When you’re wounded and left,
On Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out,
To cut up your remains,
Just roll on your rifle,
And blow out your brains,
And go to your Gawd,
Like a soldier.
— Rudyard Kipling, ”Gunga Din”
The Rio Grande Valley has paid a high price for the “never ending wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At least 48 sons of the Valley have died. Proportionately, that is over 1.6 times the Valley’s proportion of our nation’s population.
Do we remember them? SGT. Edward Anguiano of Los Fresnos was the first to die on 23 March 2003 In Iraq. His remains were not recovered until 24 April, over a month after his death.
Some, like Dustin Sekula, we remember because buildings (Edinburg Library) or schools or streets have been named in their honor. Various localities are inscribing names on monuments. But do we truly remember?
SPC Issac Diaz? Afghanistan, 1 December 2004. Sgt. Fernando de la Rosa? Afghanistan, 27 October 2009. SSG Michael Anthony Cinco? Afghanistan, 21 December 2015. Of course, family and friends remember, and grieve; but do we?
We know of Freddy Gonzalez because his name is on a school, a street in Edinburg, and a U.S. destroyer; but how many of us know anything about his life, his service in Viet Nam, his death? Do we teach our children? How long will he be remembered as anything other than a name? How long will Dustin Sekula be remembered as anything other than a name?
We need to remember. We need to learn. We need to remember what we learn.
The result of our 20 year war, our “longest war”, is an almost perfect replay of our third longest war (after Iraq) in Viet Nam. The government learned from that war, but only in terms of adjusting U.S. military tactics to minimize the number of boxes, gift wrapped, flowing home to the U.S. And today, we have thirteen more; including Marine Lance Corporal David Espinoza of Laredo. Let us pray they are the last gift-wrapped boxes families receive from Afghanistan or Iraq. We can pray.
In Afghanistan, we have lost 2,461, including 13 servicemen killed 26 August. In Iraq, the toll is higher; 4,431. Of course, these numbers pale in comparison to Viet Nam, where 58,284 of my brothers and sisters, not to mention 6 million Southeast Asians died.
But, we are AMERICANS, so we care little about the more than 1,000,000 Iraqis and Afghans, mostly women and children, who have died in our forever wars there. We dismiss non-combatant deaths, the deaths of women and children, as “collateral damage”—an unfortunate occurrence in wars that largely rains indiscriminate death from above.
All of this was perfectly predictable, and in fact was predicted by many, including this author, when George Bush launched these never ending wars in 2001.
Students who took classes with me from 2001 until I retired repeatedly heard me predict the outcome of the war in Afghanistan, that it would end in an ignominious defeat for the U.S. This is not intended to be crowing. What kind of person crows about a million deaths? I write this to say “we the people” should have known. The government should have known—Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump, Biden—from the very beginning, this is how it would end.
Actually, in all probability, just as Lyndon Johnson knew and admitted to members of his staff in December, 1964, we ultimately would lose the war in Viet Nam. (Fredrik Logevall. Choosing War: The Last Chance for Peace & the Escalation of War in Viet Nam, 2001). The truth is, the war was lost before it began. Which “war”? Viet Nam? Iraq? Afghanistan? All three.
Why? Why does the U.S. keep fighting these wars we are doomed to lose? In “The Sword and the Dollar”, Michael Parenti gives us an answer. This is the way of empires. Regardless of how much some will deny it, “the world’s only superpower” is an empire.
Over the course of history, nature and structure of empires changes. The European empires were different from the Roman empire, which was different from the Egyptian empire, which was different from the ancient Chinese empire. And the U.S. is different from all of them. Today, we are an economic and military empire which rules; which more accurately, attempts to rule, through economics (the dollar) and the military (the sword).
One thing does not change. Empires generally destroy themselves. As Parenti says, empires will bleed the center (the “homeland”) to expand and maintain the periphery (for the past 20 years, Iraq and Afghanistan). Empires inevitably engage in over-reach. Our “reach” has exceeded our “grasp”. We can “reach” Iraq and Afghanistan, but we cannot “hold” Iraq and Afghanistan. They are replays of Viet Nam. We were able to reach Viet Nam and maintain a presence for over 30 years—1944-1975. But we could not hold Viet Nam.
Why? In part because, short of exterminating an entire people, it is impossible to defeat a people who refuse to be defeated.
During these forever wars, look what happened to “the homeland”. Our infrastructure has worn out and is crumbling. Major bridges are structurally unsound. Water in major cities is laden with lead and other contaminants, and is unsafe to drink. We spend trillions on the military and wars of imperial aggression, but government is unwilling to spend billions on roads, sewage, high speed internet, education, health care. These are the misplaced priorities of empire.
For those of us who pay attention to history and who try to learn the lessons of history, all of this is perfectly predictable. Sadly, what also is perfectly predictable is “we the people” don’t pay attention. “We the people” are easily misled and duped by lying politicians of BOTH parties who are far more loyal to the “military industrial complex”, as President Eisenhower described it in his Farewell Speech to the Nation (17 January 1961), than they are to the people, or to our nation.
Our nation, particularly the Valley, has paid a high price in these wars. For what? Empire.
We can pray. We need to remember. We need to learn. We need to remember what we learn.
But we can and must do much more. We must determine ourselves to stand against any future “never ending wars”. Oppose them with all of our might as soon as the imperialist warlords and their putrid politicians start beating their drums fo war. Otherwise, the end result, once again, will be perfectly predictable.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Rio Grande Valley writer and academic Samuel Freeman. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Freeman can be reached by email via: [email protected]
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