I met a patriot today. I met a man who is not in the military of any country, but he is most certainly a patriot. He is a manager for the company that manages our terps, or interpreters. He is an Afghan-American. He lived in the United States Since the early 80's.
Shortly after he arrived in the United States he became an activist for his native country, first as an opponent of the communists, and then as an opponent of the Taliban. He worked to raise awareness among the decision-makers of the events in Afghanistan and the threats to the security of not only his native land but to the rest of the world as well.
As he spoke, I realized that I was talking with someone whose patriotism rose to a level that most of us cannot understand. This man lived in the United States. He got a degree and worked as an accountant. He has a family in America. He has a life. Why in the hell is he here?
He is not just an Afghan patriot (or expatriot, if you will) but an American patriot. His understanding of how the events in Afghanistan over the past 30 years have been shaped, and how those events came back around to shape our present, is unparalleled.
He spoke of the struggle to bring to light information such as the use of chemical weapons by the Soviets. We all remember hearing of these abuses, but this man was one of the people who actually brought those facts to light. This man was one of a group of Afghan expatriots who were still patriots. Their weapons were information and awareness.
While we were busy providing Stinger missiles to the Afghan resistance against the Soviets, these men were bringing back information on how the missiles were being used and who was getting their hands on them.
He spoke of the events, and of the mistakes made by more than one administration, without rancor. He described how he and his compatriots had tried to warn of the involvement of Osama bin Laden's group before they had even taken the name Al Qaeda. He explained how, when the Soviets left, the Arabs influenced the Mujahideen to attack the Afghan Army, to execute its officers.
These men had tried to warn two administrations of the growing influence of Osama's group on what was to become the Taliban. They provided information on chemical weapons research and attempts to develop chemical terrorist weapons with the help of a prominent North Korean chemical weapons designer to the Clinton administration.
He spoke of how we (the United States) had been very interested in Afghanistan until the Soviets left. He spoke about how they had warned against leaving Afghanistan on its own in the days following the Soviet departure, and how their pleas had fallen on deaf ears.
He explained the results of this indifference, the twists and turns and sub-plots with amazing detail and clarity. He explained as only an Afghan could what had happened in those days of turmoil that had laid the groundwork for Afghanistan to become a hotbed of Islamic extremism and a training ground for terrorists.
Over the centuries, Afghanistan has rarely been the prize. Afghanistan has the misfortune of being at the crossroads of history. You could say that it is the crossroads of history. Nobody has fought for Afghanistan simply for the sake of Afghanistan itself, but to interfere with or stymie their opponent. They have fought to hold the crossroads or simply to pass through en route to whoever they really wanted to attack.
The Persians, the Macedonians, both Khans (Genghis and Kublai,) the British, the Russians... all wanted something other than Afghanistan, but found that in order to get what they truly wanted, they had to pass through Afghanistan.
We used Afghanistan to stymie the Soviets. It worked, and while we were at it we unwittingly watered the seeds of Islamic extremism. This man is a walking chronicle of the events that brought forth the birth of the Taliban and the emergence of Al Qaeda as the preeminent threat to security and peace in the post-Cold War world.
He also spoke hopefully of the future of Afghanistan. He spoke of economic opportunity, about education, about providing the tools for Afghans to become productive members of society. This man has seen how truly small this world is, and knows first-hand that what happens in the kheyls of Afghanistan impacts events all the way on the other side of the world.
There is no room for isolationism in the United States anymore. Those who wistfully dream of closing our borders and hiding within our North American enclave, safe from the world and protected by saltwater security systems at our front and back doors are so sadly mistaken as to be pronounced pathetic.
We are citizens in a global society, and what we do has ramifications far beyond our previous imaginings. Our little intrigues and games, twisting the knife in the side of our enemy of the time, fed an enemy more insidious than any specter the Soviet superpower could have generated. While we were busily interfering with their hoped-for conquests and influence, we fed a disease.
It's Orwellian, really. We are being tortured by a virus we fed while swatting at a bear. It helped kill the bear. Now it's threatening our health as well.
The man I met today, whose name will remain a hidden piece of history, saw and understood the development of that virus. He spoke into uninterested ears as the virus mutated and replicated. He saw the direction that it was taking, and how we were unwittingly assisting in the genetic testing of the strain.
He also understands the cure. It is not giving the Afghans anything, but enabling them to get it for themselves. The cure for the disease is bringing these people opportunities to do something other than carry a weapon and fight.
Or, we can kill them all.
I'll take Option A for a thousand, Alex.
It's difficult to truly understand the gratitude so many Afghans have expressed to me for being here. It's difficult because, in some small way, the insanity of our own twisted reflection in the funhouse mirror of our media has left its mark on my mind. Like some rhetorical narcotic, it dulls the true perception of what and who we are.
I have been thanked many times for being here. I have been thanked many times for leaving my family behind to come here and help. One of our soldiers said recently that Americans could learn a few things about family values from the Afghans. Afghans have a tremendous amount of loyalty to their families. They truly understand the sacrifice of not seeing your children for months on end.
Yet still I've wondered at times if they weren't just being polite. Afghans are incredibly polite people, by and large.
This man thanked me for coming here and doing what I am doing. He meant it.
I had to thank him. This man was perfectly safe at home in America. He gave up his job to come here and make sure that we could communicate with our Afghan counterparts. He doesn't have a huge, important job. He is not a mover or a shaker. He is a worker, a part of the machine. He doesn't wear a uniform. I won't use his name for his own safety. He is doing what he can to be useful.
For the past 30 years, he's been doing what he can to be useful.
The man I met this morning, quiet and unassuming, finding a way to contribute in any way that he can for a span of approximately 30 years... now he's a patriot.
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