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Commentary: Afghanistan and Iwo Jima, reminders of what freedom costs

By Wes Mader Community Columnist

The spectacle in Kabul, Afghanistan is painful to watch from either side of the political aisle. In spite of President Biden’s effort to shift some responsibility to former President Trump, and Trump’s pronouncement that it wouldn’t have happened if he were still president, the simple fact is that those in uniform often pay with their lives for the mistakes of their leaders.

It’s noteworthy to mention that while American sons and daughters were fighting in Kabul to protect American and Afghan civilians from terrorist attacks, members of Congress were home on recess. The vice president was touring Asia, which is a long way from the illegal immigration crisis on our southern border, which she was assigned to address by the president. The president, appearing to be somewhat alone and isolated, has offered comments about the situation that I presume were read from a teleprompter, while press secretary Jen Psaki offered accolades on the administration’s accomplishments.

While I won’t attempt to critique the motivation of our nation’s commander-in-chief, it seems to me that the decision to withdraw all support from Afghanistan’s military was received by the Taliban as an invitation from the U.S. government, for them to take over. We should not forget that it was America’s military that restored democracy to Afghanistan by removing the Taliban 20 years ago, and by their presence have maintained that democracy until our president’s recent decision that surrendered the country and its citizens, back to the Taliban.

Without question, the Afghan democracy was fragile at best, as any young democracy would be. However, its foundation for democracy was growing stronger as its younger generation was tasting freedom for the first time, and young women were becoming contributors to society instead of the possessions of radical Islamists. Reports last week of teenagers trying to escape the Taliban and falling from the landing gears of a U.S. evacuation aircraft, possibly provide a preview of what’s in the future for Afghans.

It is my hope that the recently unveiled mural in downtown Prior Lake (“Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima”) will serve as a daily reminder of the personal sacrifice made by our men and women in uniform, in the past and the present, as events in Afghanistan so starkly illustrate. It’s worth reminding ourselves that about 300,000 of America’s sons and daughters were sacrificed on the fields of battle to free Europe from becoming Hitler’s dream of a continent free of Jews and other ethnic minorities, and to stop the imperialistic leadership of Japan from gaining dominance over all of Asia.

There were 7,000 Americans killed and another 20,000 wounded on the tiny island of Iwo Jima during WWII, and it was America that stayed the course in Japan after WWII, helping to rebuild the country into a prosperous peace-loving nation. Our military is still there to help protect Japan from any would-be enemy that would take away their freedom.

As Prior Lake residents scan the mural, I hope they will be reminded that the whole island of Iwo Jima is only about half the size of our City of Prior Lake, that the number of U.S. casualties in that battle (wounded and killed) was about equal to today’s total Prior Lake population, and that there were almost 20,000 Japanese soldiers also killed. Can anyone even comprehend the human carnage that occurred there, or the courage of those who bore the brunt of the battle on both sides? I can’t.

The picture of the flag raising has always had special meaning for me, since navy Corpsman John Bradley (a friend of our family in my hometown) was reported by the U.S. military for about 70 years as being one of the flag raisers in the picture. More recently it was reported that Bradley was instead, one of those who raised the first flag on Mt. Surabachi (along with Charles Lindberg from Richfield), before the second flag raising was photographed. In any event, those who crawled and fought their way from the sands on the beaches to the heights of Surabachi to plant either flag, should never be forgotten.

For those who are “woke” and can only find injustice and discrimination in America, I would suggest they examine the goodness of America that has welcomed legal immigrants from throughout the world without regard to race or religion, probably making America the most diverse nation on the planet. That can’t be all bad.

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.

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