REFLECTIONS/Jonathan Gramling

                                 Bits and Pieces

Jonathan Gramling

As you read this edition of The Hues, you will more than likely realize that it is late, about a week late. About once a year, often at this time, I seem to completely run out of steam in putting another issues out and can’t meet my press time for the life of me. Fortunately I have some understanding people I work with over at Capital Newspapers who print The Hues. I am always grateful for their flexibility. It’s not like I can pass the production off to someone else. It’s always on my shoulders to get the paper out, which 99 percent of the time I don’t mind. But every once in a great while …

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One reason it has been almost impossible to focus is the events that are unfolding over in Afghanistan with the

unexpected swift takeover by the Taliban. At our family reunion on August 1st, I talked with my niece Jessica. Jessica has been a military doctor and did a stint at a field hospital in Afghanistan during the war.

We both had concerns about the interpreters and others who had collaborated with the U.S. and Allied forces. Certainly they and their families would be arrested, and possibly tortured and killed. We thought that there was time to rescue these folks and now two weeks later, the Taliban are in control of the entire nation, including Kabul.

And I fear for the women of Afghanistan as they must again adapt to a repressive regime in which women are treated as second-class citizens and forced to wear burqas once again, whether they like it or not. I would hazard to guess that it was Afghani women who benefitted the most from the downfall of the Taliban in 2001. Twenty years of freedom to wear what they want, study what they want, open the businesses that they want and hold professional positions that they studied for may disappear overnight. And they are once more vulnerable to violence as some accounts coming out of Afghanistan suggest. I can hardly imagine what that is like.

When the George W. Bush administration first invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda after 9/11, there was a great amount of support among the American people to go in and destroy the Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan. It would have been best for all concerned if the mission had stuck to those narrow objectives.

But there were considerations about a potential oil pipeline that would run through Afghanistan and the Bush Administration had a starry-eyed idea that it could bring democracy to the Middle East in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. It would be a crowning jewel to the Bush administration’s foreign policy achievements.

But as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Bush planned to establish democratic institutions in a place that had never known democracy and hadn’t evolved internally amongst its people to demand democracy. Democracy is a historical and societal development of a people and society, in my opinion. And so, you can’t artificially skip a century or so of community and societal development even if there are elements within the society who want and understand democracy.

And that’s why I think the Afghani government caved so quickly as the Taliban forces took the provincial capitals and then Kabul. You had a military that was protecting something that wasn’t theirs. They didn’t own it. It’s not something that they fought for. It’s something that was imposed on them. And so the Afghan forces realized that it wasn’t something worth dying for.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love democracy and I am so glad that I live in one and will work hard to defend it from forces both foreign and domestic — think Donald Trump and his minions — that would destroy it.

And so a thinking person can’t be surprised by what is going on in Afghanistan. And George W. Bush is as much to blame for the debacle as Joe Biden who pulled the plug on an effort that was doomed to fail.

I am just seeing the holds of cargo planes with Afghani refugees crowded into them as if they were cattle. Better to stand up in a packed cargo hold for a flight out than to await certain death if they are left behind. And yet those photos are so painful to look at. God have mercy on all of the people of Afghanistan. It has been 20 years of pain and suffering. I pray that the Taliban realize they must change for the sake of their country and that women can take their shackles off. Perhaps I am an idealist, but it is hope that can lead us to change. Keep hope for the Afghani people alive.

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I cannot fathom how Republican governors can make laws or issue executive orders that prevent school districts from issuing mandatory mask requirements in schools this fall. It is just inconceivable. It is incredible when I see Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claiming that he is protecting the rights of parents to decide whether or not their children will wear masks in the midst of a delta variant COVID-19 surge in Florida where 20 percent of all new cases are happening in Florida.

And so DeSantis is going to allow a handful of parents to decide what is going on in the schools. Ironically, DeSantis is taking away the right of local health and education officials to do what is best for their communities and children under their care. How many children will have to be sacrificed and die before DeSantis withdraws his order?

I pray that courts will rule that DeSantis has overplayed his authoritarian hand and that local officials are in the best place — some may need mandatory mask wearing and some may not — to make these kinds of decisions. Our governments are mandated to look out after the general welfare of the citizenry. If governments can’t promote the general welfare during a COVID-19 surge, then I don’t know when. But our children need to be protected NOW!