It was a cold, cloudy day at the Dole Institute on Nov. 10, the time when Marines from the Lawrence area came together to celebrate the 234th birthday of the Corps. The center was full of graying veterans, young uniformed midshipmen from Kansas University and the choir from Lawrence High School. This is an annual ceremony in Lawrence and a tradition at the Dole Institute. As a Vietnam veteran, it is my one chance to see other veterans I have not seen since last year, or perhaps the year before, but this time it was a little different.
The main speaker, a Lt. Col. Glasco, gave the standard, traditional Marine birthday talk on how great the Marine Corps was, how today’s Marines were upholding the values and traditions in our current “conflicts,” displaying their honor and bravery. It was the standard birthday speech, which varied little from the past birthdays. However, today those words did not ring quite right; they seemed somewhat hollow, and a little forced as my mind was elsewhere.
My son, Scott, is a lieutenant in the Army, and he has orders to Afghanistan early next year. Now, this war for me is becoming very personal, and it is troubling, for now I have a personal stake in the war, as Scott is my only son. As a father and combat veteran, I know what war is and the value of children, and I do have some trepidation of kids going into harm’s way. However, this Afghan war is a little different, for it is one we have been fighting eight years, and, in my opinion, a war that probably cannot ever be “won,” just as Vietnam was a war “impossible” to win.
However, today Washington seems unable to come up with a strategy to end this conflict. The Pentagon seems unable to articulate a reasonable explanation as to its strategic value. Afghanistan’s government is corrupt, there has been in a civil war going on for 38 years; it is the world’s biggest drug trafficker, and its people are mostly living back in biblical days, ruled by warlords!
Even President Obama, seems unsure as to exactly what the next step will be over there, or how to proceed with our armed forces. He seems to be not sure of what even the next step should be, or exactly what it is we are trying to achieve.
Now my son would be going to this war without answers. This greatly concerns me, as I am sure any father whose child is going to war is extremely concerned for their safety, fearful of the possibility of their dying for nothing in Afghanistan. It is not unreasonable to ask for the reason they will be in harm’s way, and what cause it is they will be asked to sacrifice their life for.
After Glasco’s speech, he was making the rounds; he spotted my fighter pilot’s jacket with all the cool patches and introduced himself. As I shook his hand, I said, “My son is being deployed to Afghanistan next year and I have a couple of questions for you. Can you tell me just one good reason why he is going over there, and should he be killed, what exactly would he be dying for?” He responded to me, but didn’t really answer my questions.
I guess I should not have expected an answer. Then again, perhaps there is not one. But I don’t think it is out of bounds for a father sending his only son into battle to ask for an answer to the reason why. As a country, we are spending some $65 billion in tax dollars a year in Afghanistan. For that, I think we all deserve an explanation from our government of not only why we are spending this money, but also for how long, and how many more thousands of our children are we expected to sacrifice on our latest, perceived national altar of “honor”?
— Curtis D. Bennett, a former captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, is a Lawrence resident.