Stephen Kent

Stephen Kent

Symbolic events have often been precursors of change in foreign policies. Some have even ended wars.

The self-immolation of a Buddhist monk in the streets of Saigon in 1963 caused the Kennedy administration to rethink its support of the Vietnamese government. Five years later, the sharp criticism of the Vietnam War effort by television’s Walter Cronkite was taken as a signal by then-President Lyndon Johnson that he had lost the support of Middle America for his war policy.

Now, in United States’ longest war, there are multiple incidents of supposed “friendlies” assassinating American troops. Recently, when Gen. Martin Dempsey, the highest-ranking U.S. Army general, was visiting Afghanistan, his aircraft was shot at while parked.

Things are not going our way. The situation could be described in the same euphemistic fashion Japanese emperor Hirohito said of World War II:

“Despite the best that has been done by everyone … the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”

Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Afghanistan to discuss the state of the war after a particularly deadly few weeks for Americans in the more than decade-old Afghan war.

The goal was to leave an Afghan army and police force capable of defending the country against the Taliban and its allies. Instead, recent “insider” shootings — attacks in cold blood by rogue Afghan soldiers or policemen — killed 15 in August, “the most in a single month since the start of the war nearly 11 years ago,” according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.


Insurgents hiding outside the heavily fortified Bagram Airfield fired rockets that damaged the parked transport plane used by Dempsey. He was not in danger but had to leave Afghanistan a few hours later than planned on a different aircraft.

What should be the overriding reason for quickly leaving Afghanistan — and what is largely ignored — was the report of the 2,000th U.S. death in Afghanistan. It was just another number, like the Dow crossing 13,000.

The 2,000th life is just as precious as the first one lost a decade ago. The lack of outrage is disturbing.

“What if they gave a war and nobody came?” a phrase popular in the 1970s can now be rephrased to: “What if there was a war and nobody cared?”

If after 10 years, more than 2,000 dead, thousands wounded, many ruined for life and trillions of dollars, we find that those we are there to save are killing and security is so tenuous that a general’s plane can be attacked, it is time to go.

Continuation cannot be justified by a false sense of patriotism or that they are fighting to “preserve our freedom.” When we hear numbers of dead like an index and pay scant attention, it is time to go. The cause for which we entered — democracy — has not prevailed and there is no indication that it will with the current shootings and bombings.

There have been too few prophets speaking out, condemning this obscene waste of life and atrocious waste of money. This is not a winnable war. It is immoral to continue to expend lives in a useless cause.


Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. He can be contacted at: