“For years the military wrote down their own homework and said they won,” Dempsey said. “And the civilians started to wonder if we should be in Afghanistan, but did they call their members of Congress? Did they protest in the street? No. Because there is no personal sacrifice. It’s easy to ignore a disaster when it’s not yours.
Now that it has collapsed, he said, “no one really knows what to say.”
When President Biden announced that the remaining troops were leaving Afghanistan before the summer was over, some members of the public felt it was ten years or more too late.
“I always thought it would be difficult but not impossible to do what needed to be done in Afghanistan,” said Bryan Smith, academic administrator at Florida A&M University. “I also think we haven’t always taken into consideration the fact that not everyone does democracy the way we do.”
It was not difficult to find people who wanted to avoid the troubling questions of a long war by throwing the blame on one administration or another. It is not so easy to dismiss these questions for the 775,000 soldiers who have been deployed there. All week veterans have been reaching out, many posting the phone numbers of the veterans helplines on their social media.
At the military post museum, Afghanistan is already an exhibition, with oil paintings of notable battles, showing uniforms already dated. The disputed terrain in places like Kamdesh, recounted in this story, is already as unknown to young soldiers as names like Somme or Khe Sanh.
Three soldiers who were in kindergarten in 2001 were taking a break at a local Starbucks near the post on Friday. Sipping fruit refreshments, they seemed to take the week’s developments without a hitch. The past may have been bleak, the present without the solemn recognition it deserves, the future uncertain, but all three said they were there to do whatever the nation asked of them, whatever it was. The fall of Kabul had changed nothing.
One soldier, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak, said he didn’t mind that the civilian world seemed to go on without thinking about military efforts abroad.
“This is what I want, this is why I am here,” he said. “I don’t want the country to have to worry.
Campbell Robertson contributed reporting from Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Audra DS Burch Hollywood, Florida, and Edgar Sandoval of San Antonio.