In 1945, Major Albin Fortney, because he was fluent in Norwegian, was appointed Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Army group that liberated Norway from the German occupation.

He had a good career there. But he had an appendix attack and after surgery had the better part of his torso wreathed in surgical bandages. Some weeks passed; he became impatient with this; he asked the Norwegian physician when the bandages could be removed.

The doctor grabbed the top of the tape and gave it one mighty pull, and in one fell, agonizing swoop removed the large bandage, with one mighty rip.

Chaplain Fortney almost fainted with the sudden pain. It took some time for him to recover from this onslaught. But the bandage was off.

Then there is Afghanistan.

Persians, under Darius the Great (522-486 BCE); and the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) were among the first of the invaders of that territory.

An Arab raid on Kandahar in 699-700 brought Islam, strengthened as the Turks gained power in Iran, Afghanistan and India. Genghis Khan invaded in the 13th century. For the next few hundred years, Afghanistan was fought over by various Indian and Persian empires.

Finally, in the 18th century, a group of Pashtun tribes defeated the Moghuls and the Persians and consolidated its own large but unstable nation ruled by indigenous people.

During the 19th century Britain tried to bring Afghanistan under its direct rule, but suffered defeat in the first Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42), the first of three attempts to conquer the country, and failed each time.

The Russians invaded and attempted domination. The occupation claimed at least 14,000 Russian lives and cost the USSR more than $5 billion a year. The last Soviet troops were withdrawn in February 1989; the occupation had left 1.5 million Afghans dead.

And then following the September 11 attacks in 2001 that demanded the Taliban, then ruling Afghanistan, hand over Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban refused. We invaded; the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies were mostly defeated in the invasion phase by US-led forces, and the Northern Alliance. Bin Laden was assassinated.

On 30 September 2021, after a war of 20 years, President Joe Biden superintended the removal of the last soldier from that country. The Taliban occupied the entire country.

Among other tactics, the Afghanis rejected conquest by hunkering down and out-waiting the would-be conquerors.

Enter George Washington.

England invades America to keep our country as a part of its Empire. Washington avoids any battle that would destroy his fledgling army.

He played a waiting game. Success depended on keeping his army intact.

While Washington and other American army leaders won an occasional battle, they were ultimately incapable of destroying the invaders. The English army remained among the most powerful and brutal in the world, untouched.

The crown finally admitted that attempting to fight a land war on a distant continent was futile. They withdrew. America became ruled by its own people.

Enter Douglas MacArthur. He said this: “At all costs avoid a land war on continental Asia.”

Enter Vietnam. We entered a land war in Asia.

The Vietnamese were beaten often by the enormous American army. But never destroyed. Nearly 60,000 American soldiers dead.

Among them Kendall Thomas Fortney. 43 E 18. His address on Mya Lin’s black wall. We withdrew, unsuccessful in accomplishing our objectives. Vietnam is Red now.

Enter Afghanistan.

We did not learn the lesson taught us by Vietnam. Or MacArthur. Or our own American Revolution. Many died. Trillions of dollars wasted. Our nation-building failed.

But, like Albin’s bandages suddenly ripped, we withdrew. As our president had promised.

Painfully.

We became the America we are because like the natives of Afghanistan and Vietnam, we outlasted and defeated the intent of a hostile invasion force and became who we are. Yet we became invaders, and like all invaders in this context could not succeed.

We did not learn from our own lesson. The irony of that is painful. It is tragic.

President Biden had learned. His critics didn’t. But he did.

The bandage is off. And it hurts!

But it’s off. At least until next time.

Steve Fortney is a City of Stoughton resident.

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