January 31, 2011

Zapata ’13 Recalls Pains Of War in Afghanistan

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Rodrigo Zapata ’13 spoke about his wartime deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan at a forum Monday evening entitled “One Decade Later: NATO’s Commitment to Afghanistan.”  ­

“I lost count of the number of times I almost died there,” Zapata said.

Hosted by the Cornell International Affairs Review, the event featured a debate in response to the Obama administration’s continuation of the war in Afghanistan between proponents and opponents of the war.

More than 50 students packed the Guerlac Room in the A.D. White House to hear Zapata’s talk and the discussion with Prof. Ronald Herring, government, and Prof. Emeritus Judith Reppy, science and technology studies.

Wearing slacks and a jacket, Zapata recounted his military service, in which he spent 14 months in Afghanistan and nine months in Iraq. Zapata was stationed in Kandahar, a province that abuts the Pakistani border.

“I have a couple of friends who died there,” Zapata said. “I hope they’re somewhere better. You realize how short life is.”

To honor their memory, Zapata speaks out against opposition the war in Afghanistan because “we can’t just give up.”

He said that many Americans have a “fast-food” mentality in which they demand immediate gratification, or victory.

Zapata argued for an unspecified time commitment for American troops stationed in Afghanistan, a sharp contrast with other panel members.

Herring said that “by Rodrigo’s logic, we should be in Somalia and Yemen and Sudan” — in other words, occupying all other countries that pose a potential threat to the United States.

The “net effect” of America’s invasion was a “destabilized and more dangerous Afghanistan” and the “militarization and talibanization” of its neighbor, Pakistan, Herring said.

Herring, who has written editorials opposing the war in Afghanistan, said that he was a “pariah on campus” because the op-eds were “universally condemned.”

Despite the criticism, Herring maintained that “it was a little crazy to put soldiers [in Afghanistan] in the first place.”

He reiterated former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s question, ‘“Are we creating more terrorists than we’re killing?’” Since Pentagon policymakers cannot answer that question, Herring said “people are getting killed for no reason.”

Thus, if the U.S. were to withdraw from Afghanistan, “the same thing would happen if we stayed there, since [Prime Minister] Karzai will need to negotiate with the Taliban regardless.”

Reppy gave scholarly responses as she laid out historical information on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s involvement.

According to Reppy, the U.S. told European nations that “they would be mopping up” after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

Reppy said the American government was disseminating “hype” to their alliance partners.

Reppy asserted that NATO has outlived its purpose since the end of the Cold War, when the organization could have declared “mission accomplished” and dissolved.

NATO was in Afghanistan “due to a bureaucratic need to continue its mission,” as the war is merely “a means to continue the transformation of the alliance,” Reppy said.

The three panel members concentrated on different aspects of the war, with Herring and Reppy giving a more academic outlook and Zapata presenting the personal face of war.

“Even though I’ve experienced some of the worst things the world has to offer, I still believe in humanity,” Zapata said.

Many audience members appeared captivated with the personal tales and the debate on the war.

“I thought that [Herring] was certainly controversial since some of the views were unconventional. It provided another insight into the war even though I may not agree with him,” Jed Entin ’14 said.

Zapata concluded with a sense of relief that his military service was behind him.

“Four years ago I was in Baghdad dodging bullets, and today I’m walking in the Arts Quad,” he said.

Original Author: Max Schindler