biden fails to understand why the United States is transfixed by these images and reports. In televised statements and interviews, he has repeatedly failed to make a distinction that any child could — one between the decision to leave Afghanistan and his appalling execution of that evacuation.
The exit has been chaotic, deadly, gruesome and humiliating. It has caused many people to lose faith in the leadership of the military.
Biden has defended indefensible failures and inexcusable ignorance of conditions in Afghanistan. He has defended pulling our military out at the same time as he left so many U.S. citizens still in the country.
This disaster will not fade from the headlines. Even those who did not want the war to continue had watched our neighbors, co-workers, siblings, parents, sons and daughters go off to Afghanistan for the sole purpose of keeping us safe back at home.
We wept and prayed every time a soldier was lost on some remote post or killed in battle with Taliban forces. As a local reporter, I covered too many events of mourners who would line the streets of their local communities to honor those who came home in body bags, their flag-draped coffins carried by fellow soldiers to their gravesites.
Many of those mourners had never met the deceased soldier whom they were honoring by taking time out of their day. They just believed it was the right thing to do.
And even though American soldiers are a rapidly shrinking minority among our neighbors, in part because we are an all-volunteer military and in part because base consolidations have made the military a smaller component of most communities, we should all want them to know that what they did mattered. They alone kept us safe for 20 years.
They should know the stain that Biden and his military leadership left in their shadow does not reflect on the service they did for our country.
After Gettysburg, 51,000 casualties were left behind on the rolling farmlands. The Union had reached a turning point in the war. Descendants, history buffs and ordinary tourists often find themselves following in the footsteps of Pickett’s Charge, the main event that turned the battle, and ultimately the war, in the Union’s favor.
They walk it because they know it is important never to forget. That is the calculus that Biden missed.