The scenes in Kabul will be horrific as the Taliban force a suffering nation into the pit of despotism. There will be scenes that will shake us to our foundation. Brutality and butchery will fill the news. I urge all veterans of that war and families who have sacrificed loved ones to refrain from watching the unfolding debacle.
There will be a sense of futility, just as we experienced almost half a century ago, when Saigon fell and we tasted the bitterness of defeat after years of conflict. Our questions then will be asked again, “Was it worth it?”, “Why did our leaders let us down?”, “Were the lives lost in vain?” These are challenges that are always raised after a war ends, and the answers never come easily and quickly.
It is the tendency of some to surrender to cynicism in trying times like these. To lose faith in our government, our military, our national identity, and many of the other pillars we’ve come to trust through our lives and during the entire panorama of American history. Please don’t allow this to happen. The cynic is the one who has lost all hope and sees only a nihilistic future of despair.
As a disabled veteran of the Vietnam War, please let me offer some counsel to those who are most deeply affected by the events unfolding today. I had to struggle with the demons of futility, betrayal, loss, shame, and grief for years following my tour of duty. Five of my Marines didn’t make it home. I had to write letters of condolence to grieving mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. I tried to encourage them with my message that their Marine didn’t waste his life. He served honorably for a cause that our leaders believed was worth the cost: to bring freedom and hope to a sovereign country threatened by the scourge of Communism. But when I saw the helicopters evacuating our embassy that dreadful day in 1975, my heart sank. I wondered aloud if I’d been lying to those families. Maybe you’re having similar emotions.
Veterans, you will eventually need to process all of this and fit it into the narrative of your life. What seems senseless now may one day become an integral part of your journey. Give it time. Give it thought. Keep your mind clear; avoid numbing yourself with drugs and alcohol or other addictions and distractions. I wish I had done this forty years ago.
There is help available whenever you want to talk. I encourage you to connect with the VA; they are prepared to assist with the issues you’re facing. There are other veterans groups that are open to listening to your stories and your emotions; we will not understand everything, but you’ll soon learn that we have much in common with you.
Remember that you answered the call to duty. You could have said no. You are among our finest, and you follow in the footsteps of Americans who carved this nation out of the wilderness and fought to defend her. Americans have always borne arms in defense of freedom. We have always fought for one another. And we have fought because we considered it to be our sacred duty to protect our nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Remember that wars are frequently lost when our leaders lose their resolve. They forget our heritage of courage and perseverance. They cave to public pressure and abdicate their responsibilities. Sadly, this is the case regardless of the political party in power. But please don’t give up on our way of governance; it is imperfect because every human being is flawed. Our democratic republic is still the envy of most of the world. There is no where else we would want to live.
I encourage you, when you are ready, to find what many of us call a “survivor mission.” A reason to go on, to gather the lessons you’ve learned and apply them to helping America to heal and rebuild. As you know, our homeland needs “warriors for peace” to offer our scars and war wisdom in constructing a bridge between our warring factions.
Hold your head high. You did your best. I pray there will one day be a stately memorial in Washington, DC, to honor your service and sacrifice. We salute you.
And we need you.