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Why We Died: Political Validation for Veterans


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There are questions that come at parties. Questions that I try and avoid, but I know in the end it’s impossible. Someone finds out about my time in the service, or maybe I tell them just to get it over with.

“Oh, Afghanistan?”

They put a finger to their lips, maybe stare at a wall, searching for the socially acceptable question that always hinges on the amount they’ve drank. No matter what they ask I have my script ready.

“How was it?”

“Hot.”

“What’s Afghanistan like?”

“Think of the Bible and add a few ‘92 Toyota Corollas and some tractors.”

“Do you think you made a difference?”

This is by far my least favorite. “Sure,” I’ll answer, but because it is a question I’ve forbidden myself from indulging, I’ll wave it off.  I don’t have to think about it yet. Afghanistan’s chapter is ending, but it hasn’t completely closed, leaving a glimmer of hope that it might not devolve into a failed state. Maybe those collective sixteen months I spent there will be the bedrock that supports Karzai’s fledgling democracy in the years to come. Maybe, but probably not.

Yet my Iraq veteran counterparts no longer have the luxury of avoiding those tough introspective questions that ball your stomach in knots and makes you question God’s existence, for in these past few days they’ve been forced to watch cities like Fallujah and Ramadi fall to an enemy they thought they had driven out. With their war over, they’ve been relegated to the sidelines to watch another one begin.

I have tried to imagine what it must be like, steeling myself for when Afghanistan slips back into the inevitable pit of violence that it has been since antiquity; preparing to ask myself the hard questions, the questions I ignore at dinner parties.

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