Gold Star parents, Afghanistan veteran reflect on decades of war
Brett Young, left, and Jerry Young of Rochester, Ill., stand under road signs recognizing their late son, Cpl. James “Chad” Young, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Reeder)
ROCHESTER, Ill. — As Americans fled Kabul and desperate Afghans sought to follow, Jerry and Brett Young stood in the yard of their rural Rochester home and remembered their boy who never got to see his 26th birthday.
“He loved to skateboard when he was younger. And he loved all kinds of music. He especially liked jazz, the blues and hard rock,” Brett recalled Friday of her son Chad.
His father, Jerry, pointed to two road signs hanging on a nearby shed.
One designated a portion of Illinois 4 as the “Cpl. James ‘Chad’ Young Memorial Highway.” Another recognized him as a 2003 Glenwood High School graduate killed in that distant land.
This nation honors its war dead, as well it should. I admire the willingness of our servicemen and women to sacrifice for this great nation. But I’m left wondering if our nation is too willing to send men and women into harm’s way.
I’m not a pacifist but I find myself often skeptical of our government’s intentions.
Jimmy Carter, perhaps the best person to be president in my lifetime, annoyed many when he said the U.S. is the most warlike nation in history. That’s a tough pill to swallow. But it’s worth noting that of the 245 years the nation has existed, we have been at war 226 years.
A Brown University study found that since 9/11 the U.S. has spent more than $6.4 trillion on military actions in the Middle East.
Think how many schools, highways, bridges and parks could have been created with that money.
Of course, those figures understate the cost of war. For families such as the Youngs, the cost has been immeasurable. Tears still flow freely 11 years after his death. And his was one of nearly 7,000 American service men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At least 801,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan. Many were civilians.
“You know all politicians lie,” Jerry Young said. “They will say things that aren’t true or they will vote for something they really don’t believe in because someone did them a favor.”
While he had a strong opinion about the integrity, or the lack of it, exhibited by our elected officials, his opinion on the Afghanistan war is muted.
“I really don’t have an opinion on what is happening over there other than its sad. It’s like when Osama bin Laden was killed, some reporter called and wanted our opinion. What are we supposed to say? We are glad he’s dead?”
Rock Island native Tyler Carroll’s role in the war was almost half his lifetime ago. The 41-year-old was one of the first soldiers to fight in Afghanistan after 9/11.
“I had friends killed over there and I know others who were badly wounded. And others came home with mental issues,” he said.
The Afghanistan war is the longest in U.S. history.
“It’s not affecting me as much as others,” Carroll said. “It was so long ago for me. Was it worth it? Well, our initial mission was to destroy al-Qaida and make sure the Taliban was not in control. Al-Qaida was damaged, Osama bin Laden has been killed but the Taliban is back in control. Perhaps they weren’t ready for democracy. But many of the people we interacted with there seemed to want it.”
Democracy runs in Carroll’s blood. He’s a scion of a Quad-City political dynasty. His grandpa is former Illinois state Sen. Denny Jacobs, his great grandfather was state Rep. Oral Jacobs and his uncle is former state Sen. Mike Jacobs.
Still, he is skeptical whether the U.S. should impose democracy on other nations.
One shouldn’t be surprised. Most wars end in ambiguity. We honor the abstract causes for which men and women fought — freedom, patriotism, service — but we can also question the wisdom of policies that deployed them into harm’s way.
When I was a child in the 1970s, I didn’t think much about war. I was in 4th grade when Saigon fell in April of 1975.
Not long after that, I was canoeing down a river with my parents and we met another family paddling downstream — a husband, wife and two little girls.
The man in the other canoe had no legs.
For the rest of the trip my mother was quiet and contemplative.
Finally, I asked her, “Why doesn’t that man have any legs?”
Her voice cracked and she said, “He lost them in that awful, awful war. We should never have been there.”
Last week, when I saw the hurt in Chad Young’s parent’s eyes and heard the reports from Kabul, I couldn’t help but think the same thing.
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