A Former Peace Corps Volunteer Responds to News from Afghanistan

Is cultural relativism helping or hurting?

Facebook friend David was talking about how great it is to be a Marine. David uses present tense, even though it's been years since he's been in uniform. There is no such thing as an ex-Marine. Semper fi.

"I understand," I said. "I served, too."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yup. I was a Peace Corps volunteer."

Though David lived in Hawaii, and I in New Jersey, I could just about hear him spit his coffee onto the computer screen.

"Wait one minute," I said, "before you mock me."

I explained. My dad was, as his men assessed him, "The best damn first sergeant in the Pacific theater." I read letters he wrote home when he was in combat, fearing that every creak of bamboo swaying in the night might be advancing Japanese. I respect combat soldiers' sacrifice. But according to one source, "Only 10% of the entire military force engage in battle." My brother served in the Army in Vietnam. "I was shot at but I never shot anyone." He was an agricultural advisor.

Like my brother, though I never shot anyone, I was shot at. I came close to dying three times. In the Central African Republic, or CAR, I lived through the violent siege of a city. At one point I had to venture out and a group of uniformed men, armed with automatic weapons and riding motorcycles, attempted to kidnap me. I executed self-defense moves I had learned on the streets of my hometown, and made it out. A group of my friends were not so lucky. They were held for ransom. Several aid workers were killed in the terrorist bombing of a movie theater, a theater I visited every time I made it to the capital city. My friends were beaten, raped, and stabbed. In Nepal I was in the final stages of hypothermia when my trekking bivouac succumbed to heavy monsoon rains. Eric, a fellow volunteer, stuffed me into his sleeping bag and saved my life. Later a bacterial infection drove my temperature up to 105 degrees and exploded my leg to twice its size. My skin turned to red cellophane. This all five days walk from the nearest road, with no telephone, telegraph, running water, or medical care. I attribute my survival to a miracle from God. A fellow volunteer fell from a mountain trail to his death within hours of my wishing him farewell.

It's not just that I dodged bullets and the Grim Reaper that prompted me to tell David that I share some of his Marine worldview. My dad reserved a special place in his heart for Filipinos and the tribesmen of New Guinea. "Best people I ever met." I've got distant lands lodged in my heart, too.

I have been in emotional turmoil watching news coverage of Afghanistan. I am feeling the feelings that former US military personnel like Matt Zeller and Timothy Kudo are describing in media interviews, the shock, the outrage, the tears, the impotence, the resignation, the apprehension, the suppressed urge to shout.

The first thing that hits me in any attempt to talk about my Peace Corps experience is that I don't talk about my Peace Corps experience. In Nepal, I told a favorite student to have a good weekend. It was Friday afternoon. He wasn't in class Monday. Dead. Diarrhea. It was spring, you see. Where I lived there were no outhouses. People defecated randomly. Monsoon rains wash all that human waste into water sources. And there was the market woman in the Central African Republic whose babies kept dying from scabies. I had to move heaven and earth to acquire a scabicidal lotion, one I could purchase easily at any drug store in the US. Her newborn survived, at least as long as I was in the village. How do you explain such poverty to Americans? That everyone you knew wore the exact same clothes every day, because they had no other clothes to change into. That once I was so hungry that so I collected and ate wild plants.

But there's more. We were trained not to talk. I only realized this decades later. The trigger was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's criticism of the military as a hotbed of sexual harassment. I thought, "Oh, yeah? What about Peace Corps?" and I found myself thinking about things I knew I wasn't supposed to think about.

A lovely volunteer, very thin, soft-spoken and shy, was raped in her home by a man who came in through her window at night. Thinking of her assault frightened me. I jerry-rigged bicycle locks to hold windows closed; I pushed heavy furniture against doors. Higher ups informed the rape victim not to talk about the assault. If she did, they told her, they would damage her professionally and economically.

Google "Peace Corps rape." CBS reports, "A culture of victim-blaming goes back years … One volunteer wrote that in reporting an assault, 'I made myself a target.'" "Sexual assaults rise as the Peace Corps fails its volunteers," reports USA Today. "I have two daughters now and I would never, ever let them join the Peace Corps," ABC quotes one former volunteer. A Peace Corps "counselor" demanded that a rape victim who served in Mali consider whether or not her choice in footwear prompted the rape, reports The Guardian. That Peace Corps counselor advised the rape victim that "cultural norms in west Africa probably meant that her attacker didn't know he was doing anything wrong."

