The single most important revelation in the WikiLeaks files on Afghanistan is the real story of war.
So said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange when the website published nearly 92,000 U.S. military documents regarding the conflict in Afghanistan - and Pakistan - last July.
"It's one damn thing after another. It's the continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children, insurgents, armed forces," he said, calling it the "everyday squalor of war."
That was a profound observation. War is dehumanizing. It is the opposite of what humans are as social beings. It dehumanizes soldiers as well as civilians.
The New York Times ran recently ran a front page story on a U.S. Army unit charged with killing Afghan civilians for sport. There are 70 photographs of soldiers posing with their "kill." Investigators said soldiers collected and carried around body parts of their victims.
The unit allegedly used drugs. One soldier told investigators they smoked hashish on "bad days, stressful days, days that we just needed to escape."
In other words, all the time. To numb the horror? To numb the pain? To become inhuman to just survive?
It reminds us of the U.S. war in Vietnam some 45 years ago.
There are alternatives
The United States invaded Afghanistan nine years ago on Oct. 7, after the terrorist attacks on our country on Sept. 11, 2001. At that time, the American people did not know that the Pentagon and the George W. Bush administration saw Afghanistan more as a dress-rehearsal for an Iraq invasion than a police action to "get al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden." Bush and the neoconservatives seized 9/11 as their opportunity to reshape the Middle East and Central Asia under U.S. economic and military control. That goal had nothing to do with bringing the 9/11 criminals to justice.
During that terrible autumn of 2001, journalist Walter Cronkite had the foresight to caution, on the David Letterman show, against a military invasion, which he feared could be a "bottomless hole" with many losses of Afghan and American soldiers' lives.
Cronkite said he believed in "retribution" for the heinous 9/11 crime, but said there is a "body of opinion" that military action is the wrong way to go about fighting terrorism.
Events have proved him correct. Since then we've seen the growth of terrorist networks in a variety of countries, and the U.S. bogged down in a disastrous Afghanistan quagmire.
Searching for an exit strategy
Now we are two years into President Obama's command of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He made good on two campaign promises: begin withdrawal from Iraq and focus on Afghanistan.
Obama - under tremendous pressure from the Pentagon - ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan, disappointing and angering many opponents of the war.
Now Afghanistan is called Obama's war.
In his new book, "Obama's Wars," journalist Bob Woodward reports that President Obama wanted an exit strategy from Afghanistan, but the generals did not provide one. So Obama was unable to present one, but he set a withdrawal timetable, knowing his political base wouldn't stand for more of Bush's endless wars.
In his famous 1961 "military-industrial complex" speech, President Dwight Eisenhower warned of a dangerous new development in our country. The "conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience," he said.
"The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society."
The military-industrial complex - which includes big energy/oil interests and the extreme right wing - have had plenty of time and money to thoroughly embed themselves in America's economy, politics, government and society. They make billions in profits a year from the armaments, military and security industry - much of it at taxpayer expense.
Woodward's book documents the struggle with the Obama administration over Afghan policy, especially between Pentagon generals and the White House. Former Congressman Tom Andrews, head of Win Without War, noted that while Obama was debating his Afghanistan strategy, the Pentagon waged its own media campaign to steer the decision toward a military surge. Andrews and others note that the military/corporate cabal has a long history of manipulating White House policy towards their own interests.
In some of those high military circles there is great disdain for this president - and for the U.S. Constitution - that puts civilian leadership in charge of our armed forces.
General Stanley McChrystal's contemptuous comments in the recent Rolling Stone interview are a striking example of this.
In that context recent comments by General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, that the U.S. could send troops into Pakistan, are worrisome. Such a move could draw the U.S. into an even more deadly and costly war with Pakistan.
Is the Pentagon trying to steer the scheduled December Afghan policy review toward widening the war instead of ending it?
Next steps to end it
The American public is ready to withdraw from Afghanistan. Tired of the billions spent, tired of seeing the lives lost, tired of a corrupt U.S.-installed Karzai government, tired of the growth of terror networks.
If the Republicans - who insisted that Obama should "listen to the generals" and send more troops to Afghanistan - take over Congress in November, the political momentum to draw down from Afghanistan and take a nonmilitary route will be disastrously weakened. And the pressure to commit more treasure and lives to a possibly larger war in Pakistan will become greater.
The waste, the destruction, the crimes and the "everyday squalor of war" eventually need to become history for humanity. The midterm elections and ending the war in Afghanistan are two steps along the way.
Photo: The North Dakota National Guard Military Funeral Honors team transfers the remains of U.S. Army Spc. Keenan Cooper upon arrival at the North Dakota Air National Guard July 14, 2010. Cooper was killed in action while serving his country in Afghanistan July 5. (Senior Master Sgt. David Lipp/CC) http://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/4796375838/in/photostream/#