As former Peace Corps teachers in Herat during the late ’60s, Afghanistan’s golden years, my wife and I always read anything about that country with great interest. Robert D. Kaplan’s “Man Versus Afghanistan” (April Atlantic) lays bare the eternal dilemma of maintaining peace with war. In a fragmented society where each valley has its own government, killing off the weeds of violent religious extremism while giving the seedlings of moderation a chance to grow is a tremendously complicated task for our military. As much as war is a horror, this is the right place to make a stand. The trick will be to get the Afghan tribes to own the fight for regional stability. If the struggle against extremism is seen as a foreign affair, it will fail. The Afghans by nature are not an extremist lot and, I believe, will respond if they see their lives improving.
Ford City, Pa.
Robert D. Kaplan states as a matter of fact that liberal internationalists opposed intervention in Iraq “correctly, as it turned out.” American, British, and European soldiers lost their lives in the cause of that intervention, which overthrew a dictator, undid a brutal police state, and introduced an experiment in freedom and democracy in the heart of Arab Islam. That experiment may well bear fruit for the Middle East and the world for generations to come. Kaplan is entitled to his opinion, of course, but some modesty and respect in stating it about the Iraq War would be fitting.
Roger T. Baker
New Orleans, La.
Robert D. Kaplan replies:
I desperately hope Roger Baker is proved right about Iraq. I supported the war early on—as I alluded to in the piece—and have suffered remorse as a result. If Iraqi democracy proves durable, and Iran, too, evolves politically, partly as a consequence, Baker’s letter may hold up.
I’m glad to see Michael Kinsley (“My Inflation Nightmare,” April Atlantic) raising the issue of the unavoidable connection between budget deficits and inflation. Another connection is also rarely dealt with by economists or the press: the connection between budget deficits, inflation, and massive military spending. It cannot be just coincidence that hyperinflationary pressures so regularly follow, about a decade later, periods of massive military spending, whether the wars be hot or cold. This pattern is seen across nations and across centuries.
Jonathan Rauch’s article about caring for an elderly parent (“Letting Go of My Father,” April Atlantic) was both important and painfully familiar. My husband (an only child) has faced some of the same challenges, while caring for his late father and now for his 85-year-old mother, who must leave her assisted-living facility because we can no longer afford it. Although Mr. Rauch faced a heart-wrenching situation, it sounds like he also had some significant advantages that our family and many others do not: a parent who had a well-paying profession, and thus the wherewithal to pay for support services; a spare bedroom; siblings to help with decisions and perhaps share costs; and no children to raise, educate, and care for. With the demand for subsidized elderly housing and support services far outstripping the supply, we find ourselves consumed by worry, financial pressures, and the knowledge that no matter what we choose to do, the outcome will not be a good one for any of us.
Jonathan Rauch gave me a completely different perspective on the years I managed my father’s care. There is not one episode, experience, or feeling that Rauch described that I did not encounter. The feelings of inadequacy, despair, and resentment drove me to an almost-breakdown. It was not until a friend saw my suffering and said “You can handle this” that I found the courage and willpower to forge ahead. I took away my father’s driver’s license, put him in assisted living, and found a loving caregiver. He was angry with me to the end because his dementia would not let him understand. Since he passed, three years ago, I always felt I had not done a perfect enough job—otherwise he would have been grateful. After reading this article, I now feel I am a survivor of an almost impossible situation and that I in fact did a very good job, given what I had to work with.