Category Archives: War in Afghanistan

Remembrance Day


On Remembrance Day we are asked to think about war and those who gave their lives for our freedoms. That’s not a bad idea. Yet, I can’t help thinking about a very current war. One that is far from over even though it was “declared” more than 2 decades ago—the war on terror. This in turn led directly to the war in Afghanistan that took 20 years until the Americans who initiated it, packed their tents and went home, leaving behind hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment and carrying with them memories of thousands of injured and lost lives and more than a trillion dollars paid by American taxpayers for not much of value in return.

I am not a pacifist. At least technically. Like Obama said, “we should avoid dumb wars.” And I agree. I just think they are pretty well all dumb wars.

So why can’t we celebrate those who helped us avoid wars or at least did their best to save us from the dumb wars?  I think of Bertrand Russell who went to jail in World War I because he refused to serve in what he thought (rightly so) was a dumb war. I think World War I was one of the dumbest. As the song goes, “War—what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” In his autobiography Russell wrote about the people in London at Trafalgar Square who turned out in delirious celebratory joy when England declared war on Germany in 1914. Soon after that the dead soldiers began to pile up and again without much accomplished.  Let’s remember Bertrand Russell.

Congress woman Barbara Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against going to war in Afghanistan. Some called her a traitor. She was a hero.

She said she thought long and hard about that war, and it took a while for her to come to a decision. She said when she spoke in Congress about whether to go to war she thought about what she had heard Reverend Nathan Baxter say in his opening invocation at the memorial service at Washington Cathedral 3 days after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Baxter prayed this: “Let us also pray for divine wisdom as our leaders consider the necessary actions for national security, wisdom of the grace of God, that as we act, we not become the evil we deplore.”

That was wisdom unlike the loud clamorous demands for revenge and war. Let’s remember Barbara Lee today.

I do not object to remembering the men and women who fell in battle trying to defend our liberties. They made the supreme sacrifice after all. If the wars were dumb that was not their fault. Their country asked for their service and they gave it wholeheartedly.

I just want to think about those as well who tried to keep us out of wars. No one is going around selling poppies to remember them.

Statistics of the War in Afghanistan


Mark Twain once said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” But there are also some statistics that are pretty darn telling.

Here are some interesting statistics about the war as of mid-April 2021.

The American war in Afghanistan cost a lot of treasure. At least a trillion and maybe more, but when it gets to figures like that my eyes glaze over anyway. Whether it was one trillion or two or three who really cares. But importantly, lives.  The war lasted 20 years. The longest war in US history.  And we must remember the US has been in a lot of wars.

2,442 US troops died in the war.  3,800 American private security forces died. I found it interesting that more private American soldiers died than regular military.  It “paid off” for Americans to outsource the war as much as possible. After all who feels sorry for private security forces?

20,666 Americans were injured in the war. Much of the suffering of war is caused by injury. People came back from the war with all kinds of injuries including, of course, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Even though no one in the west really pays attention to this, but 47,245 Afghans died in the war. This is really the most important number though people in the west pay so little attention to it. This of course followed the 10-year war with Russia.  The people have Afghanistan have suffered enormously. That much is clear from the numbers.


That is a lot of suffering.

Now for the question:  What was worth so much suffering?


Great Blanketflower


This lovely plant actually has two types of flowers.  The outer ring of yellow  flowers are called ray flowers and the inner circle of tiny flowers are called disk flowers. This plant has a “flowering head,” not a flower.  In other words, it has many flowers.

Gaillardia aristata is  sometimes called Great Blanketflower, no doubt after the colourful blankets of the American southwest. The colours are incredibly vibrant as I hope can be seen from my photos.  The flowers have sometimes been boiled  to make medicinal teas for problems ranging from headaches to tuberculosis and cancer, but I have never tried to drink such tea. Why not?  Sometimes the flowers have been used to forecast the future of patients. If the flower is boiled for a long time and the water stayed clear it was believed that patient would die.  On the other hand, a reddish or well-coloured liquid was a strong suggestion that the patient would likely recover.

