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Justin M. Stoddard

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Dispatches From Afghanistan #26
November 5, 2009 — 11:37 pm

Subject: Most current, most awesome update from Afghanistan, yet!

I ordered a copy of the Qur’an from Amazon about a month ago and have steadily been making my way through it in my free time.

I was struck by the phrase: “…if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”

Regardless of my views on religion and the death penalty, I understand and respect the poetry of this phrase. It seems to hearken back to the Gospels (the Beatitudes, which are my favorite passages in the bible). Given where I am right now, the phrase is apt. I have had long discussions with my Muslim friends over here regarding it. One particular friend of mine (a translator that accompanies me) is very passionate about this particular verse. He despises the Taliban and everything they stand for. He explained to me that people who carry out suicide attacks do not understand the Qur’an.

And yet, there is a cognitive dissonance at work. A while back, we were in an office waiting for a meeting. A newscast was playing in the background. My friend got very excited and started pumping is arm up and down in the universal “victory” motion and was saying “yes! yes! yes!”. As was a bit puzzled (the newscast was in Dari) and asked him what was up. He told me that a suicide bomber just blew himself up in Pakistan, killing dozens. He said “I hate Pakistan. They have ruined Afghanistan and they are finally getting what they deserve”.

I looked at him for a long moment and quietly said: “If any slew a person, it would be as if he slew the whole people”.

He was very quiet for the next half an hour but finally said, “You are right, my friend”.

Nothing else was spoken about it, but it was then that I realized just how deep and cyclic this violence is. I hope Afghanistan can eventually recover from it. This is a beautiful country, filled with wonderful people.

Another interpreter we work with is an older gentleman who is a U.S. citizen. He is over here on a two year tour and has three children and a wife back home. I asked him yesterday over lunch what his story was.

In 1982, in the middle of the Soviet invasion, he was kidnapped by the Soviets and held in a jail cell for over a year. He was 15 at the time. He said he was beaten and made to work hard labor the entire time. His entire family was finally able to get enough money together to secure his release. His entire family then escaped to Pakistan and were able to get political asylum in the United States. Now he’s back trying to help get the country back on its feet.

I asked him if there was still a lot of animosity in Afghanistan towards the Russians. “Oh, yes”, he said. “But, it’s the British they really hate”.

The British. They occupied the country over one hundred and fifty years ago and they are still hated because of it. More so than the Russians! I found this to be an absolutely fascinating view into the Afghan psyche.


I have also made some observations about my own experience over here. I’ve been to a war-zone before, for a longer period of time and under about the same conditions, so I thought I was absolutely emotionally prepared for this deployment.

When the first car bomb hit after I got here (I was close enough to feel the blast-wave), I felt emotions I haven’t felt in a long time. When I was sitting in the bunker waiting for the all clear to sound, I was chagrined to realize I was actually scared. After the all-clear sounded, I wanted to share that experience with others, but I found that everyone just kind of went on with their business, like nothing happened. Just another day.

When the second car bomb went off (I was close enough again to feel the blast-wave), I just kind of shut down. OK, grab my gear. Load my weapon. Stand by. All clear. Go to lunch.

When the third car bomb went off, my reaction was to sigh. “Really? Again?”

When the explosions and running gun battle was happening outside our perimeter a week and a half ago, I was to the point of just going about my business. like nothing special was going on. When it was over it wasn’t even spoken about. We all just went about our business.

I find it amazing how quickly we adapt and compartmentalize. I understand it’s an effective coping/defense mechanism, but I’m not all entirely sure it’s healthy.


Donations for the child care center are coming in quickly, now. Scott (the Lt. Col) who works with me and I have received about 6 boxes between us so far. All have been filled to the brim with toys, blankets, games, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, etc. I’ll be using some of the monetary donations to get them two space heaters this week. Winter is coming up fast and the cold is a harsh enemy.

Of course, you can all can view pictures of my adventures (as well as pictures of the child care center I’ve adopted) here:


Friends, I can’t tell you how much I miss Chipotle. :)

Have a wonderful weekend!

Love to all!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)

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