Today, the last US military plane departed Kabul, putting an official end to the American war in Afghanistan as we have known it for the last twenty years. There are still some American civilians left in the country that need to be evacuated, and a ravaged nation left behind in turmoil and fear; but the overarching military narrative that began on September 11th, 2001 has come to a close.
It’s hard for me to talk or even think about Afghanistan without bringing in the larger context of America’s involvement over the last 20 years. To talk solely about this withdrawal misses the point, but let me be clear: this withdrawal was an absolute shit show of the highest order. There was a way to do this that would have been less of a systemic shock to the entire country, even if Taliban victory was inevitable, and this wasn’t it.
This was chaos.
However, I also want to be clear that the war in Afghanistan was a meandering quagmire that should have ended years ago. America fooled itself into thinking that sending our young men and women to walk around with rifles and hand out soccer balls to kids would fundamentally change the culture of Afghanistan. The failure in Afghanistan is the failure of every administration since 2001, and the American people for their passive disinterest throughout the whole thing, allowing it to fester for as long as it did while arms manufacturers and military contractors made as much money as they could.
To be abundantly clear, the failure of the Afghanistan war is not on the young men and women of the United States Military. Even during this hasty withdrawal, the Marines and other servicemembers served admirably and heroically as they rescued over 100,000 civilians from Taliban oppression. 13 of them even gave their lives for it. Their names are right here:
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas
Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee
Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, Jackson, Wyoming
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California
Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska
Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts
Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri
Navy Hospital Corpsman Max W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio
The events of the last few weeks have been disappointing to watch unfold, but I’m ultimately glad to see the Post 9/11 era come to a close, regardless of what comes next.
After the work I did on my most recent graphic novel, Battle Born: Lapis Lazuli, it’s hard for me to not be cynical about Afghanistan. Western imperialism is ultimately how we ended up here. In the grand context of the world, America’s 20 year stint was just another failed attempt at conquering the nation. Before us, the Russians. Before them, the British.
Hopefully this was the last attempt.
As the years have gone by doing this comic of mine, I’ve distanced my own personal opinions from most major issues because I like to keep Terminal Lance about the Marines, rather than myself. Terminal Lance, to me, is a safe space for Marines to engage with each other and laugh at each other’s shenanigans. I think of the comic and the overarching social media empire as a kind of virtual smoke pit of sorts.
However, this moment is… different. Aside from being historically significant for obvious reasons, the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been the backdrop of my entire adult life (and even a few years before that). I personally went on two deployments to Iraq, with many of my friends close and far serving in Afghanistan. Like many veterans, I’ve been wrestling with a lot of emotions. I wrestled with a lot of them when ISIS steamrolled across Iraq as well. Whatever emotions you’re wrestling with in this whole situation, I assure you that they are valid.
I believe my measured approach to administrating Terminal Lance is correct. I see it as my duty to be a calming presence for active duty Marines, rather than an enraged veteran hot onto the latest trending outrage, trying to sell you coffee (though my coffee would be the best of them all, tbh). The spirit of Terminal Lance is to roll with the punches, because shit sucks and you may as well laugh. I got a lot of DM’s today from Marines that wanted to know what I think, because there’s a lot of noise on the internet.
I hope this clears it up.