This post originally appeared in The Twelve: Reformed Done Daily on September 13, 2021.
Labor Day was always a melancholy holiday for me as a kid. You know the tune: last day of summer, days getting shorter, return to school, parents getting their work-face on. It was extra painful for me because September meant that my annual dream of the Tigers winning a pennant had died once again.
The melancholy has been thicker the past twenty years because the holiday falls so close to September 11. And this year thicker still because of the shameful end last month of a shameful war waged in arrogance and ignorance to avenge 9/11.
The shame in the ending lies in part—I would say a relatively small part—in the helter-skelter rush by which the United States and its allies had to remove their nationals and some of their Afghan aides. This mess has gotten the lion’s share of attention with much righteous denunciation from the usual talking heads and the instant experts on social media. The legitimate part of the critique points to how surprised the Americans were that the Afghan army they had propped up to the tune of $88 billion the past twenty years could disappear in such a flash.
It’s less surprising when you remember the many warnings all those years of how much of that money was disappearing into the pockets of corrupt officers and warlords. And less surprising still when you understand that the U.S. had trained an army to be utterly dependent on American-supplied equipment and air power to fight an American-style war, not the kind of war that was actually on the ground. Remove that support as required by the treaty negotiated with the Taliban (N.B.: negotiated by Trump and acceded to, with a 3-month delay, by Biden) and the forces that were tailored to that kind of war would win.
James Bratt is professor of history emeritus at Calvin University, specializing in American religious history and especially the connections between religion and politics. His most recent book (which he edited and completed for the late John Woolverton) is “A Christian and a Democrat”: Religion in the Life and Leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.