Editorial: Celebrating independence while watching it crumble in the middle of the night

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Who knows what date the history books actually will show, but the end of the American war in Afghanistan happened at an unknown hour in the middle of the night on July 1, 2021.

That’s when the last U.S. soldiers left Bagram Air Base, the primary military facility in Afghanistan that has served as the main home for U.S. soldiers in the country for nearly 20 years.

The departure received little fanfare, a hallmark of middle-of-the-night operations. In fact, The New York Times reported that looters managed to get into the base before Afghan officials had secured the facility after the American exit.

It is tempting to say that is foreshadowing, but is such a device really needed to know what is about to happen to Afghanistan? Military estimates are that Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, will fall to the Taliban in six months to two years.

On July 1 — three days before Americans celebrate their independence — Afghanistan descends deeper into a fate that forever forestalls freedom.

Yes, it is unlikely that many Americans will spend much time thinking about Afghanistan this July 4 holiday. Indeed, it should be a time for celebration. America deserves one. It is great to see that in Lawrence a community party is planned, and it even seems fitting that it is in a new location this year. (It will be centered around the Lied Center.) Congratulations to all those who pulled that together.

But hopefully, among the revelry, we will find time to remember those soldiers who served in Afghanistan. There were sacrifices by all and the ultimate sacrifice by too many.

Perhaps, though, it is fitting to remember Afghanistan itself on the day that we celebrate the birth of our country. It serves as a powerful reminder that the creation of a country doesn’t simply happen.

Chaos happens, not countries.

America had to fight through its chaos in the beginning too. The beliefs and blood of patriots saw us to the other side, but it is understandable all these years later that some believe the creation of America was a godsend. There’s little harm in that.

The harm comes from believing America is a guarantee. It is not. Democracy needs tending, rhetoric needs limits, and minds need opened. For anyone who reads that list and thinks it only applies to one side of the political spectrum, that’s a problem. It has become almost boring to say America is too partisan — but no less true.

This Independence Day it will be great to celebrate with family and friends and to take another step in restoring some normalcy. But it also is a great opportunity to remember the work that has gone into making America a truly remarkable place on earth. It is worth remembering the work that remains to be done. That work is ours to do, and perhaps can be summarized by saying we must remember how to work together again.

And yes, though it is not very fitting of the celebratory mood of the holiday, our Independence Day is the right time to remember what happens when a country refuses to do that work.

Remember Afghanistan — and that fireworks aren’t the only thing that happen in the middle of the night.


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