I’ll have some things to say about Israel’s long overdue response to Hamas’s thousands of rockets, lobbed into civilian areas for many many months. But, as luck would have it, I happened to receive an email from an American soldier in Afghanistan, which goes right to the heart of the matter. Like so many of our men and women on the battlefield, he is a very thoughtful person, and so it came as no surprise when he started his email saying
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the last ten months, contemplating the necessity of my being here. Some days it feels as though nothing we do will make a difference. That this country is doomed to remain in poverty and violence and there is nothing anyone can do to change its irrevocable course. That no amount of American blood or treasure will ever deter or change the minds of those who have decided that America is a great evil, enforcing its will upon the world. That America is the cause of their hatred. That we Soldiers were sent to fight on ‘bad intelligence’ or for the wrong reasons. That we are in Afghanistan for vengeance and Iraq for oil. That if we just left, these countries would return to a blissful peace, free from American oppression. And through many nights, in a pitch black that is only possible hundreds of miles from electricity, I have questioned the mission. I have questioned if Afghanistan is worth it. I have questioned whether or not my being here has made a difference.
This is the hallmark of the civilized man, constantly questioning the reasons for his behavior, wondering if there is a better way, searching for that better way, putting himself in the position of “the other,” trying to understand it all. This man got his answer.
Today I received my answer. Today a suicide bomber drove his truck into a crowd of children at a checkpoint. At last count, over 20 children were killed instantly when his car detonated. As of 30 minutes ago frantic mothers and fathers were still calling the American base to see if their child was at our hospital. We could only say ‘no, no children were brought to the hospital. None of the children’s bodies were recovered, none survived the blast.’…In Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks reflects on the Soldiers he’s lost. Comparing each one lost under his command to a dozen saved by his command. Today dozens of young, innocent, unspoiled lives were lost. There is no other way to describe it other than a massacre.
So what was his answer? He had faced evil, we were not the cause of it, but we are able to do something about it.
in the last ten months we have stopped seventeen suicide bombers. Either killed or captured before they could reach their targets. These suicide bombers have come from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Dubai, Chechnya and Germany. These were terrorists that were going to find a target. Somewhere. They chose Afghanistan...I can’t estimate how many children have been saved by us being here, but I can say without a doubt that it is at least one. And in that I have my answer. I am a Father and a Husband. I am a Son and I am a Brother. I know I am loved and I know the sadness it would bring if I were lost. But I am also a Soldier. I have sworn to protect those who cannot protect themselves and I will uphold this oath. Today it was the children in Khost Province, Afghanistan. Last week, Mumbai. Five years ago, London. Seven years ago, New York, Arlington and Pennsylvania. My answers are simple: we do make a difference, blood and treasure has been well spent, the darkest shadows of America can’t compare to the evil that lurks in this world, this is not a war of vengeance, this is a war of good and evil, their hatred is bred and taught, America is not the cause and terror will follow us no matter where we are.
Which brings me to Sam Huntington, the great political scientist who died two days ago. His last work dealt with a “clash of civilizations,” of which he saw many, all over the world, including our war with radical Islam. He saw it very clearly. And yet, he did not think we should tackle the Taliban in Afghanistan in the mid-nineties, for a variety of reasons. I thought at the time that he was wrong, and that he had the categories wrong. We’re not involved so much in a war with a different civilization, we’re in the same war the United States has fought so often: the war of freedom against tyranny, what Sharansky calls the conflict of fear and freedom.
All those killers in Afghanistan, the ones who murdered the schoolchildren, were fighting to create–or recreate–a society in which everyone is dominated by a harsh code of behavior, justified by the divinely decreed necessity of restraining man’s sinful inclinations. That society was, and if they win will be, a brutal tyranny. That it is justified in the name of Islam does not impress me any more than when it was justified by an appeal to race, or Marx, or Hutu supremacy. It is the same old war, and I remain convinced that this concept should underlie American policy in the world. We are obliged to combat tyrants, like it or not. For they will always feel obliged to attack us.
My friend the Soldier in Afghanistan figured it all out in a nanosecond. Let’s hope our leaders finally get it.