Photograph by Steven Higgs

An Oct. 7 e-mail alert from the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition's Timothy Baer began, "Today marks a full eight years of U.S. war and military occupation in Afghanistan." It ended with a call to action: "Activists and residents of South-central Indiana will gather at the Monroe County Courthouse Square at 5 p.m. on Wednesday to express solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, calling for Peace for Afghanistan! and an end to the U.S. military occupation there."

By 5:10, about 15 people stood with anti-war signs. There was pleasant conversation among the protesters, and each was happy to explain why they came.

"I'm here because the war in Afghanistan is doomed to fail," said Michael Gasser. "I'm here today because it is the eighth anniversary."

Gasser said he doesn't demonstrate on the Square every week and was disappointed at the turnout. "People don't understand that no nation has succeeded in occupying Afghanistan," he said, "and we should pay attention to history."

"The British failed, the Soviets failed, and now we are in a quagmire. We should get out now."- Margaret Steiner

Gasser related how he had attended an event where a reporter who had just returned from Afghanistan spoke. "This reporter was embedded with our troops one week, and the Taliban the next week," he said. "I mean, this guy was actually with the Taliban while they were shooting at our troops!"

The reporter said he heard story after story from people as to why they had joined the Taliban. "Overwhelmingly, they had joined with the Taliban because someone in their family, or someone they knew, had been killed in the war, and they were fighting for revenge," Gasser said. "We are fueling the Taliban as we fight the war in Afghanistan."

He also learned from the reporter that the Taliban in Afghanistan represents a nationalist movement. "They are fighting to end the occupation," he said. "They are fighting the government that we installed to rule them."

Gasser derided the notion that the resistance in Afghanistan was, as President George W. Bush had stated, because "they are jealous of our freedom."

"How many people are going to commit suicide because they are jealous of someone else's freedom?" Gasser asked rhetorically.

"Now we are a nation being told that we don't have enough money for healthcare."- Pam Raider

Margaret Steiner, another protester, said Afghanistan is a poor country that has been bombed and devastated since the first days of the U.S. attack eight years ago. "It is unclear what we hope to gain from here on," she said. "We should learn from the failure of the imperialistic attempts in Afghanistan from the 19th century on. The British failed, the Soviets failed, and now we are in a quagmire. We should get out now."

Phyllis Martin agreed with Steiner and added, "I have stood here on other occasions and am now standing here on the anniversary of eight years. I believe in a broader sense that war is not the answer. Ghandi said, 'The path to peace is peace,' and it remains true today."

Kyle Knight said he was taking part in the demonstration because he likes being part of a collective goal. "Our collective goal today is to raise awareness about both wars of occupation, in Iraq and in Afghanistan," he said.

Radha Surya said, "I am here because I want to show my support for the people who are continuing to protest these wars that have gone on for almost a decade and seem to be going to continuing for another decade."

"Ghandi said, 'The path to peace is peace,' and it remains true today."- Phyllis Martin

She found the question, 'Why am I here?" difficult to answer. "I mean, Afghanistan was a devastated country back in 2001," she said, "and this is a ruthless war. Why would a superpower country wreak further havoc on an already devastated country, and why would I not be here to protest that?"

Pam Raider listened to Surya's comment and said, "Originally I started making a stand in Nashville, but when people started here I came to join with them. When this began, there was so much propaganda, and our nation simply ran headlong into this, and now we're in this quagmire."

Americans were told that the Afghan people would welcome us, Raider continued. "That is simply ignorance. Now we are a nation being told that we don't have enough money for healthcare. Maybe we should stop spending billions and billions on these wars! People, make the connection!"

Americans should not spend money killing innocent civilians in foreign lands, she continued. "We should be spending money providing healthcare here in America. It's connected, and it's not complicated."

David Keppel added, "This is not only the anniversary, this is a crucial moment in history, with Obama having to decide whether to take the disastrous advice offered by General McChrystal, who is calling for a major escalation. We created and installed the current government of Afghanistan, and if you look at the history of puppet regimes from Vietnam on, ... they are not efficient, they do not enjoy the support of their own people, and under those circumstances military force is an agent of death that can never lead to victory."

David Stewart can be reached daestewa@indiana.edu.