In this country, forces veterans tend not to comment much on the jobs they have been asked to do. But in the USA, ever since Vietnam, vets have been influential in politics and they are beginning to speak out against the “Forever Wars” which started with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Below is an extract from an Afghanistan memoir by former US marine lieutenant Lyle Jeremy Rubin, for an organisation called About Face: Veterans Against The War.

Not everyone likes what he is saying. But there might be some local interest in hearing it …

The explosions were regular and the combat was minimal. I was more a spectator than a participant. No matter how close I got, I was always at a remove. I never pulled the trigger, not even in the foot patrol that resulted in my Combat Action Ribbon. Everyone on that patrol was awarded the CAR. Rounds were fired by us and at us, and at one point we were forced to sprint and hit the prone behind some shrubbery. But after the initial fire had subsided and we had been ensconced long enough to feel comfortable, we took photographs of one another with someone’s mobile phone, waiting for the air strike that never came.

We tried our best to follow in the steps of the men ahead of us, just as we had done on the way out, to minimise the chance of triggering a mine, but we were too thirsty and exhausted at that point to do it right. We were greeted by vehicles and cold bottled water not far beyond the base entrance, and we doused one another as we hopped on the truck beds and let ourselves be escorted back to the headquarter unit’s guarded Shangri-La, where everyone boasted through the evening.

During my most frank interludes in Afghanistan, I’d refer to the grotesque mess as the amusement-park ride. There was little amusement for the inhabitants of the villages we were levelling or the tenders of the opium fields we were burning. There wasn’t much amusement for the Marines being hit the hardest either, although they had a tendency to surprise when it came to their capacity to be amused. But for so many, myself included, the point, or one point anyway, was to be amused. The culture has deemed it OK to note that Marines have fun lighting shit on fire, blowing shit up and dodging death. But when you move from this basic empirical observation to the question of whether the larger enterprise is just and necessary, you violate a taboo.

The list of questions never asked is almost infinite: what were the mercenaries I kept meeting truly there for? What about those contractors, specifically in the intel world, who foisted a never-ending line of gadgetries on my men to be field-tested and then shipped off to the global marketplace? Why did the gear never work? Why was it so unwieldy? Why did it slow down ops, and why did no one seem to care that it usually had to be escorted by those with the appropriate clearance, which meant putting my guys at risk from point A to point B and back again? Why so much acceptance in the face of ambitious captains who wanted to be majors, ambitious majors who wanted to be lieutenant colonels, ambitious lieutenant colonels who wanted to be full birds, ambitious full birds who wanted to be generals, and ambitious generals who wanted an extra star, all putting other lives on the line to make it happen?

One time I watched a group of Marines obliterate the corner of a remote hamlet with the totality of their arsenal, from the M4 carbine to the M249 light machine gun to the M240 machine gun to the MK19 grenade launcher to the AT4 recoilless smooth-bore weapon to the FGM-148 Javelin missile to the BGM-71 TOW missile. They’d lost friends, they were bitter, and they had come to see their surroundings not only as hostile but as damnable. They were heading home soon and had some underutilised weapon systems to play with. I took pictures along with everyone else. I told myself there was something I didn’t know that justified the carnage I was consuming.

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