Lost: The Edge of Everything
The Three Wars
No end in sight
People like to say that “9/11 changed everything.” In many ways, Septemer 11th of 2001 truly did change America forever. In many others, these changes were just the final victory of the insatiable military-industrial complex born in the ashes of World War 2. Regardless, that was the day the United States went to war, and it has not seen a moment of peace since.
Just because the US has been at war for almost 20 years doesn’t mean it’s been at war with all the same enemies. Only the US-Afghan War has dragged on that entire time. Though the Iraq War came to an end shortly after the Obama assassination, America has since found and attacked two new enemies.
The war in Afghanistan began on 9/11. Months later, with the Taliban scattered and several major cities in ruins, George W. Bush put Afghanistan on the back-burner to focus on Iraq. It was Barack Obama who refocused US efforts on the mountainous country, until his reelection saw the war winding down.
Sadly, following Obama’s assassination, President Biden was forced to reassign many elite units to the shadow war in Korea. Without reliable recon and counterinsurgency, coalition victories ground to a halt, and Biden could not secure congressional support to end the war during his term. Paul Ryan then halved the manpower on the ground for the war in Iran.
The remaining troops were not prepared for the “Taliban Rush.” Having used the tepid Biden years to regroup, rearm, and win over the beleaguered Afghan people, insurgent fighters launched a series of vicious attacks. Between February and August, the coalition death toll rose to 7,000 at the cost of over 28,000 Afghan lives.
No end in sight
The land once called “the Russian Vietnam” is now “the second American Vietnam.” As in that war, standing armies simply cannot thrive against partisans entrenched in inhospitable terrain.
Western casualties have climbed past 12,000. With no overriding objective save to fight the Taliban, western troops have subjected the once-welcoming Afghan people to two decades of aimless occupation. More and more patrols passing through villages end in a suicide bombing or a razed settlement. The former breeds the latter breeds the former.
Corruption runs rampant through the ranks. With the best troops reserved for Iran, it’s the dregs and the near-washouts who get sent to Afghanistan. Enlisted men on the ground commit all manner of abuses that go unreported. Commissioned officers with drug ties are only slightly more common than those into human trafficking, and men go home with bricks of heroin as severance packages.
With every patrol that returns a man or two short, every innocent village bombed into paste, and every officer caught profiting off the heroin (or flesh) trade, the soldiers in Afghanistan start to feel a lot like their grandfathers did in the jungles of East Asia.
It was really only a matter of time. War with Iran had been a conservative talking point since the Reagan years. Paul Ryan ran on a platform of “hard red lines for rogue states,” and threatened Iran with war if they still had a nuclear program of any sort within his first hundred days.
They called his bluff, and on his 101st day in office, UN troops crossed the Iranian border.
Like its neighbor and enemy Iraq, Iran had a standing, disciplined, and relatively modern army. These men were so outclassed, the western media played up a sort of light-hearted race to see whether the US or Israel would kill their way into Tehran first (Israel won by two days.) They found Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dead of suicide and the Ayatollahs fled into the countryside.
Less than six months later, the Iranian people held their first real election. They elected Hamad Rashoun of the conservative Iran First party. He quickly proved sympathetic both to unregulated business and the religious far right, alienating the secular minority.
That was when the real fighting broke out. Strongholds of old-regime loyalists sprung up haphazardly across the country. Striking from defensible towns, they would slaughter anyone sympathetic to the new government, then disperse among local villages, to regroup and strike again within a few nights.
IDF forces proved adept at dealing with such tactics, but Rashoun could not be seen allowing Israelis to kill Iranians. After the US insisted, Israel withdrew completely, leaving the Americans to battle yet another set of fierce Muslim partisans.
The coalition forces’ current goal is to keep Iran a republic. Because President Ryan saves the best troops and armaments for Iran, most fighting engagements are a safe bet for the west.
Unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Ayatollan forces are not popular with Iranians at large. Having exhausted their friendly villages, they now take settlements by force and raze them if driven away, which has decimated Iranian agriculture and morale.