Peace Corps' policy of "blame the victim" in rape cases is familiar to me. After I managed to beat off the armed men trying to kidnap me, I traveled to meet with my superiors. They lived behind a ten-foot high cement wall topped with broken glass; they had 24-hour guards. The bruises from the attack were still visible; purple blooms on my neck recoded where the kidnappers had attempted to strangle me. My bosses told me that my "complaints" proved that I was not idealistic enough, not macho enough, to be a PCV.

And it wasn't just "host country nationals" who threatened volunteers. I was sexually harassed by two powerful men in Peace Corps. In one instance, I shared details with my fellow female volunteers. Every woman I spoke to had been sexually harassed by the same powerful man!  

"I have to! If I returned to Queens without having sex with African women, my friends would never let me live it down." A male PCV explained to me his rationale for using village prostitutes. He paid them with cloth for a "pagne" or sarong. We told this joke. A village chief called in the local Peace Corps volunteer and pointed out the window at obviously mixed-race children. The PCV pointed at white goats with black spots. "You don't mention my bastards and I won't mention yours." Ha, ha, ha. We didn't talk about the obvious racism of that joke. We didn't talk about the low status of women in Africa, a low status Peace Corps men were happy to capitalize on, and not begin to challenge. Those unpleasant facts went against the master narrative.

There was plenty more we weren't supposed to see, or hear, or discuss. A group of volunteers had been recruited to introduce aquaculture, so that villagers could farm their own fish, and increase their protein intake. These volunteers were never issued fish stocks. They spent the better part of their time traveling around the country, attending party after party. 

Where did the fish supplies go? Corruption, another topic we were not supposed to mention. Accounts, as fabulous as fairy tales, circulated of the corruption of people like CAR's "emperor," Jean Bedel Bokassa, who profited from his country's diamonds and uranium, and the Nepali royal family – headed by a man Hindus worshipped as a god-king – that had allegedly been trafficking heroin since the 1960s.  

One day students marched to school armed with machetes. They wanted to kill anyone affiliated with the corrupt government. Tanks arrived, in this village with no paved roads, no electricity, no running water, and the children's revolution was nipped in the bud. In Nepal, school closed for at least a week so that everyone could travel, on foot, to a nearby village. The Hindu god Vishnu had arrived there in the form of a snake and was sleeping with a little girl. Our school staff wanted to receive darshan from witnessing this miracle. One academic year I taught all of thirty days.

The schools that never ran. The teachers that never taught. The supplies that never arrived. The broken promises. One day in Nepal I was walking along a plateau where I often saw lammergeier, a high-altitude vulture that eats only bones. A child ran up beside me with some urgency. "Tapaiko sati," "Your friend," he began, "is in the hospital."

My friend? I was the only American here. And there's a hospital?

"Take me," I said. He did.

I found a fellow Peace Corps volunteer lying on a plastic hammock with a hole cut in the bottom. Her buttocks descended through the hole. There was a bucket under her; her bodily waste flowed into the bucket. Her skin was the color of Army camo. She was dying of dysentery. The villagers at her post had carried her there on a door removed from its hinges. The "hospital" was little more than a bare room.

I found the one phone in the village. It was in the office of a "thulo manchee," or "big man." I told him that a woman was dying and I needed to call Kathmandu. Peace Corps promises its volunteers a helicopter to airlift them to safety if they are in extremis. The thulo manchee hemmed and hawed and made me wait hours. Now, decades later, it occurs to me. Was he waiting for a bribe? That never occurred to me at the time. I just kept panicking, and calculating. Should I be friendly, or superior, or pleading? After hours of sick games, I bluffed and threatened retaliation. He finally let me use the phone. Peace Corps refused to send a helicopter. They sent a Jeep. The girl was in incredible pain. The Jeep took hours, over bumpy, unpaved mountain roads, to reach Kathmandu and an international flight to months of medical rehabilitation. So they lied about the helicopter.

In Africa I lived in a house built by the French. There were light switches on all the walls; faucets and sinks in the kitchen and bathroom. There was no electricity and no running water in this house, or, as far as I know, anywhere much beyond the capital city. Older vols told me of wrecked machinery rusting in the bush. No one could operate them. The French had arrived, had imported bits of Western technology with them, and left. Their cultural emblems underwent the same fate as the statue to Ozymandias. How were we any different?

