Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Bringing Afghanistan Home

The pre-game coverage of the President's speech at West Point tomorrow night is on track as White House spinners emphasize that he will "give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down.”

Translated, this means that a 48-year-old man named Barack Obama will tell Americans how and why he is sending some 30,000 men and women, most of them younger than he is, to a place thousands of miles from home where they will kill people they don't know and where unknown others will be trying to kill them.

A gifted orator, the President will try to explain what lies behind the polysyllables of "deployment," "security" and "multinational strategy" and show that what some are calling "Obama's Surge" is part of "a necessary war" on behalf of us all.

He won't succeed. How could he? How could anyone? Except for those who are lost in some ideological wasteland, the President will be talking to and about thousands of sovereign souls, each humanly connected to many others, who will never be the same again after he says those words and signs orders to carry them out.

Before the Obama address, we should hear a voice that speaks for them as does Erik Malmstrom, a 29-year-old graduate student who went to Afghanistan three years ago after volunteering for service in 2002 "out of a sense of civic duty," "attracted to the challenge of serving in wartime and leading men in combat."

He came back after surviving roadside bomb attacks, ambushes and confusing fire fights that led to the sudden and inexplicable deaths of comrades in arms. After returning, he crisscrossed the country visiting the families of the fallen to deliver memorial plaques signed by survivors, stand at gravesides, leaf through albums of childhood photos and watch lighthearted home movies.

"I spent much of the time sobbing uncontrollably," Erik Malmstrom recalls and now he says, "I am overridden with conflicting emotions. I am indescribably proud of my service, but can never feel good about it. I did the best I could with an impossible situation, but left behind what has become one of the most violent and unstable valleys in Afghanistan.

"I am thankful for my friendships with the families of my fallen soldiers, but wish that it didn’t take tragedy to bring us together. Coping has not become any easier. My experience changed me forever in ways that I am still trying to understand."

Tomorrow will undoubtedly bring responses to the President from politicians his age and older. The voices we should be hearing are those of Erik Malmstrom and others like him.


Anonymous said...


Mark Huffman said...

Aren't all wars about sending young men and women "thousands of miles from home where they will kill people they don't know and where unknown others will be trying to kill them"? France, Germany, Africa, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanastan, Iraq. Or would you prefer that they do their fighting much closer to home? War is an ugly business but necessary at times. My guess is you don't believe this is one of those times.