Coalition forces are seen as heroes in the cities, and loathed in the countryside only slightly less than the Ayatollans for creating the conflict in the first place. Though they have won every engagement, the enemy’s ferocity routinely drags the battles and death-tolls to the edge of embarrassment.
Rashoun has proven himself an ungracious host. In one breath, he insists the US must protect their new ally. In the next, he condemns any American attempt to suggest policy as “Imperialist overreach” and any disregard for his own policy as “disrespecting Iranian culture.” He knows very well that the US cannot retreat until the old regime is crushed, or else risk failure in another attempt at nation-building.
It is better to be a US soldier in Iran than in Afghanistan. The fighting is easier, the people friendlier. But things are far from perfect. Rashoun’s policy of brow-beating has become so pervasive that US troops must now act as his unofficial army.
Enlisted women must wear burqas when off-duty, face masks when on. Certain neighborhoods are declared off-limits to Coalition soldiers, creating free zones for crime and corruption. American troops are regularly dispatched to secure oil fields and factories, not for the Iranian government, but for Rashoun himself.
To top it all off, the Iranian government has continued Ahmadinejad’s nuclear program, claiming they only seek nuclear power. That the Ryan government wants a friendly, nuclear-armed nation in the middle east is an open secret, and one that has strained US-Israeli relations near the breaking point.
As comedian Bill Maher said in 2018, “We went to Iraq to get the WMDs, and they didn’t have any. We went to Iran to stop them getting WMDs, and we helped them make some!”
There is no war in North Korea. Not officially. But since 2014, Special Forces from the United States, China, and Russia have been fighting in the shadows to control that country’s future.
In late 2014, Kim Jong-Un suffered a sudden brain embolism and lapsed into a coma. With no male heir, the nation fell into a sudden civil war, brought to an end when Chinese troops entered Pyonyang to keep the peace.
For weeks, North Korea was expected to announce its plans to join the People’s Republic of China. Then, the vast majority of US special forces troops withdrew from Afghanistan. Soon, several North Korean dignitaries who backed the Chinese absorption were found dead or mysteriously changed their minds.
It is now an open secret that much of America’s elite military strength is committed to securing an unspecified goal in North Korea. The why is completely unclear, though Presidents Biden and Ryan have both framed the war as an attempt to reunify the two Koreas as a single free, modern nation.
America’s primary enemy was China until 2016, when the Russian Federation sent in its terrifying Spetznas commandos, who have engaged both American and Chinese forces. North Korea marks the first time US troops have directly joined battle with Russians or Chinese. The gravity of the three great world powers finally in a shooting war, even a secret one, is lost on nobody.
In the shadows
The North Korean War has been the most successful, efficient, best-managed American military effort since World War 2. It is also the least popular American war since Vietnam.
Building off President Obama’s policy of fighting insurgents with vicious tactical strikes and elite soldiers, President Biden waged a shrewd and ruthless war against both China and its North Korean allies. Even against elite Chinese troops, outfits like the SEALs and Delta Force suffered laughably low casualty rates.
But Americans have chafed against this six-year-old executive peacekeeping initiative. Without a formal declaration of war (as doing so would directly provoke China and Russia) and a full commitment of personnel, this conflict reeks of government skullduggery, while depriving forces in Afghanistan and Iran of needed muscle.
American attitudes about troops vary according to their deployment. Like Vietnam vets of old, soldiers returning from North Korea face scorn and derision for “abandoning” the men and women in the middle east. People see elites as arrogant cowboys fighting a political war, while their brave children in the rank-and-file fight against now-traditional enemies in the Middle East.
And the war itself is brutal. Units battle room-to-room in apartment complexes, house-to-house in villages, in jungles and across fields under cover of night. In an unofficial war, soldiers involved are not protected under the Geneva Convention, and a man captured is worse than a man dead. Missions are assigned without any rhyme or reason, and not even the generals seem to know what these men are fighting for.
Why is North Korea so important that three major nations are willing to dance on the edge of world-ending war? To this day, no one knows, but the conflict is just as brutal as ever, with no sign of winding down anytime soon.