My CAR colleagues and I compiled a dossier of violent assaults on PCVs. We documented PCVs' feelings of impotence and futility. I flew to Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, DC. I delivered the report. The Peace Corps official said to me, "Within twenty years, we are going to have every man, woman and child in that country living like an American." That year, 1981, the average life expectancy in CAR was 49. It's now 53.

In Nepal we were advised to sleep outside when we were menstruating. "Chhaupadi is an ancient Hindu custom. We must respect the local culture." Given how cold high-altitude Nepal can get, the presence of venomous snakes and other predators, and the shoddy construction of menstrual huts, menstruating Nepali women occasionally freeze to death, or suffocate on fire smoke, or are killed by wild animals. In Africa we were not to ask male laundry workers to wash our panties. Anything that has touched menstrual blood can turn a man into an animal or an evil spirit. We should not debate this. "We must respect the local culture." A farmer in Africa had actually followed the suggestions of Western experts. His farm prospered. His neighbors, operating on "limited good" mentality, burned his farm down. We were not to report this. We must respect local culture. A woman was bleeding to death after a difficult childbirth. No one in the Nepali village would help her. A woman's blood is polluting. A male PCV put her in a Jeep and drove her to a hospital. He did not respect the local culture. We must not report that in our religion, Christianity, women have equal worth with men. It is against the law to "proselytize."

We, female teachers in Africa and Asia, taught classes that were almost all male. We were not to reach out to the girls who had been left at home. In Nepal, we taught classes that excluded lower caste and Untouchable children. We must respect Hinduism. In Africa, we were told never to dress like an African woman; given traditional African relegation of women to much lower status, we'd be taken as whores. In Nepal, we were always to dress like local women. Given Hindus' attitudes towards Western women, if we dressed as Americans, we'd be taken as whores. In CAR we witnessed a FGM ceremony. Our trainers treated it as a fascinating spectacle. We were not to become upset; not to criticize. If FGM bothered us, we were just big babies, not idealistic enough or macho enough for Peace Corps.

In CAR, there was murderous hostility between Muslims, seen as slavers, and non-Muslim Africans, mostly Christian and animist. That hostility flared, in 2013, into an incipient "genocide" of Christians by Muslims, and then revenge attacks on Muslims by Christians. We, twenty-something-year-old Peace Corps volunteers, were not to allow this tribal hatred of Central Africans for their neighbors to get in the way of our single-handedly elevated every man, woman, and child in CAR to an American standard of living. That tension we were not to notice tore the country apart, and it may never be put back together again.

We were similarly supposed to go about our work of saving the world without noticing the impact of corruption: the wealth, skimmed from foreign aid, of Nepal's god-king and the other high caste thulo manchees in Kathmandu, and the poverty of everyone else, the poverty of thatched rooves, parched-corn-kernel dinners, clay floors. "Twenty-five percent of the children die before age five and adult life expectancy is 45 years." The inequality we were not supposed to discuss flared, in 1996, into a Maoist insurgency, a massacre of the royal family, and a ten-year civil war.

Don't talk about any of this. It conflicts with the master narrative. What master narrative? That American taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely by a compassionate aid organization that is making significant contributions. And Peace Corps volunteers are the tip of that benevolent spear.

The combination of high responsibility and low power results in burnout. We Peace Corps volunteers were supposed to be saving the world. That world-saving would expressly entail, as the thulo manchee in PC/DC said, "having every man, woman, and child living like an American." At the same time, Peace Corps forbad us from assessing, even in our thoughts, any aspect of Western civilization as superior to tribalism, superstition, corruption, shortsightedness, caste systems, and misogyny. Science is not better than the belief that applications of cow dung can cure anything. Equal rights are not superior to chhaupadi and FGM; "The women are happy," we were told again and again. "Don't be an imperialist!" we were told.

