October 14, 2009

Afghan Lunacy - Michael Yon

[This dispatch was written by me in December 2008 in southern Afghanistan. It was never published though I recently found it in the unpublished archives. The photos came from the same period.]

Published: from Nepal on 14 October 2009

On May 25, 1961, the President of the United States of America said:

“Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides—time for a great new American enterprise—time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.”
And thanks to bold and visionary leadership, the collective intelligence, courage and commitment of Americans from coast to coast, America had seemed to achieve little more than a stunning list of public failures on the way to space. Our rockets exploded on the launch pad. In the air. Burned up on reentry. Or disappeared into solar orbit. But our grandparents never allowed us to be defined by our faults or failures; only how we greeted adversity. Failure after failure after failure. We got up and launched again, into failure. Fine astronauts were lost. And yet today, in 2008, after a dozen Americans have walked on the moon, citizens from no other nation have managed to land on the lunar surface. What inspiration kept the people at NASA going, when their early years were marked seemingly only by failure? The scientists, engineers and space pilots were living the American dream, not a dream of mere perfection, but of valiant and worthwhile effort. President Theodore Roosevelt said in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

And so I write these words from Afghanistan, as a grandchild of many great men and women who built “America” and bequeathed it to us. The challenges facing us in Afghanistan, and this region in general, are monumental. We have been failing in Afghanistan. We have been losing the war. But losing does not mean lost. Failing does not mean failed. Yet if we are to succeed in this endeavor, we must be realistic that putting people on the moon was more straightforward than lifting Afghanistan from the stone ages.


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