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The Great Waste

I do not know much about what my brother did while stationed in Afghanistan, but I know why he had to come home. An improvised explosive device blew him off a building. We do not know whether it was the explosion or the subsequent fall, but he suffered brain injuries that led to his eventual discharge. In the years since, he has battled seizures, memory loss, and PTSD. His road to physical and mental recovery has been a long, strenuous one, and it is a road that has no end.

When I asked for his opinion about the withdrawal from Afghanistan, his answer surprised me. In part, he was relieved that there would not be others like him—young men who left the US intact and came back as “damaged goods”—at least not from this conflict. On the other hand, he had convinced himself that his sacrifice was worth it, that the lives he took on behalf of his country were not in vain. But as he sees it, it was all a “f•••••g waste”. And he’s not the first veteran to battle these demons, and he’s not the only veteran. My father’s best friend, a man who was pretty instrumental in my upbringing, told me that it took him about ten years to recover from his time in Vietnam. When the Pentagon Papers definitely showed just how “pointless” much that bloodshed had been and just how much the government had lied to the American people, he was devastated as well. It permanently undermined his faith in the government, a sentiment common to all Americans from his generation.

Perspective & Purpose

As a businessman, these situations make me recognise my immense privilege in this world. I have much, much more control over the causes to which I dedicate my life. My legacy, if I have one at all, will be determined primarily by me. My brother’s legacy, or at least the one he thought he had, disappeared in what seemed like a few weeks. Last week, any glimmer of hope that existed in Afghanistan, however misguided, was extinguished when bombs went off, killing 170 civilians and 13 American service members. For every story we hear about some miraculous escape from the country, countless others are stuck and unable to make it out.

In a world that seems so difficult to navigate right now, we happen to have it extremely easy. Some may not like this control. It may feel like pressure to perform. But this pressure is a privilege. In our world, very few people can take away your purpose. My brother’s story, although complex, is not entirely a sad one. After over a decade back in the States, he has been able to build his life back up after a long period of extended work. He and his wife are expecting their first child this year. He is ecstatic at the prospect of being a father. His life, and his legacy, are back in his hands. It does not matter that geopolitical events have rendered his previous work a “waste”; he has found his purpose.