by Eric Speer
In 1971, when Daniel Ellsberg sent the New York Times a copy of the military review of the war the United States was waging in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, he knew the decision could land him in prison for the rest of his life. It took an immense act of courage and patriotism to disclose the details of that review, which became known as The Pentagon Papers when it was released in a series of articles on the front page of the New York Times.
The release came with huge ramifications for the US civilian and military leaders in charge of the war, as the American public came to terms with the lies they had been fed by their elected officials. The exposé added fuel to the fire of the growing anti-war movement; the continuing mass protests and civil unrest put immense pressure on the government and helped lead to a winding down of the war and withdrawal by 1975.
The American public was faced with a similar revelation last December, when the Washington Post successfully sued for and released a cache of documents by the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The documents showed that the official narrative behind the longest war in the history of the United States has been a constant lie. While American soldiers have been sent to their death (approx. 2400) or a life of dealing with physical and psychological injuries (over 20,000), the people who were charged with carrying out the war have admitted that they had no idea what they were even trying to accomplish.
This is nicely summed up by General Douglas Lute, the Afghan war czar for Presidents Bush and Obama, who was quoted as saying, “we were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan” and “we didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.” This is the man who was heading the war effort across Republican and Democratic administrations admitting that we did not have a plan or end goal in mind in Afghanistan, but rather were just going to keep wasting munitions on impoverished Afghan civilians in order to pad the pockets of military contractors.
These documents were at least as explosive an indictment of the behavior of the United States government and military as the original Pentagon Papers were – but where is the outrage? There have been no mass protests or civilian actions of any kind.
While I applaud the Washington Post for their extensive efforts in acquiring and publishing these documents, the rest of the media behaved as was to be expected. There were a few articles published in the mainstream outlets that amounted to a summarizing of the need to know facts from the Afghanistan Papers, but then we moved right back to the conversations about impeachment and the 2020 presidential race.
These papers did not deserve to be treated as just another news story to add to the background noise behind less controversial issues. This is a war that has caused catastrophic levels of death and destruction for innocent civilians, as well as American service members who are often revered as heroes in American society – and yet still no outrage.
This is a war that will have added $7.9 trillion to the national debt in the coming decades when you count the cost of care for veterans who were injured in the war. That is money that could have been spent more productively on any one of the numerous problems facing the United States today, whether addressing income inequality or rising costs of health care or crumbling infrastructure.
I keep coming back to the same question – where is the outrage? How pacified have the citizens of the United States become that we now openly accept the government lying about the results of a war effort that is killing American citizens to line the pockets of defense corporation executives? I hope that the Afghanistan Papers will serve as a warning sign to those of us who are concerned about the destructive foreign policy of the United States. If we do not continue to make noise and force our fellow citizens to think about more than domestic politics and partisan bickering, then we can expect the government and military leaders to continue lying with impunity.
Tell Congress: Investigate the Afghanistan Papers now!
—Eric Speer is a recent graduate of Connecticut College and owner of geopolitico.org, a foreign policy blog.