Nearly 19 years into the Afghanistan War, it seems the U.S. might be finally ready to end the longest armed conflict in its history. The Trump administration announced in late February that a peace deal was being negotiated with the Taliban and there was intention of recalling U.S. troops. Retired Maj. Danny Sjursen, an author and historian who spent half of his life in the Army, speaks with host Robert Scheer on this week’s episode of “Scheer Intelligence” to analyze how we got caught up in Afghanistan in the first place.
Tracing the conflict through his personal and professional experiences, Sjursen recalls how the Sept. 11 attacks became the impetus for so many young men like himself to put their lives on the line for a country they believed would be on the right side of history. Not long into his service, however, the retired army major learned that the multiple wars he fought in had little to do with the terrorist attacks billed as the cause, as evidenced by his first deployment.
“I went to Iraq before Afghanistan,” says Sjursen, “And I think that is illustrative of this war and some of its absurdity and irrationality, because when those towers came down---and then when we found out soon afterwards that it was probably Afghan-based, or at least that [Osama] bin Laden was Afghan based---I mean, one would assume that my first deployment would be Afghanistan.[Instead in 2005] I went to Iraq, [and] actually we had about 120,000 to 130,000 soldiers in Iraq, and we had about 20,000 in Afghanistan.”
“The big irony here,” Scheer remarks, “is that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So, you know, we hear a lot about fake news now in the era of Trump, [but] the fact is, the Iraq War is one of the stunning examples of fake news.”
The “Scheer Intelligence” host goes on to remind listeners that Al Qaeda, Bin Laden’s organization, “couldn't operate in Iraq” and the entire premise for invading Iraq was fabricated weapons of mass destruction alleged to be in Saddam Hussein’s possession. Almost two decades later, with countless American, Afghani and Iraqi lives lost, and ever-growing instability in the Middle East, it’s never been clearer that the two conflicts, which became inextricably linked, were engendered by government propaganda that mainstream media had no qualms about propagating. Scheer points out that while government and media both carry the lion’s share of the responsibility for the wars, there may be other people to blame for what are widely known as our forever wars.
“We think we live in a society that is designed to encourage you to challenge power,” says the “Scheer Intelligence” host. “We have a sense of limited government, we have separation of powers, you have First Amendment freedoms and others. And yet---and I'm not just talking about people who are on active duty---people don't speak out in general, you know. They go along.”
While the two analyze the careerism and power involved at the highest ranks of the military, the combat veteran concludes with a remarkable analysis that Sjursen admits will seem controversial.
“Those soldiers on the football fields that we see every Sunday are the good Germans that Hannah Arendt spoke of,” says the retired Army major. “And I was one of them. We are the foot soldiers for empire. [That's] the truth of the matter. We went along to get along, and in the process, we were guilty.”
Drawing from his extensive knowledge as a historian, Sjursen nuances his comparison between Germans and Americans, adding that while the slaughter of the holocaust is not equivalent to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Americans, like Germans, were involved essentially illegal conflicts that cast a pall on our actions.
“The only difference between us and the Germans when it comes to the principles we laid down [in the Nuremberg trials] is that we were the winners,” he concludes. “We were the winners. So we don't apply those Nuremberg principles of, hey, you have to speak out against aggression and lies and militarism in the world--we don't apply that to our soldiers or our generals. And we won't until we're not the prevalent power in the world.”
Listen to the full discussion between Scheer and Sjursen as the two trace the historical context of the continual bloodshed that has marked U.S. history for the better part of this century.