Friday’s 10-year anniversary of Afghan war missing all the hoopla surrounding 9/11 remembrance

The "No Glory" collection at Form + Content features art examining war from different viewpoints.
Photo courtesy of
The “No Glory” collection at Form + Content features art examining war from different viewpoints.

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks received vast attention in the U.S. media. Another 10th anniversary date, however, is approaching without nearly the same attention.

Ten years ago on Friday — Oct. 7, 2001 — the war in Afghanistan began.

Last week, artists and an Army vet gathered at the Form + Content art gallery in downtown Minneapolis.

On display there were art pieces representing the reality of that war. But mostly, there was conversation.

“Our hope is to at least get people talking about war,” said Camille Gage, curator of the gallery, artist and a co-founder of an organization called 10 Years and Counting.

Camille Gage
Camille Gage

Year-old group wants to increase attention
That year-old group is led by artists from across the country. It is staging small events, such as the one in Minneapolis last week.

How is it possible that we’ve been at war for a decade with no deep national discussion about the human and financial costs?

“People have been overwhelmed by all of the wars,” said former Army Capt. Riley Sharbonno, who served as a nurse at the hospital attached to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq beginning in 2004. “There’s just no clear understanding of what these wars are about or the impact they have. I think people in this country have defaulted to the experts. We’ve place a blind trust in the experts.”

Riley Sharbonno
Riley Sharbonno

Sharbonno, who lives in Minneapolis and works as a nurse at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and Amplatz Children’s Hospital, has created a book for the Veterans Book Project, which has done a series on the people affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His views on the wars are deep and complex, but they begin with the fact that he is not a pacifist.

“I believe we need a military, and I think it’s right that our military will do what it is asked,” Sharbonno said. “I was committed to that when I joined, and I still am.”

But …

Sharbonno’s experiences are profound.

Abu Ghraid nurse still haunted by experience
He was assigned to the Abu Ghraib prison six weeks before it became notorious with the release of photos showing U.S. military personnel torturing prisoners. The immediate outcome of that revelation was near constant mortar attacks.

In response to those attacks, Sharbonno recalled a night when that war became so personal to him.

That night, a small contingent of Marines was sent on a mission to track down those attacking the prison. There was a firefight. Two Marines were killed, and four others sustained wounds.

The bodies and the wounded were brought back to the hospital. The wounded were treated and then stood guard over the dead, who could not be airlifted away until daylight. It became Sharbonno’s job to continually ice down the bodies of the two dead throughout the long night.

The dog tag on one of the dead showed that he and Sharbonno shared the same birth date.

“I’d seen more than 100 people injured by blasts and it didn’t get to me personally in the way that did,” Sharbonno said.

In time, he came home from the war — and that’s when he started to feel a sense of disillusionment.

“People weren’t talking about the lifes being lost, or the injuries — they were complaining about the costs of war. That disgusts me.”
It is remarkable how different this war has been covered journalistically from previous wars. Especially photographically, it’s been sanitized.

During the early years of the war, photojournalists were even prevented from showing the flag-draped coffins of American dead being brought back to the U.S. Not until 2009 did President Obama officially lift that ban.

One of the most powerful pieces of art at last week’s show is Gage’s photo of a single flag-draped coffin on a black background.

Camille Gage's "Untitled" detail
Photo courtesy of Camille Gage
Camille Gage’s “Untitled” detail

But, of course, there are costs beyond the thousands who have been killed and maimed in the decade of wars.

State Sen. Scott Dibble was at the Minneapolis gathering to talk about those costs. Minnesotans, said Dibble, have spent more than $27 billion in tax dollars to support the war. That’s money, Dibble points out, that could have been spent in building infrastructure in our communities.

Dibble introduced a resolution in the state Senate last year pointing out those realities, but it’s languishing in a committee.

“It’s hard to get people even talking about the wars,” said Dibble.

But for some, it’s impossible to ignore the horrible realities of wars.

Sharbonno said he still has nightmares of those hours spent in the hospital at Abu Ghraib icing down the body of the Marine who shared his birthday.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 10/06/2011 - 10:09 am.

    War? What war? I do not recall seeing or hearing anything about a war!

    This is so pathetic. This war has been totally and entirely carried wby less than 1% of our citizens. In general, virtually all Americans have not been affected, involved, touched,or sacrificed for this atrocious action. Even when it comes to paying for it, Americans have resisted — unlike any other war in our history.

    In WWII, FDR raised the top tax rate to 92%, and few complained (I know, because I was alive during that war). Now, all we have done is borrowed to pay for the war…damaged a generation of many fine young men and women…and accomplished almost nothing of value. Yet is continues. The whole thing is a tragedy, a travesty, a will go down as a disgraceful chapter in our history.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/06/2011 - 12:11 pm.

    The war quickly morphed from “get the people who did this” to “remaking Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, etc.,”.

    Osama was too small for those larger “remaking” goals and quietly became a secondary target. If we got him too quickly, what bloody shirt could be waved to support the “remaking” project?

    So here we are, 10 years later.

    The phrase, “there are costs beyond the thousands who have been killed and maimed in the decade of wars” ignores the tremedous disruption of millions of lives in the affected countries, the hundreds of thousands killed and wounded, the long term devastation of entire countries.

    The criminally incompetent manner in which the “remaking” project was executed has inflamed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more personal who now view America as an very real enemy that has devastated their personal lives. Some people have lives that are better, many would disagree.

    If we walk away today, we slow our financial bleed. But if PTSD and continued effects of war wounds will be a continued cost for America, what about the millions and millions out there in the world that will not have the infrastructure to help the suffering?

    What do we say, “We’re sorry”?

    Is there a significant number of Americans who really care about displaced families? Dead sons, daughters, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers? Destroyed economies? Warlords enlarged through corruption? Torture in the name of security? Polluted countries?

    Can you really say, “We’re sorry?”.

    The past 10 years have really made us a smaller, vulnerable country where it has been proven that much of our lofty goals and speeches are empty.

    Afghanistan was part of the breaking of the Soviet Union. It may be part of the breaking of this version of the US.

  3. Submitted by Jeff Wilfahrt on 10/06/2011 - 03:30 pm.

    No one but us in the less than 1% knows the truth depth of this article.

    Jeff Wilfahrt, father of CPL Andrew Wilfahrt, KIA 2-27-2011, Kandahar, Afghanistan

  4. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 10/06/2011 - 03:31 pm.

    Imagine: $3 to 4 TRILLION estimates of the cost of these wars. No one knows for sure because they are ongoing and there many hidden costs. Think what that could do for the American economy. Imagine how many schools in Iraq that would build.
    I think we have lost so much in the last 10 years–not just human beings (American, Afghanistanis, Iraqis), not just treasure, but the respect of the world and probable growing loss of our influence as we spend our money in this way–and still do not have decent health care for all, and still our students do not rank as well as most other developed countries — and on and on.
    When will it stop and who will stop it?
    Maybe Occupiers in city after city.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/06/2011 - 07:38 pm.

    “Saying we’re sorry” is a sorry piece of hypocrisy. Our attitude seems to be that America will be safe only when we have completed the “long war” by finding and killing or capturing every actual or potential terrorist on earth. Too bad we kill so many innocents and destroy their countries in the process.

    Not long ago, when either Pakistan or Afghanistan had to object yet again to the deaths of civilians killed by our drones, they were told that we would continue to use the drones but would always apologize when civilians were killed in the process of keeping America safe. How long can we expect to get away with that?

    Andrew Basevich for Prez!! Or at least the Secretary of Defence.

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