From the Left



Afghanistan and Valet Parking

Marc Munroe Dion on

Losing a war is nothing like leaving a nice restaurant after a good dinner.

When you leave the nice restaurant, you give the parking attendant your ticket, and he fetches your Mercedes. If you're a nice person, you throw him $5.

Losing a war means you leave on the run, on the last plane out, while explosions rock the ground below. Your former enemies whoop and holler in the streets because you lost, and they begin busily executing the traitors who collaborated with you.

If valet parking worked that way, the attendant (who probably hates you for driving a Mercedes) would fight you for your car. If you lost, he'd keep the Mercedes while you ran away. Then, he'd execute the waiter who was so nice to you, and that bartender who knows "just how" you like your vodka martini.

It would be a long walk home from the nice restaurant.

It's a long walk home from Afghanistan, though it's a walk America has made before. We walked home from Vietnam and from Iraq.

America hasn't won a war in decades.

Of course, that's ancient history because America has a memory that doesn't extend back much further than a year or so. If you're lucky. The only time we have long memories is where sports are concerned. Who won the Super Bowl 10 years ago? Millions of people know. What was Khe Sanh? Fewer. Far fewer.

In my way, I'm talking about those last American casualties in Afghanistan: the ones we profess to revere even as we use them for the shadiest of political purposes.

I pray for their souls at night in the last hour before sleep. The names of the dead should be spoken in a hush and breathed in a prayer, the way you speak the name of a dead child. The names should not be billboard-ed, screamed, or slogan-ed.

I was a working reporter on a daily newspaper for all but the last three years of the war in Afghanistan. I covered the military funerals, sitting still as a stone in the back of the church, holding my notebook in my lap, furtively scribbling. If you're a reporter in a working-class, poor community, and there's a war, you'll cover a lot of the funerals.


And I was always surprised at the smallness of the coffin compared to the size of the event, at the smallness of the hunched, grieving parents, at the tiny helplessness of husbands, wives, children.

The crowd on the sidewalk was big and be-flagged. The hearse was ponderous and slow. The rifle volley fired at the cemetery was big and loud, but the coffin was small, and the body inside was smaller.

I'd write, and I'd go home and sit in my living room and drink three whiskeys, one right after the other. And in my bed, in the half-hour before the whiskey brought me sleep, I'd say the name into the darkness, and I'd follow it with the childish simplicity of the "Hail Mary."

Good enough Death isn't the Super Bowl. A half time show doesn't make it better.

We lost the war in Afghanistan. The losers don't get to say what happens next. Their opinion doesn't count anymore.

There were guns and vehicles left behind in Afghanistan, all of them sold for good American money, and if the weapons remained behind, the money got out. Money never needs to be rescued. It gets out on its own when the getting is good, and it nestles comfortably in the pocket of the man who sold the weapons, the man who will never die on some dusty road that twists like a snake.

That guy won. He always does.


To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "Devil's Elbow: Dancing in the Ashes of America." It is available in paperback from, and for Nook, Kindle and iBooks.




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