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Americans In Combat

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Danielle Knight/WAMU
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Journalist C.J. Chivers doesn’t sugarcoat the American war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On one matter there can be no argument: The policies that sent these men and women abroad, with their emphasis on military action and their visions of reordering nations and cultures, have not succeeded. It is beyond honest dispute that the wars did not achieve what their organizers promised, no matter the party in power or the generals in command. Astonishingly expensive, strategically incoherent, sold by a shifting slate of senior officers and politicians and editorial-page hawks, the wars have continued in varied forms and under different rationales each and every year since passenger jets struck the World Trade Center in 2001. They continue today without an end in sight, reauthorized in Pentagon budgets almost as if distant war is a presumed government action.

He told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly that he’s just not sure how these wars might end.

As long as we don’t have a draft, as long as we don’t have American households hooked up to the blood lottery that is war where any parent might have to worry about their child being called off to serve, I think that we will have a Pentagon that’s not quite fully supervised because the public doesn’t really feel a stake here. And until the country invests more fully intellectually in the war, I think that we’re bound to keep having conversations like this year after year.

So how did this war affect the soldiers in it? The “hundreds of thousands of young men and women [who] signed on in good faith and served in the lower and middle ranks,” as Chivers describes them?

His new book is called The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chivers has a personal stake in all of this: he’s a former Marine infantry officer. His book follows six different soldiers from a variety of times and places and phases of the two wars and with different jobs.

Who and what guided American military policy to its current status? How did these fighters interact with civilians and combatants alike in the countries in which they served? Is there any hope for resolution?

Show produced by Bianca Martin.


C.J. Chivers, Investigative reporter, The New York Times Magazine; author of ” The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq;” @cjchivers

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