The film and pictures coming out of Afghanistan during the past week have been distressing to say the least. No doubt, life has been distressing in Afghanistan for nearly 50 years now. It is just that most of us do not often see in such stark images the desperation that results from the ending of armed conflicts.
For those old enough to remember, it brings back the memory of the exit from Saigon in 1975. It was just over four years later that Russia occupied Afghanistan and it has been at war since then. I do not know enough about the culture or history of central Asia to offer any useful opinions about the specifics of what could have been done differently. Those things are better left to those who choose such a vocation.
Now has begun the second guessing. Some seem to have forgotten why we went there in the first place. Some thought we never should have gone. Some are only interested in gaining political advantage. The reality is, right or wrong, for good or ill, for good reason or not, the United States invaded Afghanistan twenty years ago and now she is leaving.
What is amazing to me is how surprised the generals and experts are at how quickly things unraveled. One way or another it always does. In what many consider one of our only “just wars”, World War 2, the end was messier. There were refugees. There were reprisals. There were executions without trial. There were starving people. There was the immediate threat of more war. World War 1 brought down an entire way of life in Europe. One hundred years later we are still adjusting.
As for the home front, it seems we are still not over the Civil War. The flags are still flying, and the politics are still working themselves out. One does not have to look very much into the history of the years following the Civil War to see that the end of the official armed conflict was only that. People still killed each other. Some would say we still are.
There have always been wars. Our nation has been involved in armed conflict or occupations in nearly every year since 1776. Christians have often been on both sides of many of our conflicts, or worse, justified such because of their faith. This is not to say that we should never fight. Nor is it to say that we should feel a failure when the planned objective is not reached. Life and the world are too complex for us to know how our decisions will play out.
We, as a nation, can only do what we think best at the time. It is too easy to blame and cast off responsibility. If we are citizens of the United States, we have had a role in what we have seen in Kabul the past few days. If you think that is not true go to a conflict zone, speak with an American accent, and try to explain yourself.
What is true of war is true on a smaller scale of any serious conflict, be they in businesses, churches, or families. It always ends in tears — even if there is healing later, there is serious pain after everyone “lays down their arms.” There is difficulty even if the conflict cannot be avoided. There are those who are actively involved and there are those who are guilty by association.
In one of the great protest songs of the Heavy Metal era, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” offers this wisdom:
“Crazy, but that’s how it goes
Millions of people living as foes
Maybe it’s not too late
To learn how to love and forget how to hate
Mental wounds not healing
Life’s a bitter shame
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train
I’ve listened to preachers, I’ve listened to fools
I’ve watched all the dropouts who make their own rules
One person conditioned to rule and control
The media sells it and you live the role”
This is what conflict does to us; it divides, it injures in every way, it takes life in all the ways we understand it. It will never go away. Jesus said in Matthew 24:6-8, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.”
The preacher in Ecclesiastes 5:8 said, “If you see in a province the poor oppressed and justice and right violently taken away, do not be amazed at the matter; for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.”
Pray for Afghanistan.