Which brings me to Afghanistan. Kate McCord lived in Afghanistan for nine years. Her book, In the Land of Blue Burqas, describes daily life for Afghan women. You can get a sense of the book here. Just one incident: an Afghan woman told McCord that she dare not sing inside her own home because a passing man might overhear and become sexually aroused at the sound of her voice and think sinful thoughts. She, the woman, would of course, in Muslim understanding, be guilty for his sin. When I think of Afghanistan, I think of that nameless prisoner of gender apartheid. Nameless not only because McCord, who herself goes by a pseudonym, cannot name her for her own safety. Nameless because women in village Afghanistan are "mother" or "sister" or "daughter." They are not individuals with names. The same was true in Nepal. All my students knew their fathers' names. One knew his mother's name. Only one.

When I think of Afghanistan, I think of Farkhunda Malikzada. A mob of Afghan men lynched Farkhunda, and gleefully videotaped their crime, in Kabul, the capital city, on March 19, 2015, well into the American project to "modernize" Afghanistan. Men beat Farkhunda so badly that she was soaked with blood and when they tried to burn her alive, her clothing would not catch. The men ripped up their own clothing to use as kindling. "According to an eyewitness, protesters were chanting anti-American and anti-democracy slogans while beating the woman." They also shouted "Allahu akbar."

When I think of Afghanistan, I think of Greg Buckley Jr.

"In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father that from his bunk he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.

'At night we can hear them screaming, but we're not allowed to do anything about it,' the Marine's father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. 'My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it's their culture.'"

The Frontline documentary, "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan," details the Afghan custom of bacha bazi. Young boys, vulnerable because of poverty, are turned into sex toys for adult men. There is also bacha posh, in which Afghan girls pretend to be boys so that their families can use them to shop, go to school, and engage in other activities denied to girls. There is also a superstition that dressing an unwanted daughter as a wanted son will cause the magical forces that control birth to bless a mother with a son.

When I think of Afghanistan, I think of Abdul Rahman, who converted to Christianity. His family ratted him out. In 2006, he was arrested for owning a Bible. Not a single lawyer in Afghanistan would represent him. The Constitution of Afghanistan, prepared with American assistance, defers to Islamic law, which demands death for apostates from Islam. Rahman had to flee Afghanistan.

When I think of Afghanistan, I think of photos I've seen of would-be refugees at the airport, on the planes, and on the migration routes to Iran, Turkey, and eventually Europe. In the photos, virtually every one is a military-age male. They are not fighting the Taliban. They are not protecting their mothers, wives, sisters, or daughters. They are turning tail, leaving women to fates like this: Najia, an Afghan widowed mother of four, was beaten to death by the Taliban because she was too poor to give them food. After the murder, Taliban blew up Najia's orphaned children's home with a grenade.

When I think of Afghanistan, I think of Roshan, all of 8 years old, acting goofy in her wedding photo. Her husband is 55. Her father had to sell her because he is poor. You can see her photo here. Because Mohammed, the perfect human, married his favorite wife, Aisha, when he was over fifty and she was six, devout Muslims argue against any age of consent laws. Child marriage is epidemic in Afghanistan.

When I think of Afghanistan, I think of the Bamiyan Buddhas, "the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world," that survived for 1,400 years, till the Taliban blew them to smithereens.

Afghans killing other Afghans  just to stop girls from going to school  predates the Taliban. King Amanullah's wife, Queen Soraya, opened Afghanistan's first girls' schools in 1921. "A warlord, Habibullah Kalakani … marched on Kabul, overthrew Amanullah, and took power. Kalakani called the King a kafir (non-believer), closed girls' schools, revived the veil, and abolished all the other basic reforms of Amanullah."

One can reject communism, and yet, at the same time, hate the reasons the mujaheddin gave for fighting communism. In the 1970s, Afghan communists pushed for Afghan women to learn to read. Once again, devout Afghan Muslims rose up to kill and be killed, just to prevent girls from learning to read. "The reforms encroached into the sensitive area of Islamic subjugation of women by outlawing child marriage and the giving of a woman in marriage in exchange for money or commodities, and teaching women to read, at a time when certain Islamic sectors were openly calling for the reinforcement of purdah, the seclusion of women from public observation."

When I think of Afghanistan, I think of numbers. In a 2013 Pew Poll, 99% of Afghans voiced support for making sharia the law of the land. 61% of that 99% want to apply sharia to non-Muslims. 81% support whipping and hand amputation for thieves; 85% support stoning for adultery; 79% support death for apostasy.

