Terrance Heath

Explaining Ten Years of War to a Child

Filed By Terrance Heath | October 11, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: Osama Bin Laden, War in Afghanistan

This week, my eight-year-old son asked me a couple of questions about the war in Afghanistan. They were simple questions. Yet, both times I struggled to answer.

The first question came out of the blue. “Dad,” he asked me, “Why did we go to war in Afghanistan?”

I had to think for a moment. Not because I didn’t know the answer, of course. Ten years ago today we went to war in Afghanistan, under “Operation Enduring Freedom, even as smoke still rose from the rubble at Ground Zero. Less than a month after the September 11th attacks,” which happened a little more than year before our oldest son was born. Ostensibly, we went to war with Afghanistan because the Al-Quaeda used the country as an operating base, and the Taliban government allowed it.

So, we went to war because …? Was it self-defense? Was it vengeance? Should I tell him that, in the aftermath of 9/11, a number of very vocal Americans wanted to “bomb Afghanistan into the Stone Age” and “make the rubble bounce”? Should I tell him that the country had already been bombed back to something like the Stone Age during the Soviet war in Afghanistan? Should I tell him how we armed, trained and financed the Mujahideen, to fight the Soviet Union, to the tune of $40 billion? Should I tell him that once the Soviets withdrew, we abandoned the Afghanistan?

Should I tell him that Osama bin Laden was one of the mujahideen, and likely among those we armed and trained? My son knows who bin Laden was — that he was the leader of the terrorist organization that launched the attacks on 9/11, and was instrumental in planning those attacks. He knows that bin Laden was killed in a targeted special forces mission. Should I tell him that we knew Bin Laden was in Afghanistan and — in terms he could well understand at the age of eight — let the “bad guy” get away? Should I try to explain to him why it took us nearly ten years to do what should have been done after 9/11, and could have been done without going to war in Afghanistan?

Should I tell him about the tremendous cost of it all?

War No More from Sojourners on Vimeo.

I gave a brief answer to our son’s first question, but as he turned his attention back to his Legos, I still pondered all of the above.

Lost in thought, I was utterly unprepared when he looked up again and asked, “So, why are we still at war in Afghanistan?”

I thought of all we sacrificed and continue to sacrifice to pay for the war in Afghanistan, as cataloged yesterday by Jim Wallis.

If the moral and financial costs weren’t enough to end the war, public opinion has turned against it, and its strategic importance has long been in question.

Tomorrow, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be more than $1.259 trillion.

Tomorrow, almost 14 million Americans will still be unemployed.

Tomorrow, the homes of more than 2,500 new U.S. families will enter foreclosure.

Tomorrow, one in seven U.S. households still won’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Tomorrow, one in four American children under the age of six will still be living below the poverty line.

Tomorrow, three billion people around the globe will still be living on less than $2.50 a day.

Tomorrow, 400 million children will still lack access to clean water.

Tomorrow, 300 children under the age of five will die in the Horn of Africa because of famine.

People are feeling crushed from all sides.

Parents who aren’t sure where their kid’s next meal will come from, and the college students who have tens of thousands of dollars in loans and can’t find a job.

Families that have lost their homes in bank foreclosures, and the tens of millions of people who live below the poverty line even though they HAVE jobs.

I thought of how we’ve chosen and continue to choose war over all of these things. I shook my head and answered, “I don’t know, son. I just don’t know. But I hope that soon we won’t be fighting in Afghanistan anymore.”

Our son turned back to his Legos, either unfazed that I didn’t have an answer or understanding that I didn’t have a simple answer.

Why are we still in Afghanistan, when so much needs doing and can be done several times over with we have spent and are still spending on war?

What are we waiting for?

That’s one question my son didn’t ask. If he had, I’d have had to give the same answer. I don’t know. I just don’t know.

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