“A heartbreaking situation”: Student perspectives on the U.S. war in Afghanistan

The United States Armed Forces finished their withdrawal efforts from Kabul, Afghanistan late on the night of Monday, August 30, effectively ending a two-decade-long occupation that began in response to Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The occupation, which cost over $2 trillion and over 170,000 lives, was ended by the Doha Agreement, signed by the Trump Administration in February 2020. The Biden Administration continued the process and planned to withdraw the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, but were forced to evacuate quickly as the Taliban — the Islamist militant group under which Al Qaeda was allowed to operate — rapidly began to take control of Afghanistan. “The fact of the matter is we’ve seen that [Afghanistan’s national security force] has been unable to defend the country,” said United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “and that has happened more quickly than we anticipated.” While the occupation did give Afghans an opportunity to establish democracy and created opportunities for many women, the United States failed in all other attempts to free Afghanistan from the militants they fought in 2001.

Rachel Shaw, Class of 2024

The Anchor sat down with Marvellous Ogudoro (’23) and Rachel Shaw (’24) to learn more about how the students of Hope College are responding to these events. 

Both Ogudoro and Shaw, as well as the majority of Hope students, were born just months before or after the beginning of the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan. “It’s very interesting to know that I’m as old as this war,” said Shaw, “and to think about how it’s coming to an end now.”

Ogudoro agreed, noting that “If [this war] is something you’ve grown up your whole life knowing about, having that not be the case anymore is significant.” But he also admits that, as an international student from Nigeria, he didn’t spend his entire life knowing about the situation. “That conversation isn’t something that’s of primary focus to citizens of Nigeria because we’re not really affected by that particular circumstance, but since coming to the U.S. and being a political science student, I’ve heard more.”

Above anything, Ogudoro says his global perspective has turned his attention to the Afghani refugees; as of September 4, the U.S. has evacuated over 123,000 civilians who have been forced to flee their homes. “I chose to leave Nigeria for the United States for my education,” Ogudoro said, “and in that process, I already know how significantly hard it can be to redefine a sense of home. That’s where my heart goes out to individuals who are having to redefine their sense of home and their sense of identity as people who have fought alongside the U.S. but haven’t really chosen to come here. Rather, [they] have been forced to by circumstances outside of their control.”

Shaw touched on the possible impact of the U.S. withdrawal on Americans, explaining that, “For us in the United States, it might be impactful in that people may lose faith in the ability of the United States government to promote democracy in other areas. We’ve had our fingers in different conflicts and other governments all over the world for more than a hundred years now. I think that to have a loss like this may show [people] that perhaps we aren’t immortal or all-powerful, and maybe we shouldn’t be trying to be in a place so far away from our own place.”

“I think in general, most people agree that it is a heartbreaking situation to see Americans who are in a hurry to leave a place that they have invested 20 years of their lives into,” said Ogudoro, referring to what he’s been hearing around campus, “as well as Afghani citizens, [some of whom are] people our age who have always grown up with the U.S. in their homeland. What does that mean for their sense of home?” 

Ogudoro has also heard worry and confusion surrounding the refugees coming to America. “I think part of that conversation needs to be an acknowledgment that those people who are being evacuated didn’t just fight the Taliban. They fought alongside the U.S. and that is an important piece in why they are being brought to a place that we consider more safe. It’s not just these past few weeks of evacuating people. It’s helping those people resettle and welcoming them into the fabric of America because they have fought for things that are important to us.” Ogudoro is taking a US foreign policy course this semester and looks forward to discussing the situation in more depth.

Both Ogudoro and Shaw commented on the privileged position that we at Hope Campus hold, far removed from the real danger and watching the events unfold. “It’s really interesting that we’ve been living right next to [this issue], but it doesn’t get a lot of attention in the United States until a large event like this happens,” said Shaw. She also mentioned that she hasn’t heard many conversations about the end of the U.S. occupation on campus during this first week of classes. Ogudoro pointed out that “we are impacted by the policies of the current administration in very significant ways, but maybe in less significant ways than United States soldiers and families who have fought in Afghanistan, and then also perhaps in less significant ways than Afghani citizens who are members of that country.”

Carole Chee ('24) is the editor for the Beyond section. A double major in English and Women's & Gender Studies, you can find her around campus in the Keppel House, behind the library's research help desk, or in the theatre props shop! She is passionate about uplifting each person's unique story and voice.

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