War wanes, protests continue
I enjoy looking at polls. They provide a helpful window into the hearts and minds of my fellow Americans.
Sometimes I agree with the majority. And sometimes I don’t.
Whatever the case, I always find it useful to know where I stand.
Last week, a new Gallup poll on the war in Afghanistan caught my eye.
For the first time, more Americans say they view the war in Afghanistan as a mistake, with 49 percent saying the U.S. should not have gone to war, and 48 percent saying the war was justified. This is a big change from late 2001, when Gallup’s first poll on the topic found that 89 percent of Americans supported the war. And in January 2003, a whopping 93 percent of poll respondents said that the war was justified.
I’ve opposed the war in Afghanistan for a long time — almost, but not quite, since its inception — and I’m happy to see that more people are coming around to my point of view. However, I can understand why this has taken time.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 marked the first real challenge to my long-standing commitment to non-violence. They were a terrible tragedy, and I felt that a military response was justified — that Osama bin Laden and his minions needed to be hunted down and brought to justice, that terrorist networks throughout the globe needed to be identified, dismantled and destroyed.
What I didn’t consider justified was a resource-sapping, unwinnable war that would go on for years and years and years. By mid-2002 I had turned against the war in Afghanistan. And I was strongly opposed to the war in Iraq. If I wasn’t a reporter at the time, I would have been out there protesting.
On Friday I wandered down to the weekly peace vigil at the corner of Jay and Liberty streets in Schenectady.
These vigils have been going on for 13 years; the first one was held the Friday after 9/11. But with the war in Afghanistan winding down — most of the troops will be withdrawn by the end of the year — and public support for it at an all-time low, I was curious: Why were the protestors still protesting? What motivated them? Did they see any signs of progress?
It was a rainy day, and five protestors were gathered under a roof overhang, holding signs. One sign read “Librarian for Peace,” another “War is a Lack of Imagination.” Longtime peace activist and Stockade resident Mabel Leon held up a sign with a classic message: “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”
When asked about their concerns, Leon and the other activists were quick to respond.
They mentioned the Obama administration’s escalation of drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and reports of civilian casualties. They criticized U.S. foreign policy, saying it had not changed significantly and remained, as Altamont resident Greg Giorgio put it, “a policy of war-marking.” They talked about Iran, and the possibility of another ill-advised military engagement in the Middle East. Glenville resident Terri Roben spoke of the need to “make a stand for peace.”
“We have endless war,” Leon said.
Which is a depressing thought.
But there are reasons for optimism.
For instance, I viewed last year’s widespread opposition to military strikes in Syria as a positive sign. It seemed Americans had finally wearied of becoming entangled in complicated foreign conflicts, that people were increasingly skeptical of government claims that military action is necessary and relatively risk free.
But war is never risk free.
And with 21,500 U.S. troops dead or wounded (not to mention the deaths of thousands of Afghani civilians), it’s worth asking whether those risks were worth it. It’s worth asking what we accomplished over there, and whether going there made us a better country. The war in Afghanistan now ranks as the United States’ longest war. Was it worth that time and effort?
I don’t see how you can look at the numbers and say that it was.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org.