In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
— Lt. Col. John A. McCrae
Those words written to reflect the battlefield realities of World War I remain meaningful nearly a hundred years later. American soldiers are still dying on foreign soil. Like the doughboys back then, they commit their lives to a fight that isn’t so easy for some to understand. They do their duty.
The Afghanistan war, in particular, can be difficult to figure out. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, this nation was unified in its belief that taking out the culprits was necessary to ensure the country’s future safety. At the time, few envisioned that mission would take 10 years, leave nearly 2,000 U.S. soldiers dead, and cost this country more than $500 billion — and counting.
Finally, a little more than a year ago, the man responsible for 9/11, Osama bin Laden, was found living in a residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Navy SEALs in a daring raid killed al-Qaeda’s leader. But that didn’t end the war, which had long ago morphed into something much bigger than getting bin Laden. The United States has tried to make Afghanistan a stable nation that never again will serve as a base for terrorists who want to hurt our country.
That task has proved to be very difficult. It may be impossible. Certainly, Afghanistan is much closer to the ideal than when it was run by the Taliban, which was in league with al-Qaeda. But true stability requires a dependable government in Kabul, and the administration of President Hamid Karzai is hardly that. The situation is further complicated by neighboring Pakistan, which not only — unwittingly, it says — housed the fugitive bin Laden, but now has convicted a doctor who helped find bin Laden of treason.
A soldier in the field can’t be too concerned with the politics and policies that have put him in harm’s way. He has to leave that for higher-ups to sort out, and pray that they will make decisions that are best for this country, and for its men and women who risk their lives to defend our nation’s ability to determine its course in this way.
It’s Memorial Day. Remember to take some time to reflect on those in uniform who serve, and served, our nation.