The world is an untidy place, and much of the mess comes in the form of man-made violence. Lives are lost every day as fighting rages in what looks more and more like civil war in South Sudan in Africa, in the even uglier civil war in Syria and as people — including college students — protest their government’s tactics in Egypt.
And the latest headlines are about the terrorists (believed to be Islamists based in Chechnya) who have taken to killing unsuspecting civilians in the Russian city of Volgograd — better known, perhaps, by its former name, Stalingrad — apparently in the hope their violence will sabotage the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The combination of so much violence in so many places and the knowledge that the United States hopes to withdraw nearly all its troops from Afghanistan this year may lead the American public to lose sight of the fact that about 47,000 American men and women remain in harm’s way in that seemingly endless conflict.
Polls show that Americans have soured on our involvement in Afghanistan, and it is used as a cautionary example of getting involved in foreign wars.
Often overlooked in the discussion is that American troops quickly triumphed in the Afghanistan war, driving the Taliban from power and chasing Osama bin-Laden and his al-Qaida team from their base of operations.
The problems and setbacks have come during what is essentially an occupation, as America tried to help a Third World country with scant history of free elections transition to a democracy. The same is true of Iraq.
So polls show Americans now are entirely weary of a “war” that has been largely an exercise in nation building, one whose outcome remains much in doubt. But that is not the fault of the military. Our officers and enlisted men and women achieved their military objectives with remarkable efficiency, and their courage and dedication merits our enduring gratitude and concern.
Although there were fewer American fatalities in 2013 than in previous years — and the pattern may continue into this new year — on a personal level every death is almost unbearable, at least to the victim’s family and close friends. Also, many of our soldiers come home with injuries so severe that they are deprived of a normal existence.
(Since the start of military operations in Afghanistan, 19,080 American service members have been wounded in hostile action, the Defense Department reports.)
Today, it is a cherished custom that we declare our New Year’s resolutions. Let one of them be that we must not stop paying attention to these casualties simply because there are so many other events dominating the headlines or because the fighting in Afghanistan has been scaled back in anticipation of the withdrawal of American and NATO troops. If we do, we will only make each death or injury more obscene.
These awful sacrifices must not be diminished by our thoughtless inattention.