September 11, 2001 as seen from the New Jersey Turnpike. (Associated Press)

We Can’t Forget Why We Went to Afghanistan

August 31, 2021


We went to Afghanistan for the right reasons, reasons that were well within the national interest. We should remember them. And while it’s right to question what has happened over the past 20 years, it’s important that we’re encouraging the next generation to ask the right questions. Why did we stay so long? How did a mission to defeat the Taliban morph into state building in Afghanistan? Why did we struggle to win? How did the surveillance tools we built to target terrorists become a surveillance state increasingly turned on the American people? 

The answers to these questions matter, and we should search for them and encourage students to do the same. Yet we cannot simultaneously sink into the pit of disparaging America’s involvement in Afghanistan as a whole. If we do not learn from our history, we will see more self-inflicted catastrophes like the one unfolding today on the streets of Kabul and elsewhere around Afghanistan. There will be future complex and deadly threats to our way of life. It remains to be seen whether we have the courage and resolve to meet them. 

Fostering that national willpower is a national imperative. It must start in the classroom and in the home. That’s why my organization is releasing a free educational module: “Understanding September 11th, 2001”. Intended for use in middle- and high-school social studies curricula, it gives students the chance to grapple with the reasons for those attacks, and the responses that followed. 

Marion Smith is President and CEO of the Common Sense Society.

Originally published in Real Clear Politics.

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