Category Archives: Afghanistan

‘Suck It Up’ Sucks

Former Secretary of the Navy and Virginia Senator James Webb voiced an often heard sentiment in a CBS Sunday Morning interview last week. He talked about the great impassable divide that separates those who have been to war from those who haven’t. Webb said, If you were there, I don’t need to explain. If you weren’t, I can’t explain.

Secretary Webb has given much to his country. I am grateful for his service and respect his intelligence. That said, I want to challenge the belief that non-combatants can never know what soldiers endure.

It’s true that those of us who have never seen a war zone don’t know the searing pain of having a leg blown off in an IED explosion. We haven’t experienced the anguish of a friend dying suddenly, violently, a result of our mistake, powerless to help.

But we are human beings, capable of imagining. Capable of imagining the worst. We have the capacity for empathy, for fellow feeling. We can smell the burnt flesh, feel the concussions, see the outstretched hands, hear the cries for help.

I struggled for months to support a friend suffering from post traumatic stress and depression, among other injuries. I failed.

My efforts are multiplied countlessly around the globe – loved ones trying to welcome their soldiers home. Our failures inflict new wounds and create many more walking wounded. Left unresolved, these stories repeat and repeat.

Phil Klay, author of Redeployment, describes these failures. Believing war is beyond words, he writes, is an abrogation of responsibility – it lets civilians off the hook from trying to understand, and veterans off the hook from needing to explain. Other projects that attempt to engage PTS and TBI sufferers through writing or performing offer initial glimpses of success. They convince me that “suck it up” is a slow poison.

I think soldiers have one final duty to their county – to describe the war they experienced on our behalf as authentically and to as many people as they can.

We noncombatants have a moral obligation to listen to their stories with care and compassion. We cannot judge them, we can only imagine future bad places.

This seems the only bridge over that impassable divide and the only path toward healing on a survivable scale.

And, just maybe, the only small hope for addressing future conflicts more adroitly than we have in the past.


Linda Beeman is the author of a poetry chapbook, Collateral Damage, published by Finishing Line Press. Its stories describe our Afghan War experience.



Lt. Col. John Darin Loftis made people smile. He knew he could bridge Afghans and American military forces. He studied Pashto and even selected a Pashto name for himself – Ehsaan, which means beholden. He would introduce himself to people on the street using his halting language skills. You can see the bemusement in their faces in Micah Garen’s film Call Me Ehsaan, from The New York Times. Loftis even memorized Pashtun poetry and often recited Rahman Baba’s work with a Kentucky lilt.

Along with another soldier, the Lieutenant Colonel  was executed in the Interior Ministry one cold February day in 2012. Another green on blue killing. My poem from the Collateral Damage collection is a tribute to his care and kindness. A section reads

softness in his smile
signals the little boy
executed in February

adventure of learning Pashto
hearing the music of its poetry
reciting it imperfectly
executed in February

whimsy of picking a name
for himself out of a hat
Ehsaan beholden
back of the head as snow fell

You can reserve your copy of Collateral Damage at the Finishing Line Press Web site, Orders received before March 14th ship at reduced rate.

Collateral Damage Cover

Cover design: Buffy Cribbs

Here is a courageous book, one where men pray to rain, where men are executed in “retaliation for scorched words” that “are sacred.”When the word “heat” becomes a moving elegy and “Traffic” a boy’s name–the reader realizes that poetry’s power, its impulse, is to name the world anew despite all the sorrows–or maybe because of them.   Ilya Kaminsky

As our agonizing engagement in Afghanistan winds down, some reflection seems timely. My connection with a friend posted in Kabul and my concern for his safety led me into that turmoil. It focused my attention on the war’s actors, its reporting, its mean failures and small successes. Lesser known individuals with amazing stories riveted me. Sgt. Lynn Hill flew Predators from her base in Las Vegas, while Mohammedullah guided heavy trucks over Afghan passes with his Pepsi bottle baton. Robert Bales’ name seared our national conscience after that Panjwai massacre, and who could help loving Lt. Col. John Darin Loftis for his halting recitations of Pashto poetry.

     Collateral Damage is a scrapbook of poems, of personalities who confront us with unanswered questions. What have we accomplished after 12 years in that blue land? Is it enough that we did our best to offer Afghans a chance at self-determination? Were the countless heartbreaks of loss and estrangement worth that effort? Is the effort, itself, the ultimate reward?

You can reserve your copy of the chapbook online at Finishing Line Press,

My thanks.

Linda Signature

Collateral Damage

In early 2012 a friend I’d met long ago confessed he’d “fallen hard for me” at the time. We’d corresponded across all those years. First letters, then emails. I came to know a man who always chose the hard roads not only because they challenged him, but because they were avenues along which he might shape better outcomes. I discovered a patient man who listened with respect to each difference of opinion I raised. I grew to honor someone with wide curiosity about the world, a person whose compassion for its residents did not extend to himself.

Initially his revelation inebriated me. Giddiness quickly turned to anxiety, then anguish as his posting in Afghanistan and unfolding illnesses challenged both of us. A series of poems called Collateral Damage contain my joy, my fear, my grief over our relationship interspersed with snapshots of that war’s horrorific events.

As I read more and more about Afghanistan, I developed a high regard for the journalism of Luke Mogelson and Graham Bowley. Both write lengthy, complex descriptions of that conflict that mock any certainty we may harbor about solutions to others’ traumas. Mr. Bowley’s article about entrepreneurial boys from Kabul’s bazaars inspired Pepsi Boys:

Pepsi Boys

on those days, says Mohammedullah
describing rare big tips from his freelance
job as traffic cop on the Afghani pass
leading to Pakistan
my luck is flying in the sky

he calls his wife and tells her
to cook meat soup
never taking his eyes from the bespangled
parade of top-heavy trucks grunting
through streams of cars     animals

around blind corners on a vertical gorge
guided by dusty boys from Kabul’s bazaars
wielding neon green Pepsi bottle batons
signaling when it’s safe
to start their turn     risk their cargo

each has his position on Mahi Par’s
five mile length     his place
in the caravan’s hierarchy
everyone gets his part of the chain
except Mohammedullah competes

despite the loss of a leg in a mine blast
fighting off the accumulation
of seventy years hard living
against 10-year-old Ihsanullah
who calls himself Traffic

a four year veteran scuffling for rupees
in the engine growls and diesel fumes
loving the adrenalin rushes
striding with new-found authority
through life’s catastrophe

Copyright 2012 Linda L. Beeman