ELKHART, IND. - The Afghan war began more than half a lifetime ago for the teenagers in Adam Meyers's world history class. Some of his students think the terrorist attack that prompted the war was an airplane accident. To them, al-Qaeda remains a mystery, the Taliban an enigma.Skepticism about US involvement in a distant war? So far, so good. Maybe there's hope. Or, reading on ... maybe not.
The American battle for Afghanistan? "It doesn't register," Meyers said.
"We should just end it. Bring the troops home," said Ashley Ivory, 17, who thinks the war is doing nothing to stop terrorists. "They're just sneaking in here while we're over there. We don't have enough eyes."
The views of the students and the community around them echo a growing national skepticism about U.S. involvement in a distant war that will soon enter its 10th year and register its 1,270th U.S. casualty. A majority of Americans say the war has not been worth its cost, an opinion voiced frequently in Elkhart, a hard-luck town that sees the conflict through the lens of loss and economic hardship.
Views in Elkhart tend toward exasperation, a collective throwing-up of hands, rather than the competing emotions of anger and pride over the Iraq war at its combustible peak. Even people who think U.S. troops should keep fighting tend to say so in reluctant tones.I'll give Ms. Cole the benefit of the doubt, in that I'm not sure whom she means by "we." If she means ordinary subjects of the Empire, such as herself or me, that's true; we definitely can't get The Troops out of Afghanistan, nor any other segment of the Empire. If she means our national leadership, my question is: why not? Of course they could. They just don't want to. As for Mr. Meyers, I don't suppose it occurs to him that he's given a rather incomplete picture of the process: we send "kids" to Afghanistan, where some are installed in body bags, and some kill lots of the swarthy natives and don't trouble about body bags. Some, indeed, form gangs and hunt the wogs for sport and trophy body parts. Others -- the lucky ones, for sure -- merely repair some trucks or cook some meals, and eventually return in one piece, more or less. Since the natives aren't real to Mr. Meyers, it's easy for him to prescribe a nuclear remedy for the problem that their existence seems to pose for we Americans, who are the crown and center of the universe. To which I can say only: may he choke on his poor man's martini.
"We're stuck. I just wish we could pull out, but we can't," said Becky Cole, an office manager having a drink recently at the Bulldog, a restaurant in east Elkhart. "The one thing I hate about it is we've been there nine years."
On the next stool, her friend Richard Meyers, a plant manager who lost his job in a downsizing four months ago, was drinking what he called a poor man's martini - Miller Lite with four olives. He was more blunt.
"We send our kids over there and bring them back in body bags. The answer? Japan," Meyers said, suggesting that the United States should drop a nuclear bomb. "The longer we're over there, the more we're going to pay."
It doesn't get better:
From the front door of his secondhand shop down the street, Don Fisher watches the comings and goings at the Shoecrafts' home. He was fond of Justin and considers Blue Shoecraft a real friend. But he has not stopped by.Difficult to think of an adequate reply to that. It's a shame we can't call a pre-action briefing for the next few hundred Afghan women and children who are going to be ripped into bloody pieces by American high explosives. We could explain to them why they have to die: because otherwise, America's global public image (as ferocious and merciless warriors) might suffer. I'm sure they'd understand the necessity.
"I need to go down and hug him, and I just can't bring myself to do it," Fisher said. "Because I know that when I do, I'm going to cry, too."
Fisher is an Army veteran who voted twice for George W. Bush and backed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over Obama. Although polls show stronger support for the war among Republicans than Democrats, Fisher says he always considered the Afghan war unwinnable. The billions in taxpayer dollars should be spent on "people who are sleeping under bridges or living out of food banks," he said.
Yet he is torn between withdrawing now and fighting toward some sort of equilibrium.
"We've been there too long, way too long. I just think it's a useless war," said Fisher, a soldier from 1958 to 1967. "But we can't really pull out now, because the other nations would think we're cowards."
But Mr. Fisher's just a man. Maybe if we hear from a gentle, nurturing woman, we can be encouraged. Here we go:
Sue Glaser is among those who think the war must be fought and fought hard, for the safety of the United States and the future of women in Afghanistan. A retired furniture designer, Glaser feels "sick about the boys," but says she believes a military pullout ahead of Obama's 2011 timetable would amount to surrender.Don't you just love the way people can use metaphors to avoid actually saying what they mean? "Go in with both barrels." What does that really mean? The only thing it can mean is kill. Kill more. Kill lots more. Where we once murdered one, murder ten. Or a hundred. Maybe a thousand. Otherwise, "our children are going to be fighting them." Well, don't worry, Ms. Glaser, your children will indeed be fighting them. Please don't pretend to be distressed at the idea. You wouldn't have it any other way.
"We should go in with both barrels and see if we can win it. We've got to get the Taliban out of there," Glaser said. "If we let them get away with it, our children are going to be fighting them."
The great American economic collapse: it can't come soon enough.