The Echoes of War: Examining the Cultural Impacts of the U.S. Occupation in Afghanistan

Before delving into this exploration of cultural influences, it is essential to acknowledge the sacrifices and experiences of the many veterans who have served their country. The theories and ideas presented in this essay are not intended to generalize or categorize all veterans’ experiences. Each individual’s experience is unique, colored by a myriad of personal and contextual factors. The aim here is to explore the potential macro-level cultural impacts of prolonged military engagement in foreign countries, without making definitive statements about the experiences of all veterans. This exploration is grounded in a deep respect for those who have served and an understanding of the complexities inherent in their experiences.


As the world grows more interconnected, the influences between cultures become increasingly complex and significant. This is not only true in the realm of global commerce or social exchange, but also in the arena of geopolitics and warfare. The United States’ prolonged military involvement in Afghanistan, which saw thousands of young Americans spending their formative years in a drastically different cultural environment, provides a case study worth examining. There are claims that the rise of right-wing authoritarianism and a shift in Evangelical culture in the U.S. could be linked to this overseas engagement. This essay aims to explore these potential cultural influences and their implications.

Historical Context

The U.S. involvement in Afghanistan began in response to the 9/11 attacks, marking the start of the longest war in American history. Over the course of two decades, thousands of troops were deployed to a country with a vastly different cultural landscape, shaped by tribal rule and religious fundamentalism. These interactions between the U.S. military and Afghan culture form the backdrop of our discussion.

Understanding Afghan Culture

Afghanistan is a country with a strong tribal culture, where tribal and religious laws often hold more sway than the central government. This tribal culture is characterized by strong loyalty to the tribe or clan, a stringent honor code, and a hierarchical structure that often leans towards authoritarianism. In addition, the prevalence of religious fundamentalism has shaped societal norms, influencing everything from education to governance. This cultural milieu is what many American troops found themselves immersed in during their deployment.

Impact on Soldiers

The impact of war on soldiers is profound and multifaceted, involving not only physical injuries but also psychological and cultural transformations. Living in a different cultural environment can reshape worldviews, as soldiers adapt to the local norms and customs. Moreover, the experience of conflict can lead to a shift in perspectives, often resulting in a more authoritarian outlook as a means of establishing order in chaotic circumstances. This adaptation to the local culture and war-induced shifts in perspective could potentially have long-lasting effects on returning soldiers.

Homecoming and Cultural Transmission

Upon their return, soldiers often bring back more than just physical reminders of their time abroad. The experiences, attitudes, and ideologies shaped during their deployment can seep into their interactions with family, friends, and the broader community. This subtle transmission of ideas can, over time, influence local culture, leading to shifts in societal norms and political leanings.

The Rise of Authoritarianism

Recent years have seen a noticeable rise in right-wing authoritarianism within the United States, particularly within the Republican party and Evangelical culture. This shift, characterized by an emphasis on strict obedience to authority and a rejection of perceived threats to traditional norms, bears striking resemblances to the tribal culture witnessed in Afghanistan. While it’s not definitive, it is worth considering that the cultural impacts of the Afghanistan war might have contributed to this shift.

Historical Precedence

Historically, military occupations have often resulted in cultural exchange. Consider the American occupation of Japan post-World War II, which led to a Western influence on Japanese society and vice versa. Thus, the idea that American soldiers could have been influenced by Afghan culture and have brought that influence back home is not without precedence.


As we approach the 2024 elections, with democracy seemingly hanging in the balance, understanding the various influences shaping American society is crucial. The impact of the Afghanistan war extends beyond the realm of foreign policy, potentially influencing domestic culture and politics. Although the exact degree of this influence is hard to measure, the cultural echoes of this prolonged military engagement warrant careful consideration. As we continue to navigate the ripple effects of these complex cultural interactions, it becomes increasingly important to scrutinize the state of democracy.

The current state of U.S. democracy exhibits both strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, the country continues to have a vibrant political system, a strong rule-of-law tradition, and robust freedoms of expression and religious belief. However, these features are increasingly being challenged. Over recent years, democratic institutions have suffered erosion, reflected in rising political polarization and extremism, partisan pressure on the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, harmful policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence​1​.

