The Common Good

Losing Our Sons and Daughters: The Cost of Afghanistan

In November, 2010, Marine 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly was killed by a landmine in Afghanistan. He became one of now nearly 1,500 young Americans to die there. Yet, unlike previous wars, the cost of this war is touching only a very small percentage of Americans -- less than 1 percent of the population is in the armed forces, leaving most of the public unaware of what is happening.

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Lt. Kelly's distinction is that he was the son of Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, now senior military assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. General Kelly is the most senior U.S. military officer to lose a son or daughter in Iraq or Afghanistan.

A moving and important feature in today's Washington Post tells the story of both Lt. Robert M. Kelly and his father, General John F. Kelly.

Lt. Kelly enlisted in the Marines in 2003 and, during a tour in Iraq, participated in the battle of Fallujah, the "largest and bloodiest urban battle" of the war. In Afghanistan in 2010, his battalion "took part in some of the most intense fighting" of that war. His father sent him a note:

"Robert you will likely lose one or more of your precious Marines if you haven't already. Do not let the men mope or dwell on the loss ... Do not let them ever enjoy the killing or hate their enemy. It is impossible to take the emotion out of it, but try and keep it as impersonal and mechanical as you can. The Taliban have their job to do and we have ours. That's it ... Combat is so inhumane; you must help your men maintain their humanity as well as their sense of perspective and proportion."

Several weeks later Robert was dead and on November 9, a Marine officer arrived to tell his parents the news. Gen. Kelly has since spoken about what he calls the growing isolation of the military from society and decries a public largely unaware of their sacrifices. Yet, he clarifies that he is opposed to indifference, not dissent: "I just think if you are against the war, you should somehow try to change it. Fight to bring us home."

I agree. As I've written before, the small percentage of Americans who have borne the brunt of the human costs of this war, the utter corruption of the government we are supporting, and the toll in Afghan civilian casualties all make the continuing of this war immoral. We need an exit strategy now.


Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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