For decades, Afghanistan has been among the top refugee-producing countries . "There are almost 2.5 million registered refugees from Afghanistan. They comprise the largest protracted refugee population in Asia, and the second largest refugee population in the world." Afghans vote with their feet. Afghans do not want to live in Afghanistan. One such refugee described to Douglas Murray why he left. He had a job in the ministry of education. The Taliban kidnapped him, tortured him, and repeatedly raped him. They told him that he had no god; they were his god. Why did the Taliban do this? To force the man to help them to poison the water serving a school with 700 pupils, whom they hoped to murder, in order to stop them from learning. All in the name of Allah.

Some more numbers. In the US, there are 98 males for every hundred females. Women live longer; thus the sex ratio. In Afghanistan, there are 105.4 males for every hundred females; in 1950, the sex ratio was 112 males to 100 females. Afghanistan kills its women and girls. No, you may be thinking. Afghanistan's skewed sex ratio is because it is a poor country. You'd be incorrect. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. Haiti's sex ratio is comparable to that of the US: 97 males for every 100 females. Tibet, a high altitude, arid plateau close to Afghanistan, is comparable to the US and Haiti: 97 males to 100 females. "The low sex ratio in Tibet reflects the lack of bias against females. Tibetans do not regard men as superior to women," reports researcher H. Cheng.

When I think of Afghanistan, I think of Khaled Hosseini, a superstar Afghan and bestselling author. He's been in the media lately insisting that we remember that Afghans are people of "hospitality" and "rich culture." Khaled, please let me tell you this. I have traveled around the world, as a woman, alone, often hitchhiking. People all over the world, from suburban Oklahoma to the rain forests of Central Africa to Burma to Tibetans living on the roof of the world all have rich cultures, and have all shown me terrific hospitality. Text me when your birthplace stops lynching women and marrying off little girls; and when Afghans stop reporting Christian converts to Muslim authorities who kill them.

And when I think of Afghanistan, I think of Zaki Anwari. He's beautiful. Seriously. Look at his photos, here. I'd love to have this kid as a student in one of my classes. I'd be so proud to be teaching Afghanistan's next generation of heroes. I can't, though. In desperation, Zaki was one of many Afghans who tried to cling to departing American planes. His may have been one of the bodies seen falling to their deaths from these planes, or the human remains found in the landing gear.

Zaki Anwari, and that African market woman, who sold me peanut butter she ground on rocks, whose babies kept dying of mite infestations, the convert's family who ratted him out to the police, the military-age male Afghan migrants surging across Turkey now, are all just like you and me. What Shakespeare wrote in "The Merchant of Venice" is true. We are all, as Shakespeare wrote, "fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer …  If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?" Shakespeare repeats a lesson taught in Genesis. The Judeo-Christian God created one man, Adam, and one woman, Eve, as parents for all mankind. We are all brothers and sisters.

One of the deepest bits of wisdom I ever heard was from a Peace Corps volunteer who had been "in country" longer than I had. We talked about the buses that plied Nepal's few roads. These roads were narrow, unpaved, and inches away from steep, thousands of feet of drop into mountain rivers. Even so, their drivers careened at top speed. One could see rusting hulks of buses that had fallen into river valleys (see here). The experienced Peace Corps volunteer said, "Look at the faces of the drivers. They are scared, too."

That's right. The drivers operating the buses at such dangerous speeds were themselves scared half to death. And yet that is how they drove, and if you asked them to slow down, they'd laugh you off the bus.

We, humans, are all members of the same family, created by God, as described in Genesis, a book that is certainly metaphorically true, if not scientifically. What, then, separates us? What made Greg Buckley risk his very life to protect a child sex slave, and what deafened Afghan rapists to the child's screams of pain? What causes Nepali bus drivers to drive in a way that frightens even themselves? Culture.

Let us, forever, stop using these weasel words: "The Dark Ages," "medieval," "backward," "conservative," "religious," "strict," "extreme," and their antonyms: "modern," "twenty-first century," "advanced," "progressive," and "liberal." The Taliban are not about the past. They are not "strict" or "conservative." They are twenty-first century, and they are Muslims. Mohammed was born in the sixth century. The sixth century is not the problem. In the sixth century, Ravenna, Italy, produced the Basilica of San Vitale, with its exquisite mosaics celebrating Empress Theodora, a powerful woman. The Bamiyan Buddhas were created in the sixth century. Thousands of years ago, before Islam, in Pagan Egypt, Egyptian women could travel. In Muslim Cairo today, women can't walk down the street without being molested. Mohammed was married to a powerful, pre-Islamic, Arab woman, Khadija, who owned her own business and hired and fired her own employees. Women in Arabia today don't enjoy the freedom pre-Islamic Khadija enjoyed. Buddhism predates Islam by a thousand years. The numbers tell us that Buddhist women in Tibet enjoy higher status than women in nearby Afghanistan. The past is not the problem.

