By all accounts, Zabul Province in Afghanistan, east of Kandahar and on the Pakistan border, is one of the most primitive place on earth one US Army officer has said that it is so undeveloped it is "Biblical". It has been in the news of late because a US State Department employee named Matt Hoh, who worked in Zabul, issued a very public four page resignation letter that was picked up in The Washington Post and showed up last night on the Jim Lehrer News Hour and a host of other places, I am sure. In his resignation letter, he stated that the US, like the Soviets before them, are attempting to "bolster a failing state while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people". The Post has labelled Hoh "the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war".
There's a lot of debate in the blogopshere about whether Hoh is an isolated prima donna or whether he is right to say that our future in Afghanistan looks pretty grim.
It's above my pay grade to decide if Hoh was right to resign or not. He evidently felt in his articulate, four-page letter that he was right. What caught my attention in the story is that Hoh, 36, who served with the US Marine Corps before taking a contract with the State Department, admits that he suffers from PTSD. In December 2006, while serving in Iraq, he was in a helicopter that crashed near the Haditha Damn. Hoh escaped, but was unable to save several friends from drowning.
"It wasn't until his third month home, in an apartment in Arlington, that it hit him like a wave. "All the things you hear about how it comes over you, it really did. . . . You have dreams, you can't sleep. You're just, 'Why did I fail? Why didn't I save that man? Why are his kids growing up without a father?' "
Like many Marines in similar situations, he didn't seek help. "The only thing I did," Hoh said, "was drink myself blind."
What finally began to bring him back, he said, was a television show -- "Rescue Me" on the FX cable network -- about a fictional New York firefighter who descended into "survivor guilt" and alcoholism after losing his best friend in the World Trade Center attacks."
It's possible that this experience will be used to dismiss Hoh's objections to the war. One Canadian blogger, whose views I greatly respect, puts it this way: "Junior-grade diplomat with PTSD pulls pin after 2 months. Check. The simple statistical fact is that PTSD sufferers are more likely to jump ship or otherwise be sent home from tours. And the two-month point of a tour is about the lowest you go, and the most bewildered you feel. The only notable thing about this seems to be the better-than-average quality of the departure letter."
The last comment, about the two-month mark in a tour, whether you have PTSD or not, is a good takeaway point for this military chaplain, as well as the need to be aware of the baggage that some guys are carrying when they are asked to climb some pretty big and lonely hills. As to Matt Hoh, it remains to be seen how he'll be viewed by historians. Politicians and journalists will make of him what they will. Hopefully the PTSD angle isn't exaggerated here.
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