A Way Beyond the Darkness


A Way Beyond the Darkness

By Shea Howell

Michigan Citizen, Oct. 24-30, 2010

This month marks the 9th anniversary of the U.S invasion of Afghanistan. Such a moment should be the time for sober reflection and thoughtful evaluation. Instead, the anniversary passed with little fanfare. Even less attention was paid to the protests that happened all around the country, including mobilizations by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War.

War has become the background of our daily lives. It is a constant drone, unable to grab our attention, even in the midst of an election season that promises to move the country even further toward right wing, militaristic policies.

The current state of this war should horrify us. Every month 50 U.S. soldiers die and 600 are wounded. We have killed nearly34,000 Afghan civilians. We have spent nearly $1.2 trillion directly on this war. Many economists argue that the total drain on the U.S. economy is closer to $4 trillion.

All this blood, money and misery have been spent to prop up a government in Kabul that is widely considered one of the most incompetent and corrupt in the world. It does not command the loyalty of its own people and is mired in one of the most destructive drug trades on earth. Many estimate that it controls less than 3% of all Afghanistan. The Taliban commands far greater support from the Afghan people than either the U.S. forces or the government we prop up. Meanwhile, even the CIA admits that there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda fighters in the country.

Beyond recognizing the obvious costs of this ill-conceived and unwinnable war, this ninth anniversary is also the time for us to acknowledge the deep destruction of our souls caused by war. Long ago, in his opposition to another unjust war, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked us to consider what happens to us when we pursue global violence.

In his speech against the Vietnam war he said that our nation has become “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” He said, “Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam.”

Probably more than any other American leader, Dr. King understood the connection between war abroad and war at home. He understood that something happens to all of us, those who fight the wars, those who protest them and those who deny or ignore them.

He said,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to … is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long … the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.”

Dr. King would not be surprised by the recent study reporting that three times more veterans die after they return home than while fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. He warned us,” A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Dr. King called us to find “a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.” He called for a radical revolution in values to reject the “militarism, materialism and racism” that is part of the fabric of our society. This challenge is still before us.


  1. One illustration of the damage the war in Afghanistan (and all the other wars we keep fighting) does to our country comes from a student newspaper.

    A young woman reports on her brother whom comes home from Iraq. The family meet him at the airport all excited. He is taciturn and withdrawn. After a few weeks he signs up to return to the war, this time in Afghanistan.

    To his sister’s question about the goal of that war he replies:” I am a Marine. I have been taught to do whatever I am told, whenever I am told. I do not think about why I am given these orders. I just do my job.”

    With citizens like that, what future for our democracy?

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