John McCain, Robert Kennedy, and Richard Burton: Afghanistan
Discernment is very hard to come in these situations,
and up close it is difficult to know what is right.
Ann: John, how did you do it? You saw everything, the worst of everything.
John McCain: Yes, Annie, and I saw the hope that is lodged in the hearts of those oppressed by those who have let darkness take over their souls. You are crushed by the Afghanistan debacle and the horror that is engulfing the people of that region who depended on us.
Ann: Yes, heartbroken, don’t know how to deal, can’t really help, wallowing in despair not useful, I just distract myself as best I can.
Richard: Yes, love, we have all done that when confronted with the intolerable cruelty that rears its ugly head when the baser instincts of mankind are allowed to go their length. I know a bit about baser instincts, but John has felt the brunt of them first hand.
John: That is true, Richard, and I sympathize with Ann’s impotency. This is why I advocated for a strong military presence in the world. Though we may not be perfect, we had a lot more conscience and humanity than some of these forces which were completely given over to darkness. The Taliban is one. If I were still kicking on the planet, I would have done my damnedest to talk Joe out of this one.
I understand that we can’t prop up a corrupt government indefinitely, but there were other ways to go about a disengagement. Sadly, though, it was eventually coming to this bloodbath one way or the other. If we are not the world’s policemen, who will be?
Ann: John, I see what you mean but I would not want my child to go over there to die for a cause that is essentially futile. I just don’t know how to balance or where to put this.
Robert Kennedy: Forgive my intrusion, but I may have something to offer here. I lived through the horrors of the Vietnam War and the mistaken idea that we could make the whole world safe for democracy. In fact, we can do no such thing. I know you disagreed at the time, John, and I understand. Discernment is very hard to come in these situations, and up close it is difficult to know what is right.
For myself, I found that it was useless to try to create what a population themselves had not asked for, that we were better off to look at containment abroad for acts of aggression rather than trying to save the whole world at the expense, futile in so many ways, of our children’s lives and psyches.
Our resources would have been better spent in securing the safety and wellbeing of our own population, to grow the children of this country in health and understanding so that they could become independent minded adults who could to assess the world’s coming situation for themselves. Protect yes, defend, yes, intrude without legitimate interests, no.
John: I understand where you coming from, Bobby, and I have come to recognize that each of us has their own path to tread not matter how agonizing and bloody. It’s just that my lines were drawn a little wider than yours.
Richard: I defer to you both as the warriors on the front lines in one respect or another. I was just a parasite, or so I thought, trying to bull my way through life on sensual pleasure and public adulation or censure, it didn't really matter. As you know, that was as futile a course as anyone could have devised.
However, the wholesale slaughter of the Germans, man, woman, and child, as advocated by our so esteemed Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was something that revolted me to the marrow of my bones, for the ones dying were my people,** just in a different location.
John: Richard, he was conducting a war, them or us, kill or be killed and to tell you the truth, it is hard to decide which is worse. You had a scourge coming across Europe to destroy your country and indeed your entire civilization. It is these situations that we need warriors.
The Afghanis are warriors to the marrow of their bones, they know nothing else and they care for nothing else because power is everything. Our attempt was to create for them an alternate culture which we hoped might hold sway with enough of the country to provide an alternative worth fighting for, worth standing up to the warlords for, but corruption, that always present serpent of temptation, won the day.
And don’t kid yourself, we lied to ourselves and the public about a war that was never winnable, yet putting our finger in the dike seemed like a good idea at the time. The Pentagon Papers** revisited, folks, do we never learn?
Ann: Do we, guys? It doesn’t seem like it?
Bobby: it is then for each of us to make our lives as fair, as balanced, as generous and as honorable as we can in this moment in this time. The human animal cannot see beyond the horizon. John’s was one way, my way, Richard’s way, another. None of us was “correct” though each had merit in its limited way.
And Richard, your words, your life, your commitment in your heart to the agonies, the struggles and the ironies that were brought to life in the words of the Bard*** and others and pierced the hearts of so many who were privileged to hear you plumb those depths was not a life given over to frivolities.
We each in our own way must try to steer the ship of our own lives as we are given to see the course on toward our own horizon. In difficult times, we buckle down, and we will find the strength in God’s love to carry on.
John, Richard: Amen.
August 15, 2021
* Richard Burton was born Richard Walter Jenkins Jr. on 10 November 1925 in a house at 2 Dan-y-bont in Pontrhydyfen, Glamorgan, Wales. He was the twelfth of thirteen children born into the Welsh-speaking family of Richard Walter Jenkins Sr., a coal miner, and Edith Maude Jenkins, a barmaid.
**The Pentagon Papers, officially titled Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, is a United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The papers were released by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study; they were first brought to the attention of the public on the front page of The New York Times in 1971. A 1996 article in The New York Times said that the Pentagon Papers had demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had "systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress." Wikipedia.
*** William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. Wikipedia.
Image credit: Angel of death. Pixabay.