Prepare to Welcome Our Troops Home from Afghanistan
Vaughn Davis Bornet, Ph.D. (Emory, ’39, ‘40G), is a native of Pennsylvania and a research historian with two Emory degrees, a graduate year at University of Georgia, and the history Ph.D. from Stanford University
Next year we will welcome home our troops from Afghanistan. There will be uncertainty on what to say and do, for we do not know what has been accomplished permanently in the vicinity of Kabul, in the far-flung villages, and adjacent to the poppy fields of that distant and troublesome country.
After twelve years of effort, can it be said we have lost—or won? We observe the somewhat freed women walking about in the streets of some communities, but we wonder how long they will be able to do so. Remaking that strange land has proven a Herculean task. There have been and still are continuing negotiations with Taliban leaders, but chiefly optimists expect long-term, acceptable results.
The strange variant indoctrinating versions of Islam that are relied on by the terrorists seem not to have given birth to widespread countering gospel, so the rationale offered for the slaughter of innocents continues without successful contradiction.
The Afghan leaders with whom we “negotiate” speak strangely from time to time, so that we lack routine confidence that war is approaching an end. Not enough natives wish us well and place their country solidly behind some variant of “democracy” with personal freedoms.
We will without question welcome home our fighting men next year. We will display enthusiasm and pride. It is, however, extremely uncertain if we will be able to greet them wholeheartedly in the name of “a job well done.” All over the place, no doubt, there has been nobility of effort, but has there really been even quaisi-permanent achievement where it counts: deep in mountain and valley Afghanistan?
Nevertheless, bypassing all that, on this Veterans Day we summon up the best of our patriotic thoughts. We try not to think of recent trends in a deteriorating Iraq. We gird our loins for a time when a reactionary Saudi Arabia may minimize “oil” and declare open enmity toward us. While we hope there is some substance for the long run in our recent relationship with Iran, only the most hopefully optimistic believe that to be true. We do dare to hope for progress on the weaponry threat portion of our long standing nuclear confrontation with an evolving Iran.
We detour our minds still further from constantly thinking about our friend Israel, for we have become all too aware that their dreams of a quietly independent state existing through time in an endurable environment are far from realization, maybe ever. We can still guarantee that courageous land a mutuality of destruction should there come a time of devastating attack on them, but there is but limited satisfaction in that.
We avert our eyes from what is left of the Syria we thought was once there. Though we consider ourselves humanitarians, in the case of Assad’s home base we equivocate, progress in some things, and try to bury possible enlarged feelings of pure guilt. When asked repeatedly to supply still more weaponry to kill Syrians, we cannot but feel guilty at the mayhem that would result from use of our gift.
Always, in combat theaters like Syria we hope that diplomacy may miraculously bring a payoff. There has been both illusion and solid change from our leadership on the chemical weapons situation. We do hope the naysayers are off base.
Unlike the case with the Korean War, we try more or less these days to keep the United Nations at a distance on statecraft that is vital. Perhaps a strong Secretary of State and good intentions will somehow improve the international status quo, it is thought, though that ever-threatening North Korean state seems sui generis when it comes to irrationality and uncaring brinksmanship.
Those of us who have studied American diplomacy idly ask ourselves, as often before, “What would Woodrow Wilson do these days?” We feel reasonably certain of one Truth: We should not be creating new veterans at this time, whatever the Cause.
Old and new struggles alike fail to enlist our hearts and muscles. The contention over “two Chinas” or “two Koreas,” whom to root for in North Africa, and especially the best direction to move in Egypt are a few of these.
International economics has been capturing headlines, and we struggle to understand what directions are best—for us, for Europe, and for the making of financial precedents. While it is important to roam far afield, involving ourselves here and there, we must not forget our fighting men and women who are coming home. They are relying on us to show some common sense and judgment and consider recent sacrifices!
When the time comes, in any case, it will again be “Welcome Home.” The new veterans will have arrived. We have tried repeatedly to assume trusteeship during their absence. We want those who have experienced so much in distant lands to give us a hand, both in weighing our mistakes and in planning our future.
As we organize personal services to be rendered the new veterans who are becoming civilians, we will also be weighing what will be coming next in their lives. Meanwhile, innumerable returnees will not be taking off their uniforms.
Many in both groups of returnees can be counted on to give counsel as we are confronted with—and weigh--possible new Crusades overseas rooted in new or old Causes. The coming decade, it is certain, will be one of carefully choosing New Directions in our diplomacy.
The time will come next year when we can say, in effect, “Veterans: use your wisdom, experience, and courage to help steer your Ship of State in directions that will serve all of us well. Prepare to participate in policy discussions that can affect troubled people everywhere on our planet.”