'We Are Inside the Fire': An Oral History of the War in AfghanistanBreaking News
tags: Afghanistan, oral history, War in Afghanistan, endless war
For the Afghan people, the last 18 years of war have taken an intimate toll. Living in a place where violence and death are as routine as commuting to work every morning, where indescribable loss transpires over and over and over again without reprieve, can slowly erode the spirit. As my colleague Mujib Mashal recently observed, Afghans are being blown up, shot by mistake, shot intentionally, executed or smothered by the rubble of bombed structures so frequently and their remains cleaned away so quickly that it sometimes seems as if they never existed at all.
In the contest for public perception, dead men, women and children can become no more than tally markers in casualty tolls that are regularly exaggerated or played down, depending on which side is counting. Were five people killed in the crossfire from that firefight, or seven? Were there 10 Taliban members in that now-destroyed building, or 10 civilians? With American military planners still insisting that there can be a satisfying end, Afghan officials trying to hold on to government jobs and Taliban commanders intent on instilling fear, human losses can feel like little more than numbers to be manipulated.
But beyond each tally is a family, a home, a past and, until each civilian victim’s last breath, perhaps some glimpse of hope. In July and August, the New York Times reporters Fahim Abed and Fatima Faizi traveled to 10 provinces around Afghanistan, collecting oral histories from dozens of Afghans who were watching as negotiations between the United States and Taliban leaders still teased at the possibility of peace in the near future. Some of the people Abed and Faizi met would not allow themselves to envision Afghanistan without war, while others felt that the weight of loss and the years of fighting had left both sides so tired that a truce was inevitable — because little else remained. What follows is the history of the 18 years of war that began on Oct. 7, 2001, as endured by the Afghan people whose lives — and losses — are now defined by it. —Lauren Katzenberg
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