Broken Hearted Over Kabul: What Was It All For?- Charlie Pacello

The Fall of Kabul mirrored the Fall of Saigon. From many corners of the military, I’ve heard tales of anger, betrayal, grief, and moral shame. Many veterans, including myself, fear for the ones left behind, condemned to a horrible fate by our political leaders. We are angered by the lack of leadership and resolve of the American political system. We feel shame for consigning an entire population (35-38 million people), especially the Afghan women and girls, to a brutally repressive regime, for abandoning the people we stood next to for the last 20 years, and for failing to deliver on the promises we made to give those people a chance of something better. We grieve for the families who trusted and sided with us, now living in fear, in hiding. We grieve over the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their homeland to escape, and over the loss of 2,455 American military deaths connected to this war. Many of the warriors who fought in this conflict have returned home wounded and psychologically impaired. We, as a nation, failed all of them.  

Honor is the currency of the soul for warriors. When they see their leaders betraying them to their enemies, that currency is taken away and they are hollowed out with a moral wound so deep, they may never recover. I think this was one of the worst foreign policy decisions in the history of America. It began with Trump and ended with Biden and both, for political reasons, were speaking domestic political slogans to gain votes, presenting the options as binary: a ‘forever war' vs. complete and total withdrawal.  

We have over 170,000 troops located around the world. Our presence protects those who can't protect themselves. We had a minimal presence in Afghanistan that was at least keeping the stalemate. The Afghan army was doing the fighting, and we would call in air support when needed. I believe a small contingency force should have been left to assist the Afghan army until it could really stand on its own. This, in my opinion, was the least we could do to honor those who gave their lives because their country called. It would have given the people a chance to get strong and preserve their hard-won freedoms, and establish their own version of representative government under Islam. It also would have helped protect the lives of millions of Afghan women and girls who were brutalized unmercifully by the previous Taliban regime. American and NATO soldiers were the frontline in ensuring these women had a future.  

Did you see the pictures of the Marines holding onto the babies being lifted up to them by their mothers? Can you imagine what it was like for those mothers to give up their babies to the Americans, because there is no hope for them under the rule of the Taliban? Can you put yourself in the shoes of the Marine or service member who has to make the choice, which child to save and which to reject? 

It's the soldier on the ground who makes the promises to those we swear to protect. And it's the soldier who pays the moral price when those promises made are broken and his or her honor is shattered by those in power and authority. Our sacrifices have to mean something for those who fought and died in the war. Otherwise, the betrayal to our soul by those who sent us to do the work of protecting our freedoms is enormous. The cry- ‘What was it all for?!' – haunts us throughout our lives.   

Suicide prevention calls skyrocketed as veterans watched in horror the Taliban's return and victory. In the eyes of much of the world, and many parts of Islam, we were humiliated by a ragtag group of guerilla soldiers that outlasted us through patience, diligence, deception, lies, and faith; in their minds, this is vindication of their interpretation of Sharia Law, and validation God (Allah) is on their side. Our capitulation and retreat set the stage for the all-male ultra conservative Taliban government to regain the country once we left. They are already beheading people who worked with us and marrying off girls to their fighters. 

I shed tears for all the blood spilt for nothing and for what is unfolding in our Veteran community because of what happened during the last two weeks of August. Many in the Air Force and military were trying desperately to get their Afghan friends and their families out before the horrors they expected to happen began to occur. I have been listening to the veteran voices of my friends and colleagues who were there. I've heard the stories, the pain, the traumas these warriors carry. I've borne witness to their hells on earth. As healers, teachers, therapists, and doctors who work with veterans, we must be aware of the moral injury that occurs when soldiers are forced to capitulate and surrender without honor, and the disgrace this brings to the dignity of fallen brothers and sisters whose lives were sacrificed at the altar of war.

I believe there are two reasons we fight as American warriors: to protect our immediate family and tribe, and for freedom. If you don't have at least one of these noble virtues underlying your mission and purpose, the American soldier will pay a huge mental and emotional price for betraying his or her soul, and engaging in the horrors of war. We didn't end ‘forever wars' by leaving Afghanistan the way we did; we emboldened those who wish to hurt us, and thus, have perpetuated and extended this war against Islamic Radicalism. My fear is that our children will have to redo this all over again, because we didn't have the courage to stay the course and finish it. I hope and pray I'm wrong.  

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CHARLIE PACELLO

CHARLIE PACELLO

Charlie Pacello is a self-help teacher, life coach, actor, and humanitarian. An Air Force veteran and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Charles provides individuals and groups the tools they need to heal, renew, and transform. He lives in Denver and currently hosts the popular radio/TV show ‘The Council’ which broadcasts live on www.KUHSdenver.com to listeners all around the globe.

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