The American Scholar featured a potent — and lyrical — article today called “Afghanistan: A Gathering Menace” by Neil Shea. He writes disturbingly about what he’s seen during his trips to Afghanistan with US troops.

Since 2006 I have written off and on about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nearly all of my work in those countries has been done embedded with NATO, mostly American military units. Many times I have watched soldiers or Marines, driven by boredom or fear, behave selfishly and meanly, even illegally, in minor ways. In a few searing moments I have wondered what would come next, what the men would do to prisoners or civilians or suspected insurgents. And I have wondered how to describe these moments without reporting melodramatic minutiae or betraying the men who allowed me in.

I worry about how soldiers deal with the stresses of combat, and — especially in light of the Panjwai shooting spree — what suffering might be dished out to the people ostensibly being helped by our presence overseas.

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed the author today on DemocracyNow!

What I saw with these guys in Afghanistan when I was with them was that several of them had already been through multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they had reached a point where they hated Afghans, they hated the country, and they were really not interested in doing any of the hearts and minds stuff anymore that’s a crucial part of the mission. So by the time I reached these guys, they had already been sort of—they had been building up anger and aggression in strange ways for a number of years.

And, of course, when these guys return home, they often have trouble returning to civilian life. I worry that we’re dropping the ball as a society when it comes to taking care of our soldiers.

And if — as seems likely — our presence is making things worse (“It was like a week-long Taliban recruiting drive”), shouldn’t we get the heck out of Afghanistan already?

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