War Fatigue: Comparing Afghanistan to American Reconstruction

reconstruction Wisconsin

I asked my students to predict what political issues they thought would most concern this Wisconsin farmer during the Reconstruction era.

One of the final questions that I discussed with students in my Civil War and Reconstruction course was whether the North should be blamed for “looking the other way” when American Reconstruction collapsed in 1877. We focused on Wisconsin politics (“The Politics of Reconstruction in Wisconsin, 1865-1873”) and the important issues during the 1870s which included Veteran’s benefits, internal improvements and the ongoing economic recovery from the 1873 Depression. In short, our class discovered most residents here were fatigued with the violence in the South by 1877. The attempts by the South to regain their way-of-life were ignored and the majority of residents wanted the federal government to focus efforts on improving lives in Wisconsin. The Republican political platform that included temperance and African American rights were voted out of office in 1873.

I connected the current discussions between the United States and Afghanistan over the role American soldiers will play in the future of Afghanistan. Afghan leaders, wary of an extended American presence, are negotiating a deal that will dictate future American involvement in their country. Yesterday there was an interesting article, “A Top Iraqi Official’s Advice to Karzai? Take America’s Deal,” in the New York Times.  Apparently, Iraqi leaders have warned Afghan President, Karzai to not be quick to push out their powerful allies. An Iraqi official said that the Americans “were eager to leave (Iraq), and they will be eager to leave your country as well.” Then as a further admonition, the Iraqi said, “Two years after the (American) troop withdrawal, because of the rise of violence, we went back to Washington and asked them for continued support and military help.”

afghanistanThere are a couple of similar themes here to explore between the protection the federal government provided Republican-Reconstruction state governments throughout the South and the protection the US military provides Kabul from Taliban forces. Indeed, you could also compare the use of terror that southern whites used to intimidate African Americans during Reconstruction to the actions taken by Taliban forces against Afghani people. Furthermore, another comparison would be the fatigue that many Americans feel towards the war in Afghanistan (Read: Poll numbers on Afghan War). Coincidentally, twelve years passed between the Civil War and Reconstruction’s fall in 1877 and we are approximately twelve years into the Afghanistan war. I have heard Americans say: We could use the money supplying the war effort there on education, internal improvements and if the Afghanis cannot defend themselves by not, it is hopeless. These are similar beliefs Wisconsinites held when Reconstruction fell. I am sure they were not thrilled by the outcome, especially some of the Civil War veterans, but northerners were ready to move on. And move on they did to the horror of African Americans who were forced to abandon civil liberties gained during and after the Civil War.

Iraq saw the United States move on and they are experiencing a huge surge in violence.The liberties symbolized by purple thumbs during their historic elections are vanishing. I suspect Afghanistan will experience the same type of uptick in violence once we leave en masse. If the Taliban regain power in the near future or an Anti-American regime commandeers control of Iraq, will our generation, like the post-war generation in the North in 1877, be blamed? Is it history’s job to place blame or to explain and provide context/insight into actions and decisions a person and group made?

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