Troop morale plummets in a war without purpose

The author is an Iraq war veteran and a member of the anti-war organization of veterans and active duty service members, March Forward!. To read more statements from March Forward! click here.

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.

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

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?

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

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.

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

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:

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.

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.

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.

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

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