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Michael Prysner

Michael Prysner is a veteran of the war in Iraq and an anti-war activist

June 7th, 2011 3:01 PM

Troop morale plummets in a war without purpose

In Afghanistan, 80 percent have seen a friend killed or wounded

The Associated Press reports that soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan are suffering the highest rates of psychological problems since 2005. Similarly, troop morale is down the drain.

The reason for this is no mystery. A military report found that up to 80 percent of troops have witnessed a friend being killed or wounded in combat.

This is a staggering number. Indoctrinated from a young age, all the fantasies from a culture brimming with over-romanticized “glory” of war disappear when one watches a close friend's legs blown off—the new “signature wound” in Afghanistan—and has to try to stop the gushing of blood by tying tourniquets around mangled flesh; or when one is powerless to do anything but watch someone die from the sheer devastation of their wounds, and having to literally pick up the pieces. This would have a devastating psychological effect on any person—even the most “Army Strong” of us. And 80 percent of us have had to endure it.

But it is much more than just the reality of combat that is responsible for plummeting morale. Human beings are capable of enduring great hardship when there is a feeling of purpose.

And what is the purpose of endlessly fighting in Afghanistan?

Well, for service members, we are told first and foremost that this is not our concern. Our job is to follow orders and trust the supreme wisdom of the politicians in Washington. They are all millionaires, so we are told they must be pretty smart! You know, they are people like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whose "expert" military and foreign policy decisions come from two whole years in the Air Force (never deploying), and much of the rest of his career spent in corporate boardrooms for weapons manufacturers and oil drilling companies. Surely, it is just a coincidence that his former office buddies are making record profits. Chances are he will not be having to watch any of them bleed to death in combat. Maybe that’s why on his trip to Afghanistan last week he said that there was “no rush” in removing combat troops.
No good reason for war in Afghanistan

But for those of us who do look for purpose in what we are doing, what do we find? We are told, on the one hand, that the purpose is to defeat al-Qaeda, but then we hear CIA Director Leon Panetta admit that there is virtually no al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan; maybe “50-100 individuals,” he says. Over 100,000 troops on the ground in a 10-year war to fight 50 individuals? That makes a lot of sense. He also says to not pay attention to the fact that al-Qaeda is in 40 other countries as well—the fight is in Afghanistan, where, as a recent study found, only 8 percent of young men have even heard of the Sept. 11 attacks.

We are told that there is a purpose because we’re “making gains” against the resistance movement in Afghanistan—that we are “winning the war.” Then, an April White House report says that there is “no clear path” to defeating the insurgency. So when speaking to us, the people who have to do all the fighting and dying, the politicians say that “we are winning.” But amongst themselves, in the Oval Office and halls of Congress, they say “there is no possible way to win.” What a great sense of purpose they instill!

It comes from the generals, too. Gen. Petraeus tells us that we are “reversing the momentum” of the resistance. Then, on May 21, he says that this summer will bring even higher levels of violence and “increased high-profile attacks.” U.S. casualties are at record numbers—with a 60 percent increase in the loss of a limb and a 90 percent increase in wounds to genitals—and the past three months have yielded far more fatalities than any previous year. It does not sound too much like “reversing” anything. It sounds like things are about to get much worse for us and our buddies. No worries for Petraeus, though, he will be safe in his office.

And, of course, we’re told that we must fight and die because allowing the Taliban to regain any type of political power would be catastrophic for the Afghan people and for us here at home.

But if any of us read the news, we can see that, actually, the U.S. government is desperately trying to negotiate with the Taliban leadership, offering them positions in the Afghan government—because Washington knows they cannot win the war militarily, even though they tell us we are. And the Taliban will not take a power-sharing deal right now, well, because they are winning and their morale is high, so why would they quit? For those troops who try to believe that the war will “save” Afghanistan from the Taliban, Washington’s end game puts the Taliban back in government. The war for “democracy” and “national defense” is revealed to be just a political game.

Besides, the generals and politicians give the false impression it is only the Taliban who are against the foreign occupation. Again, they tell us our purpose is to defeat this one group. Then the Pentagon releases official reports estimating that there are around 1,800 different armed resistance groups fighting the occupation.

Even Army General Ben Hodges admits that 80 percent of Taliban fighters are not with the group for ideological reasons. Most, like the vast majority of Afghans, just want us out. How could anyone think “democracy” has anything to do with our purpose there?

The truth about the war

For those of us looking for purpose in why we are fighting, something completely lacking, here is the truth that we find:

The war obviously is not about al-Qaeda or “fighting terrorism.” It is just another war for “American interests”—or, American business interests—in the most resource-rich region of the world. 

Our esteemed leaders admit that the war cannot be won, yet they keep sending us to die. Washington’s goal is to put the Taliban on the defensive so that they will accept a deal and enter into a unity government, returning to political power—and they are using our bodies as the bargaining chips.

The people of Afghanistan are not fighting because they are “terrorists.” They are fighting because a foreign military has been bombing their villages and raiding their homes for 10 years. The Afghan people were not a party to the Sept. 11 attacks, and many know nothing about it to this day.

The people of Afghanistan, no matter which faction of the resistance they fight with, are not our enemies; they are people struggling to survive and provide for their families, just like us.

The people who are not like us are the smirking generals and politicians who think they can treat us like pawns and give us vague and ambiguous explanations for the supposed “purpose” of our suffering.

They are lying to us. Morale is not low just because 80 percent of us have witnessed a friend killed or wounded, but because there is no purpose for that bloodshed.

There is only one thing that can improve morale: realizing that we do not have to follow the orders of those millionaire politicians and armchair generals who are throwing our lives away.

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