by Earl Zimmerman
How can we mark the tenth anniversary of the Afghanistan War, now the longest war in our history? I feel more sorrow than anger. U.S. forces first attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The Obama administration chose to remember the tenth anniversary of 9/11 but decided to largely ignore the tenth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.
Some of the soldiers now fighting in Afghanistan were still children when the war began. About 1,700 U.S. troops have died there, thousands more have been injured, and the total cost of the war is about $455 billion. More than 17,000 Afghans, almost evenly divided between soldiers and civilians, have also died.
No war can be reduced to such statistics. The real impact is felt in children who will never know their fathers or mothers, spouses and parents who will forever grieve a lost loved one, communities that have been destroyed, and returning soldiers scarred by physical injuries and emotional trauma. It is also felt in resources that could have been used for education, health care, and other human services, which have been diverted to the war.
The anniversary of the war is a reminder of how fragile and marked by violence our human communities are. It is a testimony to how difficult it is to break such cycles of violence in order to achieve a lasting peace. This must be what Jesus felt when he wept over Jerusalem, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19: 41).
Lasting peace may actually be better understood as a gift than as something achieved. The central biblical message is that God is reaching out in love to each person and the whole creation. Our experience of God’s love enables us to in turn forgive those who have harmed us. We learn to trust again and we slowly regain our humanity that has been destroyed by violence. In this way we become agents of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19).
Read Not by Sword or Spear: The U.S. Role in Afghanistan, Spring 2011 issue of the Washington Memo.