Empathizing with the war in Afghanistan

I read an article in the News & Observer Thursday morning about a soldier from Raleigh, NC, who was killed by a roadside bomb in a place called Ghazni, Afghanistan. I wanted to empathize with the young man, and I also wondered where Ghazni is located. After doing some research and reflecting, I came up with this blog post:

The front page of the online version of the Raleigh News & Observer on Thursday, August 2, featured a poignant article about the death of a U.S. soldier from Raleigh, Corporal Darrion Hicks.

When I read the article, I learned that Corporal Hicks “died July 19 in Ghazni, Afghanistan after a roadside bomb detonated along a highway that he was clearing as part of a team.”

The article went on to provide details that a typical reader could identify with — it mentioned his “energy, sense of humor and upbeat attitude,” and noted that he once “beat his unit in a foot race wearing Batman pajamas.”

Here’s a picture of Corporal Hicks from his graduation from Broughton High School, side by side with a photo of his tombstone in Raleigh National Cemetery:

   

Why did this young man die before his 22nd birthday?

The story from the News & Observer explains that he was playing a role in the U.S. war there. He was a sapper, and his job was to work with his team to clear a road so it would be safe for other soldiers. He died when a roadside bomb blew up in the city of Ghazni. The rest of the article talks about his life and his family — he’s survived by “his parents, Tracy Hicks and Paul Hocutt Jr., stepparents, five brothers and three sisters.”

It would not be appropriate for the News & Observer, in an article about Corporal Hicks’ funeral, to address the underlying policy issues — the story here is Corporal Hicks and his family and fellow soldiers.

But once you start to empathize with Colonel Hicks and his family and friends, you have to wonder: why are U.S. soldiers in a place called Ghazni? And where is Ghazni?

A middle school student starting to pay attention to the news for the first time might not know that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2002 in response to the 9/11 attacks. After all, middle students who are 11 years old would have been just one year old when that war began.

Most schools rarely talk about war, which seems odd since the U.S. is fighting two right now at a cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of U.S. soldiers’ lives. It’s a crucial subject for an informed citizen to know about.

A thoughtful reading of the day’s local news would cause most students to wonder how the U.S. got involved in Afghanistan.

The story of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan — and the larger question of what wars are worth fighting — are important topics, but are far beyond the scope of this blog post.

As an aside, we will have long, thoughtful discussions about both of those topics at Triangle Learning Community middle school (opening in fall 2013). When and how a country chooses to go to war are crucial issues for empathetic global citizens to wrestle with in depth.

For this blog post, I have a more narrow focus — I want to explain how I began to empathize with this story, using Google Earth and Wikipedia, as we will do in morning sessions at TLC middle school.

I started by looking up Ghazni using Google Earth, because I’d never heard of it before and had no idea where it was in Afghanistan.

I learned that Ghazni is about 80 miles south of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan:

I also looked up Ghazni on Wikipedia, where I learned of its rich history:

Ghazni was a thriving Buddhist centre up until the 7th century. In 683 AD, Arab armies brought Islam to the region but many refused to accept the new religion.Yaqub Saffari from Zaranj conquered the city in the late 9th century. It later became the dazzling capital of the Ghaznavid Empire, which encompassed much of northern India, Persia and Central Asia.

Here’s a map showing the extent of the Ghaznavid Empire, which lasted for more than 200 years and had Ghazni (circled below) as its capital:

There’s also an impressive minaret in Ghazni:

  

I also learned, from the Wikipedia article about Ghazni, that the city has had a great deal of strategic importance during the past decade:

Ghazni’s strategic position, both economically and militarily, assured its revival, albeit without its dazzling former grandeur. Through the centuries the city has figured prominently as the all-important key to the possession of Kabul.

After the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the United States armed forces built a base in Ghazni. They have been involved in rebuilding projects and protecting the local population against Taliban insurgents. In the meantime, they are also training the local Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army forces. In 2010, the United States established a Lincoln Learning Center in Ghazni.[10]Lincoln Learning Centers in Afghanistan serve as programming platforms offering English language classes, library facilities, programming venues, Internet connectivity, educational and other counseling services. A goal of the program is to reach at least 4,000 Afghan citizens per month per location.

I now have a more complete picture of what Colonel Hicks was doing in Ghazni. But I’m left with many questions:

  • What are the typical living conditions for a U.S. soldier in Ghazni?
  • How do the locals in Ghazni treat U.S. soldiers?
  • What does a typical residence for an Afghan citizen living in Ghanzi look like?
  • What does an upper-class residence look like in Ghazni?
  • How are women treated in Ghazni?
  • Are women part of the U.S. forces in Ghazni?

These are the sorts of empathetic questions we hope that students at TLC middle school will ask — and explore — on a regular basis.

And when we read a poignant story — such as the one in Thursday’s News & Observer about the death of a young soldier — we will take the time to both empathize and begin to put the story in historic and geographic context.

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About Steve Goldberg

I teach U.S. History at Research Triangle High School, a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning.
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One Response to Empathizing with the war in Afghanistan

  1. bllbrwn423 says:

    Wonderful example of your plans to help raise curious, compassionate children.

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