What If, Like U.S. Combat Veterans Saving Their Afghan Allies, We Saved Our Fellow Americans…?

Julian Lozano / Unsplash

The following may seem a foray into the mystical, but it is meant for the realm of policy and national purpose:

Given the astonishing rescue operations of U.S. combat veterans here at home working online, either alone or in teams, to get their Afghan allies (interpreters, drivers, etc.) out of the chaos of a collapsing Afghanistannumbers saved are now in the thousands: What if we, Conscientious America, mounted such rescue operations, here at home, to save our fellow Americans in need?

For example: Saving the reckoning on race relations, now being sandbagged by Republicans’ flight into insanity, which flight threatens to collapse this long-overdue reckoning, with bogus arguments against Critical Race Theory (CRT)? Out of the tumult following the police killing of George Floyd last summer, momentum built for a reckoning, at long last, of America’s Original Sin, slavery. That momentum is stalling; can we rescue that mission to correct a moral wrong?

For another: Squaring, at long last, the treatment of women, in the workplace and home. Out of the tumult following reports in 2017 onward of revelations of sexual harassment and criminal assault by some influential men on women in their employ, momentum built for a reckoning of another historical imbalance, affecting more than half the populace. That momentum is stalling; can we rescue that mission to correct another moral wrong?

For another: Addressing climate change, which is hard upon us, with historic wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, shorelines eroded. Long advocated by environmentalists, the general public (me included) has not taken this issue seriously, but we are now. Momentum is building; can we band together, ride that momentum, save ourselves? For another thing: Persuading the vaccine-resistant to “get the jab,” to expand the narrow focus on personal freedom to the commonweal.

All these missions are ultimately about saving fellow Americans. All these missions are also humungous, but in the upcoming “9/11 at 20 Years” commentary, no doubt they will be pointed to as missions that America must undertake if it is to save itself. My suggestion: What if we saw them as rescue missions, this time taken for our fellow Americans here at home?

Just like the rescue missions U.S. combat vets conducted to get their Afghan “terps” to safety.

One of the few bright spots in Pres. Joe Biden’s bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan, these vets’ rescue operations have shored up America’s reputation for competence and heart. While, belatedly, the administration did assemble the Kabul Airlift that evacuated 122,300 (Americans and Afghans) in just days, “the largest airlift in U.S. history” of people, per the White House— all tribute to that execution — vets here, seeing early on the door closing on their Afghan allies, started their rescue mission last spring and even earlier.

Displaying the heart not evident in the Administration, these vets battled a federal bureaucracy processing the Special Immigration Visas (SIV), created specifically for foreign nationals working for U.S. military forces. Then, as the Aug. 31 deadline loomed for pullout of all U.S. troops, these vets, working 24/7 around the U.S., deployed phenomenal digital skills to guide their “terps” to Kabul Airport — “seeing” in such granular detail that they could instruct them which Taliban checkpoints to go around, even which alleys to take and which not. Then, messaging a fellow service member at the airport’s several gates, they “funneled” their terps to the planes. In the surging masses, this meet-up got dicey: “Put your kid with the blue shirt on your shoulders” (video here). Relief was massive when the terp could message back: “Wheels up!” Working this online rescue operation, one vet got over 1,000 Afghan allies out. (Stories here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Importantly: These vets vow to carry on their online rescue mission to get their Afghan allies out — even with all U.S. troops gone from Afghanistan.

What is so stirring, apart from the cinematic derring-do, is the depth of fellow-feeling — between vets and terps — that’s so palpable and so powerful that it could drive their shared endeavor to a (relatively speaking for a sad event) happy ending. While the vets’ individual politics may run the spectrum, ideology in this heart-in-throat crisis thankfully played no part, nor did race or gender; humanity trumped all — the sheer will-to-survive, the “hanging on for dear life” (a cliché made newly real), making simple decency newly muscular. (As for cinematic derring-do, these combat vets and terps knock to the curb the computer-generated “heroes” and “hulks” of today’s Hollywood.)

What’s also stirring: This “digital Dunkirk” was staged at the grass-roots — from Main Street America, just as the original Dunkirk evacuation during World War II was executed in big part by ordinary Englishmen in fishing boats and dories. As a Democrat, I am hardly anti-government (I just want government to work — which, with the Kabul Airlift, it shows again it can). But the grass-roots is where transformative change is generated — political, social, cultural change — all the categories of all the problems facing 21st-century America. With this stirring display, at the grass-roots, of fellow-feeling for all humanity, of technical and organizational skill, not to mention the dynamism and passion, all of it focused on the most epic of rescue operations — saving lives, saving Life — we could (as the kids say) “totally crush” our current challenges: COVID-19, racial reckoning, climate change, etc., etc., and reverse America’s decline..

Or maybe, in our bitterly polarized present, I am just over-thrilled with the teamwork seen on vivid and visceral display in this “digital Dunkirk.” For sure, I know I am thrilled at the prospect of overturning History’s annals and Art’s playbook of all things ending in Tragedy. And I believe, profoundly, we can reverse America’s decline. Again, this what-if of self-rescue is not mystical, but pragmatic — based on recent and glorious fact.

So: Taking a cue from U.S. combat vets rescuing their Afghan allies — leaving no comrade behind — can we hear, please, an epic “YES” to rescuing America herself and leaving no fellow American behind?