The ambiguity of war

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“My death did not change the world; it may be tough for you to justify its meaning at all,” Stacey wrote.

Such a statement –– so laden with depression –– leads you to think that Stacey did not believe in the war he was fighting; perhaps he even opposed it. You get the sense that he knew intuitively that he would die at war, and that he believed his death would be for naught.

Milbank details the mementos left by families on the graves of fallen soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, leading you to wonder whether the writer opposed the wars. He never says.

Milbank ends by quoting Stacey. The soldier imagines an Afghan child who is made free because of his service. “If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was all worth it,” he writes.

It would be easy to convince ourselves that the U.S. has removed tyrannical regimes in two long-oppressed nations and created open societies, as we did in Germany and Japan in World War II. But we have not, of course. Afghanistan and Iraq remain mired in age-old internecine feuds that threaten to destabilize them. We’ve seen less and less of Afghanistan and Iraq in the headlines lately, giving the impression that all’s quiet on the eastern front. Either, though, could crack at any time, despite a decade of American military intervention.

Those are the macro-level geopolitics. Stacey brings us to the micro level, to the daily life of average Afghans whose lives were improved because they crossed paths with American soldiers.

So, was it all worth it? The answer, it appears, is yes and no.

Only time will tell what will become of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Korean War ended 60 years ago, but it carries on today in the Cold War posturing of Kim Jong-un. We do, however, have a free and democratic South Korea, which is counted among the world’s great nations. You would have been hard-pressed to conceive of such an outcome in 1953.

In Vietnam, American tourists and college students now flock to this welcoming nation on tours and exchanges. In 1975, who ever would have imagined such a thing? At the time, Vietnam was our sworn enemy, along the lines of North Korea or Iran.
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