As the country navigates these complex dynamics, understanding the multifaceted influences on its culture and politics, such as the potential impacts of the Afghanistan war, becomes ever more crucial. The potential ripple effects of war are not only physical and psychological but also cultural, seeping into the fabric of society in subtle yet profound ways. As we grapple with the challenges of our time, this lesson from history serves as a reminder of the intricate interplay of local and global forces shaping our shared future.

This essay was developed with the assistance of OpenAI’s language model, ChatGPT. While the original idea was mine, the structure, research, and drafting of the essay were significantly aided by this AI tool.

Sarah Palin, the actor who forgets her lines

palin sputnik moment
palin sputnik moment

If we could forget about the politics and see it purely as theatre, then Sarah Palin’s problem becomes obvious.

She forgets her lines.

She needs more rehearsal.

It seems obvious that she memorizes answers to certain questions and then freezes up and gets lost.  But it’s live, so she has no choice but to blast through to the end.

I’m sure she does much better in rehearsal.

I can almost picture it.  Bristol holds the script.  Our Tea Party hero starts.  She gets off to a good start.  Slides in a zinger.  And then… she forgets.  You can’t hold it against her.  She’s had very little time with the script.

She asks for help.


“Sputnik,” says the daughter.

“Sputnik,” says the former governor.  “WFT.”

“WTF, Mom.”

And so it goes.

Alas, the task calls for improv, and this is not her forté.

When the camera finally rolls, with no book in hand (unless it’s on her hand), she starts out fine.  She looks great.  And then forgets a line.  She panics, cobbles together a few random keywords from the script, and then, after a moment, detours into some familiar territory.  Anything.  Pulling it together for a strong, coherent finish (on a completely different subject).

Larry King, Piers Morgan, and Keith Olbermann

larry kingPiers MorganKeith Olbermann

Despite the fact that his ratings were in decline, I always liked Larry King.

In fact, back in the day, when he did the radio show, I called twice.

Once, I asked Bud Collins a question about Björn Borg.

I wanted to know why Collins thought Borg never won the U.S. Open, and if he thought the problem was the cold reception he got from American spectators in New York.

Collins told me that my interpretation was off the mark.  They liked Borg fine in New York, he said.  But they adored John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.

Looking back, the answer to my question is obvious.  Why didn’t Borg ever win the U.S. Open?  Because he got beat.

Another time, I called Larry’s radio show and asked Scott Meredith, the literary agent, a question about publishing.  This was a long time ago and I can’t remember the silly question I probably asked.

Both times, when Larry said “Salisbury, North Carolina, hello!” I hesitated for a split second and got reprimanded for it.

“Go ahead!” he said impatiently.  “What’s your question!”

I remember one time somebody asked Larry King (on radio), who in all of history he would most like to interview.

“Jesus Christ,” he said.

“What would you ask?” the person said (I don’t remember who this person was; it’s been many years).

King said that he did not prepare a list of questions.  He just started with one and then went from there.

“The obvious question to start with would be ‘Are you the son of God?'” he said.

I wasn’t an addict who watched the show every night — by no means.  Like many of us, I spend more time on the computer these days than watching TV.  It’s more productive.

But I was a fan, for sure.  I spent many evenings watching Larry King Live.  When both of my parents were alive and well and in their home (three blocks from mine), I often checked in on them and visited around that time.  We watched together.

When my father’s health was in decline, with my mother working many nights, I often showed up at 9pm.  The last night of my father’s life, I was at Port City Java, right at closing time.  He called and told me that Jon Stewart was to be the guest on Larry King.  He knew I was a Jon Stewart fan.  I drove right over and we watched the show. Then we switched to basketball.  Then my mom arrived from work and we all visited for awhile.

I’ve been a little disappointed with Larry King’s replacement.  I don’t dislike Piers Morgan.  (I don’t dislike anybody on TV; I don’t know them).  But I watched the show for a few minutes and did not find his interviewing style to be…highly captivating.

And now Keith Olbermann is gone from MSNBC.

If CNN could do a redo, would Keith Olbermann be the perfect replacement for Larry King?

Olbermann and King are almost opposite in style.

  • King is neutral.  He his there to learn, not judge.
  • Olbermann is not neutral.  He’s there to judge.
  • King never inserts his own views.  Olbermann always inserts his own views.
  • King asks a lot of questions.  Olbermann doesn’t ask many.  He basically  reports the liberal perspective.

But I was a big fan of Keith Olbermann and will miss the opportunity to check in, on occasion, and see what he’s ranting about.

While the solution to 9pm on CNN is obvious to me, there’s no chance that will happen.  Olbermann will probably end up on Oprah’s network, or somewhere else on cable.

Obama's Tucson speech

If a book or story or movie or speech moves me to tears, I stop and ask myself:  is it that good, or could I be depressed?

Last night, the memorial service in Tucson moved me to tears.  Twice.  And I’m not depressed.

The first time was during the opening prayer, when Dr. Carlos Gonzalez asked God to let us bless many people and things, including:

“the families of those that have lost their loved ones… the family of those that are healing…those people that are here today… those that are outside in greater Tucson, in Arizona and in our country… our fellow creatures. Those that stand. Those that blow in the wind. Those that are tall and stately. Those that crawl on the earth. Those that slither on the earth. Those that live under the earth…”

But it was this line, dropped in among the many, that, for some reason, hit me hard with emotion:

“Oh, Creator — if I may, my son is in Afghanistan. A little blessing to him, too.”

This really got me, the personal prayer, so meaningful to him — and so out of place among the other collective, communal blessings.

Many bloggers and talkers have questioned his rambling, non-Judeo-Christian prayer.  Brit Hume on Fox said it was “most peculiar.”

I found it quite moving and refreshing.

I was moved by Obama’s entire speech because he was so much The President.  Barack Obama inspired many millions of us to work quite hard to help him get elected, only to watch his opponents (many of whom did not lift a finger to canvass their neighborhoods for McCain-Palin in 2008) relentlessly whine about the election’s result and try to disqualify him for the office he rightfully holds.

Last night, Obama made things quite clear.  The entire speech was a much needed symphony of healing.

But with all the lyrical, powerful passages, including the plea to make America as good as 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green imagined it to be, it was this simple line that got me:

“And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and first responders who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt. We are grateful to them.”

Why, with so much poetry, did this simple statement punch my buttons?

I don’t know.  Experience creates memories that become mysteries of our experience; it’s not always possible to explain.

Obama’s gratitude reminded me of one of my favorite passages in literature, from Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. She asks what a martian might think if he came to Earth and happened to land at the entrance to the emergency room, seeing all the people rushing to help someone in need.

“‘Why,’ he’d say, ‘what a helpful planet, what kind and helpful creatures.’ He’d never guess we’re not always that way; that we had to, oh, put aside our natural selves to do it. ‘What a helpful race of beings,’ a Martian would say.  Don’t you think so?'”

I well remember listening to Reagan’s Oval Office address in 1986, after explosion of the The Challenger.  Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, was aboard.  I was a teacher then, at West Rowan Middle School, where I watched The Challenger and crew and teacher burst into flames along with roomful of children.

That night I watched Reagan’s address with my father.  Dad was a good, liberal Democrat who, without an ounce of animus, completely disagreed with Reagan’s conservative stand.  As was the custom back then, he respected the person and the office.

It seems to me that politics was not so much a competitive sport in those days, but a way of looking at the world.  An education in civics.  History in the making.  When Nixon resigned, before the days of VCRs, I remember my father and I setting up a reel-to-reel tape recorder and putting it in front of the TV so we could tape the audio.

My father tried to see humor in almost everything.

After Reagan’s Challenger speech, Dad said “You know, he would have been great during World War II.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt was his reference point for what a President could do and be.

These days, Obama gets criticized for “just giving speeches” with a “bunch of rhetoric.”

For my father, who quit Columbia University the day after Pearl Harbor in order to join the United States Air Force, that was a primary part of a President’s job:  giving speeches.  Displaying a mastery of rhetoric.  Using words to lead a nation.

I remember being in the car with my father one night in March of 1968 when he told me to stop talking and be quiet so we could listen to the President.  Lyndon Johnson was announcing that he would not seek reelection.  My mother was a journalist who reminded us that today’s news is tomorrow’s history.  These were moments which required our attention.

And yet, this morning, I saw friends on Facebook express their gratitude for the President’s speech, only to be answered by those who said he was chastising his liberal base.  One person wrote that it was just a crazy person in a grocery store — something that happens every day — and because a member of Congress was involved, Obama…

Such bull.

Obama could thank God for the sunshine and Fox News would say that he’s not a Christian because he’s worshipping the planets (I know, the sun is a star, not a planet; it doesn’t matter).

Arizona has been through a tough time with the politics of racial profiling.  Many of us in North Carolina lived with Jessee Helms for many years; we know how it feels.

And now this.

If ever a place hungered for a speech, it was Tucson last night.

And they got one.

This is just to say that Obama may have won reelection last night.  Not because he played a political move, but because it’s hard to beat an incumbent — and last night it was clear to both sides that he fully embodies the office he holds.

Other moments that transformed presidencies:

Bill Clinton’s Oklahoma City Speech

George W. Bush’s Bullhorn Speech

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Senator Hagan, I'm disappointed in your vote

I’m disappointed in our U.S. Senator from North Carolina — Kay Hagan.

Senator Kay Hagan
Senator Kay Hagan

She voted with Republicans to keep the DREAM Act from getting a vote in the Senate, which kills the bill for now.

Even though 55 Senators wanted a vote and would have passed it, a majority is not enough these days.  The filibuster is the norm rather than the exception.

Senator Orin Hatch
Senator Orin Hatch

Even Utah Senator Orin Hatch, who introduced the bill, voted against letting it come to the floor for a vote.

Of course, we all know that expecting integrity from a U.S. Senator, these days, is like looking for a healthy vegetable in a fast food burger.

I don’t have a lot of integrity on this issue myself.  I never emailed my Senator before the vote — and I had every opportunity to do so.  And here I am, blogging about it afterward, when it’s really too late.

It might be a few years until it gets another chance.  The argument against it is that it should be part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Between now and the day it passes, sometime in the future, many good students will be denied the scholarships and fellowships they need to become educated, productive members of society.  They will be denied the opportunity to serve in the military.  And they will be denied the chance to work toward citizenship.

They probably won’t start many businesses, hire people, and buy houses.  That’s the flip side.  The downside.

Since 9/11, the country has become suspicious of immigrants.

The global economy — with much of our manufacturing base gone to overseas lands — has also created resentment of those not born in the U.S.A.

This suspicion and resentment has not done our economy any favors.

Who are the hardest workers?  Immigrants.

Who most wants to live the American Dream, start a business, hire people? An immigrant.

What causes the housing market to grow?  Population growth.

What does our country need now?  New business, hiring, a rebound in the housing sector.

This is not a well-informed blog.  I never took a course in economics — and I don’t pretend to know the facts and figures to back up my argument.

But I’m pretty sure that immigration is part of the solution to our countries economic problems, not the cause.

Senator Hagan, I think I understand you’re vote.  You’re afraid that the anti-immigrant sentiment will hurt you in the next election.  I can’t think of any other reason why you would block the DREAM Act.

And, Senator, I’m disappointed in you.

Poll: Which Palin is funnier?

[poll id=”15″]

Funny Palins
Two Funny Palins: Michael and Sarah

Who is funnier, Michael Palin or Sarah Palin?  They aren’t related.

Both of them are great entertainers.  Personally, I would have to give Michael the nod, since he did such groundbreaking work with Monty Python, has had such a long, distinguished career, and produced an enormous body of funny work.

But Sarah’s ascension to the heights of politics and TV and humor is also groundbreaking.  She may be catching up…

Who’s your pick?

Sarah Palin, grasping for reality…

Last night, I visited my Mom in her room at Carillon.  She was sleeping (which is what she does most of the time these days) so it was a chance to watch a little TV.

Television, of course, is mostly a waste of time.  But, given the circumstances, it seemed like a pretty good thing to do.  It was too dark in the room to read.  The power supply on my laptop is on the blink (quite literally, in fact; the light is blinking, and not charging the battery).  It’s not the appropriate time and place for meditation.  And I wanted to sit awhile.

As long as I was watching, I decided to catch the newest reality show — Sarah’s Palin’s Alaska.

