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‘White man’s war, Black man’s fight’: Black soldiers paid heavy price in Afghanistan

OPINION: The Taliban may have taken Kabul, but the White Taliban here in the U.S. is at war against democracy and coming for Black folks’ ballots. And that is an outrage.

President Joe Biden has withdrawn the last of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan, ending a senseless, 20-year war that should not have been waged, and the reasons why America was there in the first place is anyone’s guess. The chaotic scenes of U.S. retreat from the capital city of Kabul — as American personnel and their Afghan helpers are airlifted out of that country as quickly as the Taliban has taken it over — remind some people of the fall of Saigon, when People’s Army of Vietnam, also known as the Viet Cong, took control of South Vietnam.

The parallels between America’s entanglements in Vietnam and Afghanistan are clear, especially as far as Black people are concerned. While the war in Vietnam was promoted during the Cold War era as a fight for democracy and against Communism, that war was more about war profiteering than extending rights to Brown people thousands of miles away. Millions of Vietnamese and 58,220 American soldiers lost their lives, and for what?

Muhammad Ali jeopardized his freedom and livelihood when he refused to go to Vietnam on religious grounds, because he could not understand why he should go shoot poor, dark-skinned people who never called him n****r and never lynched him.

People were connecting dots between the war in Vietnam and civil rights and poverty at home. The war machine undermined President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against that war, and many in the civil rights community turned their backs on him for it. King broke his silence, calling Vietnam “a white man’s war, a Black man’s fight.”

“We were taking the Black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem,” Dr. King said, noting that Black and white boys that could not attend school together were killing and dying for America in Vietnam. And he saw the Vietnam war as “an enemy of the poor,” a war that devastated the hopes of poor people and sent the poor to fight.   

“It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both Black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings,” King added. “Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.”

Fast-forward to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the wars that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and once again, we saw Black people and the poor serving their country, sustaining injuries and dying at disproportionate levels to fight for “democracy” when they are hard-pressed to find democracy at home.

Only one member of Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee — a Black woman — had opposed the resolution authorizing military force following 9/11, paving the way for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. “As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore,” Rep. Lee said, arguing that U.S. military action would mean many more innocent men, women and children would die as a result.

U.S. Marine Sgt. Carl Garnett of Brooklyn, New York (R) and Lnc. Cpl. Travis McKenzie of Quitman, Mississippi clean their rifles on the front line of the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 11, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

At a $2 trillion price tag — $300 million a day for two decades straight — the U.S. war in Afghanistan was a bonanza for the war industry, the military contractors and those who peddle in weaponry. Over those 20 years, 2,448 U.S. soldiers and 3,846 contractors were killed, and over 200,000 wounded, many permanently disabled. The Afghan people paid a heavy price, with 47,245 civilian deaths, over 66,000 military casualties and 51,191 Taliban deaths.

Those $2 trillion went somewhere, but not to provide everyone universal healthcare, end homelessness, or hunger. The money did not go to the thousands of military families who are food insecure, the 30% of military of active military who qualify for food stamps, and the 25% of active duty and reserve personnel who sought aid from food pantries even years before the pandemic hit. And one study found that 27% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffered from food insecurity, with Black, Latinx and other vets of color experiencing the highest rates of hunger.

Certainly, President Biden’s historic decision to increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 25% –coinciding with the troop pullout from Afghanistan — stands to benefit those suffering soldiers whose stomachs are empty.

Meanwhile, those Black soldiers and veterans of the Afghan war — some impoverished and hungry while serving Uncle Sam, and no doubt traumatized for what they have experienced and what they may have done to other human beings — do not enjoy secure or guaranteed voting rights in the land of the free.

Afghanistan is not the only unstable country here. The Taliban may have taken Kabul, but the White Taliban here at home is at war against democracy and coming for Black folks’ ballots. And that is an outrage.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.

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