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Afghanistan: Was it worth it?

Veteran reflects on a two-decade war that many see as a 'misguided investment' ... or was it?

I’m trying to make sense of the situation unfolding in Afghanistan.

I’m dealing with anger, frustration and sadness. I can only imagine what those who lost friends and loved ones in Afghanistan or served multiple tours there are dealing with. I can only imagine the suffering on the ground there.

Through all those emotions, one question is stuck in my head: Was it worth it?


Related: As Afghan government collapses, Christians work to help volunteers leave


I volunteered to spend six months at Bagram Air Base in 2007 — six months away from my wife and two young sons — because I wanted to do my part. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help support the airmen who were directly killing terrorists. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the Afghan people.

This week, watching the videos of the Taliban in the presidential palace — and at Bagram Air Base — was shocking. Seeing terrified Afghans scrambling and dropping from an airplane broke my heart. It felt like we were back to square one. It felt like the lives lost and billions of dollars spent over the past two decades were a complete waste.

It felt like I would have been better off spending those six months as a present, supportive husband and a dad to my sons.

Those feelings make me highly cynical and jaded. I start thinking, “Because it didn’t last, it shouldn’t have started. Because it didn’t turn out as we had hoped, it was a wasted effort. The poor, long-term returns prove it was a misguided investment.”

As a teacher, youth minister and mentor, I’ve invested countless hours in some young people who “didn’t turn out as planned,” although God’s not through with them yet. Wasted effort?

But was it?

This isn’t the first thing in my life that hasn’t, over the long haul, turned out as planned.

As a teacher, youth minister and mentor, I’ve invested countless hours in some young people who “didn’t turn out as planned,” although God’s not through with them yet. Wasted effort?

As a missionary, I worked tirelessly alongside others to help plant a church in a developing country, only to see it fold a few years later. Wasted effort?

As a disaster relief worker, I’ve mucked and hung dry wall in many flooded homes, only to see those same homes and communities flooded again in subsequent years. Wasted effort?

As an airman, I deployed to Afghanistan to help good people and stop bad ones. Now it seems the bad people have won (at least until God settles all accounts). A wasted effort?

As a Christian, I’ve prayed for sick people, including my mom, to get well. God had other plans. Wasted effort?

That kind of thinking will leave one jaded and cynical. You stop trying — stop trying to do good in the world — because your efforts may not work or may not last. Given the lack of a guaranteed, long-term return, we don’t invest.

"We did an extensive renovation on this 1920 building," retired Lt. Gen. John Bradley says. "I love this photo. Look at the photo. The boys want to be noticed. The girls are going in to get an education."  

“We did an extensive renovation on this 1920 building,” retired Lt. Gen. John Bradley, a Church of Christ member, says of this school in Afghanistan. “I love this photo. Look at the photo. The boys want to be noticed. The girls are going in to get an education.”

So, rather than debate politics and national strategy this afternoon, I just want to encourage you to keep doing good.

Invest in teaching and mentoring young people. Some lives will be changed.

Share your faith, go on mission trips, plant churches. Some will take root and last.

Help disaster relief victims. If the need arises, help them again.

Deploy to trouble spots or support those who do. Show kindness in the moments God has granted you, be that in a war zone, a school cafeteria or your home.

Keep praying, even when some prayers seem to go unanswered. The Father knows best. And before bashing our leaders with perhaps well-deserved criticism, take a moment to bow and pray for them.

Like many Americans, I’m profoundly disappointed in what is transpiring in Afghanistan, but I’m not going to become jaded and cynical.

The truth is, sometimes I let my family and friends down. Sometimes, many times, God has every right to look down on me as a flawed human — a poor long-term investment.

But God hasn’t given up on me.

And I’m not giving up on this messed up world.

Kabul, Afghanistan

STEVE JOHNSON is a writer, long-distance hiker and Sojourner. He grew up in a military family and served 23 years in the Air Force himself, retiring as a colonel in 2011. He worships with the Eastside Church of Christ in Maryville, Tenn.

Filed under: Afghanistan Afghanistan war Fall of Afghanistan Opinion Taliban terrorism Top Stories Views war war and faith Youth ministry

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