I’m sure the blogs are full of commentary by now, but this is my virgin impression — before searching the web to find out what I really think.

I might have missed the good part, because I only saw the last twenty minutes or so, but…

Why are we this fascinated?  Are we this fascinated?

sarah palin
sarah palin climbing

In fact, we are.  I check the stats on my blog, and those entries that mention Sarah Palin get more search traffic than anything else — by far.

John F. Kennedy, a war hero who, they say, had a hole in his back the size of a fist, polished his resumé for a Presidential campaign by publishing Profiles in Courage.

Barack Obama, a kid “with a funny name,” raised by a single parent — and a brilliant student — paid off his college loans by publishing Dreams from my Father (a great book; I listened to the audio, read by the author/President, which won a Grammy).

Sarah Palin wrote a book too, Going Rogue — but here she was, climbing a rock, grasping for a grip, engaged in an epic struggle for sure footing, wearing a mic and talking about how hard it was.

She’s the new kind of American hero.  The realty show star.  All personality and celebrity.  Great TV material for a campaign.  But President?  The fact that she has any support at all for this is phenomenal.  And fascinating.

To her credit, it was an athletic accomplishment.  But if it had been almost anybody else, it would have been way too boring too watch.  In this case, it might be ingenious marketing.  After all, whether she runs for President or not, she’s made about $20 million this year.

Putting aside the demonetization that’s so persistent from political opposition, Kennedy and Obama are real heroes who can inspire children with their remarkable lives and rhetoric and achievement.

My mom is grasping to life.  The details of her life also contain elements of remarkable heroism.

In fact, when you scratch the surface, it’s apparent that many people are heroes.  They’re all around us.  Everywhere.

Sarah Palin is a hero also (a working woman, raising five children — like my mom).  I admire the way she grasps and climbs.

But I’m not so sure, at this point, if she’s climbing the right rock.

50 years ago today

Fifty years ago today, as the country pulled an all-nighter, waiting to see who would be the next President (Kennedy or Nixon), a young couple pulled an all nighter also, waiting to meet their new daughter (Alicia).

Alicia, my wife, was born, in California, as the votes were being counted.

It was an unbelievably close election — in the country, and in California.

Legend has it that while Cristalle labored in the delivery room, the doctor spent much of his time in the waiting room, with Richard, Alicia’s father, watching returns come in.

What a historic day.  Some of us are extremely fortunate, and grateful for it.

Happy birthday, Alicia.

It's the social networking, stupid.

Before the election, the Republicans talked “jobs jobs jobs.”

No word on jobs, since the election.


Now they’re talking “health care repeal, health care repeal, health care repeal.”

I guess they want to stop it before it starts — afraid that millions of people might prefer having a doctor instead of going to the ER for every little thing.

They’re also talking about tax cuts.

And deficit reduction.

Tax cuts and deficit reduction just don’t go together.  Clinton erased the deficit and created a surplus by raising taxes AND cutting the budget.

Of course they do want spending cuts (although they won’t say what spending they want to cut).

A couple more thoughts:

The economy will improve in 2011.

Why do the new members of Congress talk like they’ve got all the power? Why do they talk like they can get things done without compromise? According to Mr. Basinger, my ninth grade civics teacher, a bill cannot become a law unless it’s passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.

Can Obama get things done without compromise?  That is, can the President do things without passing legislation?

Yes — a hell of a lot.  And he will.

The Republicans didn’t get the mandate they think they got.  Why not?

It’s the social networking, stupid.

With online networking, messages can spread very quickly.

YouTube has only been around five years.

Facebook has been open to the public less than five years.

The past election was a seismic shift in the American political spectrum.

Two years after the previous seismic shift.

And we’ll probably have another one in 2012.  And another after that.

The days of ten and twenty and thirty year political cycles is over.

Things go fast now.

I think many of the members of Congress think they’re still operating under the old media system, where money, gridlock, and time is a valid strategy.

Money will become less important.  Gridlock will get them voted out.  They don’t have as much time as they think.

Obama seems to understand this.

The last Congress got a lot done.

It might be wise for the newbies in Congress to realize that political lives these days are short — and get some work done with the time they’ve got.

Just my opinion.