As I have said before I don’t like perfection. Maybe it’s because I am jealous of it. I prefer flaws. How often in life is nature perfect? About as often as I am perfect.  I am much more comfortable with imperfection. I find Gaillardia one of the most beautiful flowers of summer on the prairies.

An Even Darker View of a Dumb War


I want to continue commenting on that conversation between Bill Maher and Craig Whitlock because Maher actually has a darker view of the war than even Whitlock has. According to Maher, talking about the incredible sums of money wasted by the Americans in Afghanistan,

“We went there to spend that money. That is where the money was. We wanted to spend that money! “In wars like that money just disappears in giant caseloads of cash. Of course, you’re going to have defense contractors and everybody else say let’s go to the place where the money is. That’s where no one is keeping track of it”


That’s what wars are for.  A Hole in the ground into which you throw money. And bodies of course.  What puzzles me (a bit) is why conservatives don’t object to that. Conservatives hate government wasting money and nowhere do they waste more of it than in wars.

Yet amazingly, Whitlock says,

 “It’s even worse than you think. The documents we got for the Afghanistan papers with testimonials from people who were there in Afghanistan–army officers aid workers etc. said, ‘We were spending money so fast we didn’t know what to do with it. We are building schools when there is no need for it. We built projects that were ghost projects. We were just throwing money at it to say we could do it, even though the whole time they knew it wouldn’t work.”


If you had ever read that brilliant novel, by Joseph Heller,  Catch 22, which I thought perfectly described the insanity of war, you would realize this war was much worse. According to Whitlock, “18% of the money went to the Taliban.” And this was before the Taliban was gifted all the military hardware by the retreating American armed forces! Afghanistan was a giant protection racket. You could not move around without paying off the Taliban.

According to Whitlock, there was a racket where one brother was in charge of building a bridge which the Americans paid for and then it was blown up by the Taliban that was led there in that town by the brother of the official who was in charge of building the bridge. As soon as it was blown up he asked the Americans for more money to replace it and they did exactly that. According to Whitlock, “that was kind of Afghanistan in a nutshell.”

Surprisingly, Maher gave credit to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush because they did what Conservatives say they never do, they cut and ran. Reagan in Beirut ran because he said basically, ‘these guys are nuts.’  George H. W. Bush did the same thing in the first Iraq war. He got his limited job done by getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, the country he invaded, and then refused to follow him deeper into Iraq. Many claimed he did not finish the job.  How many years and lives and dollars would it have taken to “finish the job?” No, he cut and ran.  It was the right thing to do. I agree. Finishing the job would have resulted in another “forever war,” like Afghanistan.

President George W. Bush was asked if the Americans would get stuck in Afghanistan as they had been in Vietnam. Bush, confidently said on national TV, ‘of course not, we learned our lesson in Vietnam. We also learned from the Russians who got stuck there.’ Both dumb wars. Then, despite what Bush said,  the Americans got stuck there for more than twice as long as the Russians were there and longer than they were stuck in Vietnam.  They might have avoided it if they had more modest goals like George H.W. Bush in the first Iraq War. Nowhere is humility more important, yet rarer, than in wars.

Even in 2021, when President Biden wanted to pull out of Afghanistan many in Washington still wanted Americans to stay longer, even after 20 years there. The leaving was a debacle, no doubt about that, but at least they got out.

Obama was right, let’s avoid dumb wars. And that is almost all wars.


Afghanistan: One of the Dumb Wars


I know some people can’t stand Bill Maher.  He is a comedian and often doesn’t allow his guests to speak. He likes to hear himself speak. Too much. But he does have some fascinating guests and interesting conversations. Recently, he had one with Craig Whitlock about the war in Afghanistan—a genuine debacle.