"Have the Courage to Name the Real Threat to Afghan Women: Islamist Rule," pleads Yasmine Mohammed, formerly a devout Muslim married to an Al Qaeda operative. Former Muslim Ridvan Aydemir points out that the Taliban follow canonical Islamic teachings. The problem is not the past. The problems are jihad and gender apartheid, supported by Islam.

Culture is the reason I can condemn Afghans' support for the murder of Christians and the amputation of hands. The common humanity my God teaches me to respect is why I care about people whose culture I condemn. And it's exactly because Afghans are human just like I am, as my God teaches me, that I can say that it's wrong for Afghans to enshroud women in burqas, and stone adulterers, and withhold education. And Our Woke Overlords are wrong. I'm not speaking as an imperialist. I'm speaking as a human being.

Our Woke Overlords, from the Pentagon's strategic planners, working to understand "white rage," to Peace Corps therapists who blame rape on the victim's footwear selection, insist on an absolute cultural relativism, and also insist that the mere passage of time "modernizes" people and, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, time's passage alone brings with it the rights and freedoms we enjoy. Because all the bad stuff comes from the past. And all the good stuff arrives with the passage of time. So say Our Woke Overlords.

With military veterans, I know the following. The folks in charge, the "big men," who live behind blast-proof walls and enjoy 24/7 security, are often clueless about what's transpiring on the ground. The folks on the ground are often forbidden by superiors from telling any truths that violate the favored narrative. Raining taxpayer dollars down on poor countries often does more harm than good. People most cherish that for which they have worked and earned. People often squander charity. American "big men" have resorted to cultural relativism as an excuse to look away from the rape of children and the mutilation of young girls. Most importantly, America has to figure this one out: how do we "help" without imposing our values, given that what we have, from health care to freedom of speech, is rooted in our culture?

Tom Holland, Douglas Murray, and Rodney Stark are just a few of the big thinkers who insist that the cultural gifts we enjoy today are the inheritance of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Institutions like universities and hospitals grew out of Catholicism. Equal rights for women, and separation of church and state, and the abolition of slavery are all rooted in Biblical ideals. The "big men" in Peace Corps and the US military have this in common: they want to "give" the world what we have, without any of the worldview that form the root and branch of that fruit.

A girl can dream. Like many military veterans, this former Peace Corps volunteer dreams of the following. I wish American schoolchildren were truly educated about the world. That Americans could locate countries on maps, and say something pertinent about them. That textbooks told the truth about Islam, gender apartheid, and jihad. I wish American students knew the import of the Old Testament, the Greeks, and the Enlightenment. I wish taxpayer funded "humanitarian aid" obeyed basic principles. The aid worker should not impose anything on aid recipients that the recipients do not want. I'm all for propaganda that communicates the importance of everything from polio vaccines to girls' education, but I'm not for forcing these on people who adamantly reject them. No aid should be given without real sacrifice from the recipient. You want a girls' school? Prove it. Every resident of the village volunteers labor in the school's construction. Or no aid. When we do for others what they could do for themselves, when we want things for others more than they want them for themselves, we are not helping. We are codependents.

I wish Americans paid closer attention to how their tax dollars are spent, especially overseas. And, yes, I wish we could reinstate the draft. If any given American knew that he or she could be sent to carry out the next "nation building exercise," maybe we, the American people, would pull the emergency brake.

After the Taliban beat Najia to death because she was too poor to feed them, a woman in Najia's village said, "We want schools, clinics and freedom like other women, men -- other people." Schools and clinics and freedom did not emerge just because the passage of time somehow magically "improves" and "modernizes." Human beings lived for tens of thousands of years without schools or clinics or freedom. These things you want grew organically and slowly, in the West, from a culture that believed in one, just, rational, loving creator God. The things you want are linked to a worldview. Whether you can have the one without the other is yet to be seen. Ask Ozymandias.

Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.

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