CANONSBURG, Pa .– Each year Eric Miller brought his son Aidan to the famous July 4th Parade in Canonsburg, a one-hour procession that draws tens of thousands of spectators, with lawn chairs arranged along the route of the days in advance.
Since Aidan was 5 years old, he had felt the swirls of patriotism and yearned to don a uniform. Mr. Miller did not want his son to enlist. He worried that only a parent could get Aidan sent to a combat zone.
But straight out of high school, Aidan made his dream come true in this patriotic town south of Pittsburgh, where there are crisp American flags around veterans memorials in front of the municipal building. Today Aidan is 20 years old and serving in the Kentucky Army. And last week, his father took deep relief when President Biden announced that US troops would return from Afghanistan.
“I’m not a Biden fan, but I’m all for it, pulling the troops out there,” said Miller, 46, a salesman. He rejected the arguments of some Republican officials and military leaders that Taliban extremists would invade the country after the Americans left. “We can’t keep everyone,” he says.
Mr Biden’s announcement, with its evocative deadline to step down by 9/11, sets the stage for a calculation of the end of the war and how Americans will feel the next time a military intervention occurs. will be on the table. Even in a place as deeply proud of America and its military as Canonsburg, many people were genuinely in conflict: tired of the war and worried about the troops, but also worried about the ramifications of a complete withdrawal.
“It’s a very complicated question,” said Rick Palma, standing outside McGrogan’s Tap Room, reflecting on Mr. Biden’s decision. Mr. Palma is a retired manager at a steel mill in the United States near Clairton, which is the fictional setting for “The Deer Hunter,” the 1978 film which forcefully evoked blue collar communities including young men. went to Vietnam.
“Is it time to take them home?” Maybe, ”said Palma, a former army officer. “If you bring them all the way back, there is the possibility that Al Qaeda will regroup.”
These mixed feelings reflect quite well the conundrum that the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations have faced over the past 12 years. All three presidents wanted to end the war in Afghanistan, but saw clear risks and uncertain public support: Only a minority of Americans adopted a full withdrawal when former President Donald J. Trump first proposed it. times in 2019, according to polls.
At the same time, the conflict ceased to be a priority issue for most voters in the recent elections; some have rallied around the idea of ending “wars forever”, but many are simply not thinking of Afghanistan. Mr Biden’s determination to leave seems to embody the current mood of many Americans, centered on their own lives, the pandemic, and the economy, with little energy to worry about foreign conflicts.
This view, expressed by a Democratic president during a deeply partisan era, is widely shared by residents of southwestern Pennsylvania – a region generally hostile to Democrats, but where even voters who opposed the election Mr. Biden’s endorsement of his exit plan.
Larry Maggi, a Washington County commissioner who includes Canonsburg, said southwestern Pennsylvania probably has one of the highest concentrations of veterans in the country.
“I work with vets, I ride motorcycles with vets, I drink beer with these guys,” said Mr. Maggi, who served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam era. Regarding Afghanistan, he said, “The general consensus is, what the hell are we doing there?”
This raises the question of whether the country is entering a period echoing the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ of the 1970s that made Americans skeptical of foreign intervention and turned their attention inward.
“The real problem here is that we cannot be isolationist,” said Howard Dean, the Democrat who campaigned for the presidency in 2004 as the leading opponent of the Iraq war. He offered a series of excruciating questions that Americans might face about the use of military force in the near future: What if China invades Taiwan? What if Russian tanks crossed Ukraine?
Along Pike Street in Canonsburg, the route of its famous Independence Day parade – considered the largest in the state outside of Philadelphia – there was virtually no support for sending US troops in such hypothetical conflicts. As for Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw most of the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan, it had strong support, but not universal support.
A town of 9,000 that was once a hub of coal and steel, Canonsburg is filled with gated homes, many with wide porches, which rise up onto steep hills. In front of the town hall is a clock presented by the Italian-American Association and a statue of Perry Como, who cut his hair in town as a barber before making a name for himself as a 1950s crooner. Thursday, the busiest businesses on Pike Street were a thrift store, a church-run food bank, and Fix ‘Ur Cat, a nonprofit that neuter and neuter cats.
Kathleen Pallatto, who served in the military as a nurse, and her husband, Robert, a retired prison officer, were given a free coronavirus test in a tent in the parking lot of a nearby shopping mall. Both are conservative and suspicious of authorities; neither had planned to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Ms Pallatto, 59, said Mr Biden should not have announced a withdrawal deadline. “You are televising to the Taliban that we are going to be completely gone by then,” she said. The Afghan American partners will not be able to fend for themselves “and we will end up there”, she declared.
But her husband, 63, disagreed. He spoke in favor of a complete withdrawal, rejecting the argument that American efforts to defend democracy and protect the rights of women and girls could be lost.
“These countries have been operating like this for hundreds of years,” he said. “The United States thinks they are going to send our troops and make them a democratic system – they are beating a dead horse.
Doug Scott, 44, a three-touring Iraq veteran, agreed that US troops are unlikely to change the anti-liberal attitudes and ethnic animosities that have produced generations of conflict in Afghanistan. But he argued that the United States should retain its footprint in the country for an inevitable outbreak.
“A total withdrawal would be catastrophic,” he said.
Not everyone on Pike Street was aware of the president’s decision to leave Afghanistan, a reflection of how the endless conflict, with relatively low US casualties, has fallen from the headlines. Just 12% of Americans told an The Bharat Express News / NORC poll last year that they were following the events of the war closely.
Katherine Roddy, a mother of two young children, said she was not aware of the announced withdrawal when she came to her door. She and her husband, an academic, had lived in Egypt while studying Arabic, and she sympathized with the plight of women in Muslim countries, but said it was time to leave Afghanistan.
“I have heard that the social situation in Afghanistan is devastating,” she said. “It’s hard to leave it like this, but I think it’s probably about time.”
At Magenis Fine Cigars, owner Brian Magenis was watching the History Channel from a sofa in his store, laid out like a retiree’s living room, which Mr. Magenis is sort of. He opened the cigar store after a career as a nuclear engineer.
“I am really for preventing the United States from going to foreign countries and fighting wars,” he said. Although Mr. Magenis initially supported the invasion of Afghanistan “100%”, the conflict was far from his mind. “I only really thought about it recently, when Biden said he would withdraw the troops,” he said.
Another person to whom the withdrawal was news was Bridget Laero, the manager of Nice Ink, 37, one of two tattoo parlors on Pike Street. She said she had many clients who were veterans. Their taste for body art goes towards “traditional” subjects – “eagles, flags, things of that nature,” Ms. Laero said.
“Hearing that sounds crazy,” she said of the president’s decision on Afghanistan. “Personally, I think our troops there have helped, and it’s just going to open up more time and space for more war, more chaos.
For others, Mr. Biden’s decision adds a punctuation mark to an era that began with a nation firmly united by the need to go to war after an attack on American soil, and ends with much of the country in an anti-war frame of mind, but with little unity in everything.
Hal Gollos, an army veteran who was stationed in South Korea in the 1970s, voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, but last year he thought “the wheels were coming off” and he tipped over to support Mr. Biden. He approved the president’s decision.
“Twenty years in one country,” he said, “that’s quite a long time.”