The war in Afghanistan originally had some semblance of a rationale. Not much but some. George W. Bush launched that war in response to the attack on the US on September 11, 2001. He like so many others thought Afghanistan was harbouring the terrorists who launched the attack on America at the Twin Towers on 9/11 and other American targets.

The US spent over $2 trillion on this war? What did it get out of it? Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan not Afghanistan.

Craig Whitlock was interviewed by Bill Maher on his TV show. He was the author of a book called The Afghanistan Papers.  He pointed out how the Taliban within about a week of taking over are banning music again. Women have been told to go home. As Maher said, “The Taliban have said the women will have all their rights within the limits of Islam–which is a great way of saying none.”  Maher says he is always surprised at how little liberals in America don’t care how women are treated in so many countries around the world. “We got into the mindset that Bin Laden is in Afghanistan so we gotta go there and stay there until we can say it will never happen again and which of course means we will be there forever.”

70% of the people in the country were not alive during the reign of the Taliban.  Do they know what they are getting in for?

One of the surprising and sad things about the war in Afghanistan is how similar it was to the War in Vietnam. As Maher said,  “It’s like we just did this shit and then we did it again,” One generation forgets what the last one did. In America they should start teaching history in school, that might help.

Whitlock’s book has a theory of the war that is like what happened in Vietnam. The leaders were optimistic in public and pessimistic (realistic) in private. They didn’t tell the truth to the American public–again. That is exactly what the American military and political leaders did throughout the War in Vietnam and then repeated it in the War in Afghanistan.

According to Whitlock this is what they did right from the start of the war. Donald Rumsfeld the Secretary of Defense  mocked journalists who asked if this would be another Vietnam. 6 months into the war he sent a memo to his military chiefs saying if we don’t get a plan to stabilize Afghanistan our troops will get stuck there forever. He ends the memo like this with one word: “Help!” Sounds a lot like Vietnam doesn’t it.

Should he not have considered this before he committed the troops to the invasion? According to Whitlock this went on for years. In public the leaders said things are getting better, we’re making progress, we’re turning the corner. In private diplomatic cables and memos they admitted things are a mess in Afghanistan–which is exactly what they were. The same thing happened in Vietnam. “They knew that gradually things are slipping out of their grasp and it’s becoming unwinnable.”

Maher was very upset with President Barack Obama.  Obama said he was not against all wars. Some are justified. I would add–not many. Obama said, but I am against dumb wars. That was smart! We all should be. Too many are not. After Maher heard Obama say that  he said, ‘that’s my guy.’ Yet Maher also asked, “How could a guy that was that bright do what we were trying to do? Surge? Take over the country? Flood it with money and that would change things around, when really it was doing just the opposite?”

When Obama ran for office he said Iraq was the dumb war. That was true. It was dumb. Even dumber than the ear in Afghanistan, but that does not diminish the fact that the Afghan war also stupid. The Americans soon forgot their goal which was to get bin Laden and somehow switched to nation building. Obama said Afghanistan was the just cause. And that made some sense, because bin Laden launched his attack or at least trained soldiers in Afghanistan. It was originally a war of self defense. That was why Canada and other NATO countries joined in as they felt they had to do under the NATO Treaty. Canada under Chretien wisely declined to participate in the second Iraq war. The first Iraq war, again, made some sense.

Why did the war not end when bin Laden was killed?  Instead the Americans allowed the war to morph into this idea that they would build the democratic nation of Afghanistan. As Maher said, “It morphed into nation building. It morphed into this ridiculous idea, as in Vietnam, that we could change hearts and minds when by the things we were doing there, you only lose hearts and minds.”

As Whitlock said,

“Each president–Bush, Obama, and Trump–said we are not nation building in Afghanistan., even though at that very moment that is exactly what we were doing. The United States spent more than $100 billion nation building in Afghanistan. That’s more than we spent in Europe on the Marshall Plan after World War II and now it’s all gone up in smoke.”

That was dumb and many lives were lost on its account.