The dark end of a war was on full display as the last U.S. plane lifted off from Afghanistan this week, nearly 20 years after Sept. 11, 2001.

In 2001, the Taliban-controlled government was accused by the U.S. of harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks.

Since that time, bin Laden has been killed and the attempt to install and maintain a democratic government in Afghanistan has failed. There is plenty of time to evaluate what went wrong and right in Afghanistan over the past two decades but witnessing these past couple of weeks has been sobering.

The world anxiously witnessed the U.S. exit with a myriad of emotions. With the Taliban once again in control of the Afghanistan government, hearts were wrenched watching our Afghani allies descend on the Kabul airport, desperately hoping for a way out of the country.

Those frightened for their lives and seeking a way out even held on to U.S. military planes with the hope of leaving. One young man, Fada Mohammad, held on to a plane as it lifted off from the airport, dropping to his death moments later. It’s hard to fathom a fear so intense that one would be willing to cling to the bottom of a plane to escape the alternative.

On some fronts, progress was made in Afghanistan. Infant mortality has dropped 50% since 2001. According to the Afghan minister of public health, this was due to a huge effort to train and recruit midwives in rural areas where doctors and hospitals weren’t available. In 2002, there were only 400 midwives. In 2018, that number had grown to 5,000.

The education of girls has been on the rise since 2001, with almost 37% of teenage girls now literate. However, fear grows that progress will decline with the Taliban back in control. Positive strides, such as these, are now in peril.

In addition to the potential setbacks, Americans found themselves once again heart-sick when learning of the news that 13 of our sons and daughters were killed in an attack near the airport.

The price of war is high. Many of the soldiers were so young – some just 20 years old – and never knew a time when their country was not at war. Their bravery and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

G.K Chesterton once wrote, “The true soldier fights not because of what is in front of them, but because they love what is behind them.” The men and women wearing the uniform deserve our respect for they are on the frontlines defending the ones they love and respect behind them, American and Afghani alike.

With America’s longest war ending, people of good faith are left to contemplate its conclusion through varied lenses.

On one hand, western influences helped advance a country very much controlled by religious zealots seeking to impose their rule over everyone else. And even though control has been returned to those same zealots, the hope is that the Afghani people will not forget the goodwill the U.S. attempted to instill.

On the other hand, the United States and its allies spent a lot of resources in lives and money to end up right back where they started. Yes, Osama bin Laden is dead, but we must ask whether Afghanistan is better off now than it was 20 years ago. Only time will tell.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

Stinging words, but nonetheless true.

According to The Associated Press, the cost of the war in Afghanistan was devastating.

Over 172,000 individuals — Americans, allies and Afghanis — were killed.

In addition, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were financed by borrowed money, the current debt is $2 trillion, with estimated interest costs rising to $6.5 trillion by 2050. This ensures our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be paying for a war they never declared.

The author of Proverbs wrote (33:16-17), “A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.”

Even when the justification of war is legitimate, we must face the reality that all wars demand payment on our humanity.

Therefore, emerging generations need to find other ways to confront and resolve injustices.

Let us not be naive in believing that evil will slink away in the future; it remains intact as it always has been. Yet, we must attempt every means to secure a new future in hopes that wars will one day be infrequent.

Former U.S. President and World War II General Dwight D. Eisenhower remarked: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.

As we watch the dark end of another war conclude, let the light of peace and justice signal a way forward.

I hope the whole world one day awakens to the reality that we are all humans bound together in blood, flesh and life. But until that day, let us be slow to anger, quick to resolve conflict without bloodshed and eager to find a common path forward where every person has worth.

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