Yesterday I found myself dry-heaving and hyper-ventilating in broad daylight, crouched behind the corner of an unused outdoor patio bar in Kansas. I hadn’t had but two beers, but I’d had more than enough of American obtuseness. On a smoke break from wielding my geek-stick (highlighter) with a fatalist fury – brushing-up for today’s Afghanistan column – I made the admittedly willful mistake of trying to explain why the Taliban capture of Kabul was affecting my mood. “I mean, it’s just, like, what was it all for – how do I and my generation of combat vets process the whole thing,” I heard myself saying, adding that “the lingering question of what it was all for, and knowing the dissatisfying answer, just has this bewildering effect of…” Then, in an instant, I snapped out of it, realizing I wasn’t being listened to at all, and being spoken over, or across – yakking something about the stylistic merits of a Pearl Jam song playing faintly in the background.
Look, I know the guy – like him, even. And while I get it, on some level, and had promised myself not to make the evening or next couple of days surrounding the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan about me just because I happened to serve there, well – I was livid. Nonetheless, sticking to my privately promised guns, I stuffed down the angry thoughts – “Are you freaking kidding me? The Saigon of our generation just fell, along with American ambitions! And why the hell is everyone inside carrying on as usual – not discussing the events and implications, whilst using their magic-phones not to follow the flow of events, but to vacuously Snapchat carefully-posed selfies with snappy messages in mundanity?” Yea, my racing thoughts – chasing a suddenly racing heart – slipped that deep into self-righteousness.
Still, they were only thoughts. I kept my mouth shut, waited out the suddenly slow-motion burn of his cigarette despite feeling increasingly light-headed with an acutely aching stomach. Through the glass doors he passed, and about-I-turned, collapsing into a catcher’s pose as I painfully coughed up nothing more substantive than my own silliness and self-regard. Even so, it is uncomfortable indeed to feel utterly out-of-control of one’s own body – and for some 30 seconds I was certainly experiencing that. My bestie – though not himself a veteran – had clearly completed laboring over whether to respectfully leave me be or kindly offer comfort, because over-my-shoulder I noticed he was bee-lining my way. A rare classy move, that. But by then I was just coming out of it – and feeling the usual guilt about daring-to-share, taking on the pain and sorrow of my killed or maimed soldiers and their loved ones as my own, plus having the temerity to be such an oversensitive and foolish sort.
It all happened in a flash, I suspect – but the reflexiveness of the temporary emotional collapse was off-putting still. In times past, that would’ve been the trigger to spiral straight to self-pity, petulance, and ultimately self-loathing. A bad start to a worse night – or week. I don’t exactly know why it wasn’t. It probably helped that there was someone I wanted and had plans to see – a surprising sense of excitement and genuineness that can bring real solace in the right circumstances. Not a distraction, but a reminder that there’s more to this life than melancholy and self-centered dramatics.
Yet, there was also this – albeit slightly guilty – sense of closure and vague vindication. That is, assuming the U.S. war in Afghanistan really ends – and knowing full-well the continued cost to Afghans of our even attempting it. Complicated stuff, conscience and the human condition.
The thing is I’ve long been sick of – and have tried to avoid – commenting on America’s absurd Afghan adventure. After all, over the last few years, I’ve published no less than two dozen pieces on the rank risibility of the whole fiasco, plus the sadness and shame of my own complicity in the disingenuous deed. None of it much helped, at least not at the policymaker level – not that I’d held out much hope for that from the outset. Nevertheless, torn as ever between a sense of obligation to call bull on bullshit enterprises, and topical- or futility-exhaustion, the sheer scale of Afghan madness has repeatedly pulled me back into the commentary game.
Read the full piece here.