Many countries today are honoring service members who fought in wars. The day goes back to the end of World War I, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. In Europe, it's known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. In the US, it's recognized as Veterans Day.
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Notably, this is the first Veterans Day in 20 years with no US troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
A quick look at the numbers there: The US lost 2,325 service members during that war. Afghan soldiers killed in action number about 100,000. That's the human cost. The monetary cost of the US: about $2 trillion spent on the war in Afghanistan, a conflict that ended with the Taliban regaining control of the country this past August.
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Matt Farwell, a veteran of Afghanistan who's written extensively on the war, including his book, "American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan," reflected on his career and the US pullout from the country with The World's host Marco Werman, from Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Marco Werman: We were thinking about you, Matt, as today approached. How are you spending this Veterans Day?
Matt Farwell: Right now, I am chilling on the porch, enjoying some sunshine with my dog and looking at the leaves that are starting to change. And then, I think we're going to go to IHOP and get some free pancakes.
I can see you on the porch right now. I'm just wondering, though, does Veterans Day make you reflect on your time as a service member? Is it a different day than other days?
I grew up the kid of a veteran, as well, and an active duty service member, so it's always been sort of a different day and almost like a church day, where you go and you think and reflect. And for a while after the war, it was a really bad day for me, where you're overthinking you're overreflecting. You get very maudlin. My battalion did the longest conventional tour in the global war on terror. That was our big distinction. Our other one is that we have one of the highest suicide rates in the army. You mentioned the numbers of people that were lost in Afghanistan. That's a huge number. And the number of the people that were lost because of Afghanistan is even bigger.
We never spoke about the withdrawal in August and the chaos and the optics of the US leaving the country in tatters. What has this year been like for you and what are you feeling today, knowing that all the US troops have left?
On one hand, I felt since my deployment in 2006, 2007, that the war was not what it was being sold to the American public as, and that we probably shouldn't be involved there in the way that we were. So, I am glad that US troops are no longer in Afghanistan. I'm glad we're no longer fighting that war. I'm horrified with the way that it took place. I mean, three of my interpreters that I'm quite close to, they made it out. These three brothers from a battalion in Paktika [Province], where most of the town supported the Americans, and had since the American invasion. And now, they're here, they're in Fort Worth. They're truckers. They're filling a critical need in our economy. They're working their butts off. They make me feel lazy — and I work quite hard. Meanwhile, all they can worry about is their mom and brother that are still stuck in Afghanistan, that, at like three points during the withdrawal, I could have gotten out, but the State Department wouldn't clear it.
Were you playing a role in evacuating Afghans?
I was trying to help my interpreters get some of their family members out, and I failed at that.
It must have been hard. I mean, I know there was a lot of paperwork.
It's still hard. I mean, I'm supposed to ... the paperwork wound up being the obstacle. I could have gotten them on a helicopter and gotten them out. I was talking directly with the helicopter pilots and the State Department said no.
So Matt, I want us to hear a moment from the last time you and I spoke about America's legacy in Afghanistan. Here's what you said. I think this is back earlier this year: "I mean, I think it's the same legacy that the Soviet Union left, the same legacy the British left, the same legacy Alexander the Great left. We got beaten by the people of Afghanistan. It happens. It happens to everybody." How does that comment strike you today, Matt, even more relevant?
Yeah, I mean, still true and relevant. It wasn't for lack of money or anything else. We lost there. People lose there. The Afghan people are tough. There's infighting among themselves, and that's part of why we're trying to get my interpreters' families out, so that they can be safe.
So, now we're getting news from Afghanistan about an imminent humanitarian disaster with winter coming. I mean, not much news, though, from Afghanistan. How do you feel about America's attention span with regard to the country?
Oh, it's terrible. I mean, the only time I've had writing directly solicited from me was in the actual week that Afghanistan was falling. And then, after that, the attention has completely fallen off.
The US right now is not directly engaged in any major war, but the military is always on alert, and it seems the world keeps looking at the US and wondering what the US is going to do about global conflicts. Do you think that is still the role of the US?
I mean, I think as long as so many people in the United States make so much money off of war, it'll still be the role. And I don't see Lockheed Martin or BAE Systems going away anytime soon.
That's a critique we often hear from the far left in this country. Should we be surprised that a veteran is saying that?
No, because it's the critique that you first heard from a veteran named Dwight Eisenhower when he was giving his presidential farewell speech. He warned about the dangers of the military industrial complex, and we just finished out a 20-year war that largely existed to serve them.
So Matt, Veterans Day, it's about paying respect to and honoring those who have served. What aspects of that service are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the people I got to know, the people I served alongside, or that I've gotten to know afterward because of that service. I'm hard on the army. I still love the army of any American institution. It's the one that I'm the most emotionally attached to. It gets my heartstrings going, you know, so there's a whole lot. My life and my character and everything I am would not be the same without being a veteran. So, it's an incredible honor for me to be able to join that unbroken line in my family that goes back generations and people that have stepped up and served in the military. And just because I happen to do it in a bad time during a bad war, I'm still proud that I was able to do that and was able to do that with so many fine people. And I just wish that it didn't screw so many of us up so badly.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.