September 11th, 2001 was likely the largest single event affecting the trajectory of my life over the last two decades. Twenty years ago, I was glued to the TV in the mortar platoon canteen when the second plane hit the twin towers and instantly everyone had the feeling the world had just changed forever.
For me, my life in the military had finally found a purpose, plans were made and planes diverted; weapons checked and schedules written up. Before long the big green military machine had been put into a whole new gear and the global war on terror was upon us. Like any "good soldier" seeing this as an attack on my values and way of life, I was all in, no questions asked.
I was in my first ever firefight on Mothers Day 2011 and after a couple dozen more by the end of that tour I figured victory was just a matter of time. We did win every battle afterall, and why wouldn't we? We had far superior EVERYTHING to these stone age tribes, or so it seemed to a younger me at the time.
By my 2013 tour, rather than a direct combat role I was tasked with mentoring the Afghan commando training program, and during that half year, I got to know so many of these Afghan soldiers personally and as such, my understanding of the success we were having changed. Was it success at all if it didn't really matter in the long run? Did body counts and a positive K/D ratio truly mark success? What if we were winning every battle but would still lose a war, because those waging it didn't understand the big picture?
What if the "experts'' making the decisions for us weren't experts at all? What if we were merely being misled or misinformed by those whose optimism and arrogance allowed them to misinform themselves? ...What if this "war" wasn't really about winning battles at all, but truly about that time we wasted deluding ourselves in the wrong direction? It definitely seemed like time meant something different to us than to the Afghans themselves, but why?
From all I can tell, the west merely did what it always did and made arrogant assumptions, both about themselves and the Afghans. In one way or another that arrogance would determine the outcome of this conflict as our hubris had us convinced we were right... so boldly forth we went. Two decades of my life dedicated to a war that did so much more harm than good overall have taught me a few things, but most of all to listen before speaking. I never understood why old veterans never really talked about the war until I basically became one myself and I find more and more of the same for the same reason these days, nobody is ready to hear what they don't want to deal with and facts do little to change things that people really don't want changed.
War will always be little more than wealthy old men signing cheques in exchange for the lives of poor young soldiers... but, maybe next time let's just make sure it's all worth it before we waste the life of one more "expendable"?
Confucius once said, "when planning revenge first dig two graves". That's what I will truly never forget, what an epic waste of life this game of revenge has been, and for what? Not only are the Taliban stronger today than they were 20 years ago, but now many more more violent factions have been radicalized against the west because of it all. Ghandi once said, "An eye for an eye, leaves the whole world blind" and at this point in my life I truly believe they were on to something.
Whatever I think we accomplished is irrelevant in the grand scheme of it all, but whatever it was, it was. I no longer have much thought of what I personally did as being wrong or right. When I truly believed in what we were doing, I'd done whatever I was asked until I couldn't. In the end that was all I had to give and the chips fell how they did; the good, the bad and the ugly. I was trained as a hammer and a hammer knows only to strike.
I'm proud to have had the chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who were either brave enough or dumb enough to be willing to face the world’s monsters when asked. In my time, I've worked with some of the best and bravest people in the world, and some of the weakest and worst... many times both within the same person.
Much like the generation of our grandfathers that didn't talk about "the war" with us, I felt like I was fighting in hope to relieve the need to pass on these conflicts to our children and grandchildren... but 20 years on, I feel as though we as a society miss what they missed and we've far from seen the last of conflict.
For me what I wished we wouldn't forget is what I believe most of us still haven't learned yet, we can't simply fight our way to peace if we intend on living in a world where those we fight still exist, but who do we fight and why? Hate and fear are the two main emotions that got us here and it won't likely be those same emotions to get us out. Maybe we need to do something different? Time will tell.
Royce: the most genuine imposter. A jester or a knight when the situation is right, and the fortunate avatar to his soul on its journey. Dedicated to those things and people he cares for while seeking the light in a world that has shown him so much darkness.