RIP Anne Smedinghoff: Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.

I don’t know why I was bothered when Secretary Kerry refrained Saturday from naming Ms. Smedinghoff in his statement on her passing (if it did not bother you, that’s okay).  Perhaps I should blame it on OC, perhaps not. But one only die once … I was looking for an appropriate acknowledgement of the sacrificed made in Zabul on Saturday.

The attack occurred on Saturday, April 6 at around 11:00 in the morning in Afghanistan. That’s about 2:30 am in Washington, D.C.  About ten hours after the attack, around noon in WashDC, the State Department released a statement from Secretary Kerry without naming the diplomat killed in Zabul Province of Afghanistan.

How do you properly acknowledge in public the sacrifice of somebody when she is but a third person singular pronoun?

She was everything a Foreign Service officer should be: smart, capable, eager to serve, and deeply committed to our country and the difference she was making for the Afghan people. She tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future.

An older version of the WaPo report, no longer online says that the State Department did not identify the deceased to give the family time to notify other family members.  But if that were so, why did State release a statement in a rush instead of waiting until the following day? Was the need to put out a statement ten hours after her death so urgent that it was deemed acceptable to reduced her to a pronoun?

State could have waited until Sunday to released a complete official statement, but it did not. The last time a civilian employee was killed in Afghanistan was on August 8, 2012.  On August 9, then Secretary Clinton released a statement on USAID Foreign Service Officer Ragaei Abdelfattah.  When four Americans died in Benghazi, the official statement which identified Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith came a day after the attack, but two casualties were not identified until much later.

Ms. Smedinghoff’s parents released a statement about their daughter late Saturday.

Secretary Kerry was in Istanbul on Sunday when he publicly identified Ms. Smedinghoff for the first time:

“And I think there are no words for anybody to describe the extraordinary harsh contradiction of a young 25-year-old woman with all of the future ahead of her, believing in the possibilities of diplomacy, of changing people’s lives, of making a difference, having an impact, who was taking knowledge in books to deliver them to a school. And someone somehow persuaded that taking her – his life was a wiser course and somehow constructive, drives into their vehicle and we lose five lives – two Foreign Service, three military, large number wounded, one Foreign Service officer still in critical condition in the Kandahar hospital because they’re trying to provide people with a future and with opportunity.”
[…]
It is a confrontation with modernity, with possibilities, and everything that our country stands for, everything we stand for, is embodied in what Anne Smedinghoff stood for, a 25-year-old young woman, second tour of duty, been a vice consul in Caracas, Venezuela and then off to an exciting, challenging, unbelievable undertaking in one of the toughest places on earth.

I’ll come back to that in a separate post later.

Ms. Smedinghoff was on Twitter, on LinkedIn, also on Facebook. I was tempted to use her photo for this post, but it doesn’t seem right to use the photographs  from her social media accounts now that she’s dead and couldn’t object. Perhaps she wouldn’t have minded .. but what if she did mind … the dead cannot speak up … so I walked away from the photos.

Do you remember when you were 25?  When you were young and brave and full of wonder and hope about conquering the world of possibilities?

Death is never far away in the small Foreign Service community (see In the Foreign Service:  Death, Too Close An Acquaintance). Even if you and I do not personally know Anne Smedinghoff, as Cormac McCarthy writes, “The closest bonds we will ever know are bonds of grief. The deepest community one of sorrow.”

Since the beginning of 2013, excluding this latest attack, 24 Americans have died in Afghanistan, the highest total among coalition forces. The average age of those killed is 28.  Since 2001, there had been 3,279 deaths in Afghanistan. Of that 2,198 were  Americans.  On the same day that Ms. Smedinghoff was killed, a DOD civilian employee also was killed. And, in a remote corner of eastern Afghanistan, a battle and airstrike left nearly 20 people dead, including 11 Afghan children and a U.S. advisor.

Herbert Hoover said that “Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.”  Sometimes you’re not even fighting, but still you die. And old men give speeches and get lost on the road to ending wars.

Then you read something like this: Leaving Corruptistan: Washington Favors Exit over Fight with Karzai. And you want to throw all your shoes at the somebodies. Is that infantile reaction? Well, probably yes, but you’ll do it anyway because not doing anything, anything at all, no matter how pointless just seem worse. And no, you’re not throwing your shoes because we’re leaving the sinkhole kingdom, er, republic …

 

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Below are some blog posts collected from around the Foreign Service on the passing of Ms. Smedinghoff.

 

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5 responses

  1. DS, It’s clear that you’re angry and frustrated. You made lots of typos. Is there any way you can clean it up before I put it at my FB page? Guess it doesn’t matter. You did get your point across. I’m particularly impressed that you mentioned that many others have died in this insanity. The major media did not — as usual, they treat it as a “seller.” I don’t think Anne Smedinghoff would have appreciated that, from the little I have read about her. So sad. OK

  2. The death of this young, enthusiastic Foreign Service officer, who was likely also an idealist, hit close to home. I wrote a book about my experiences as a young FSO in a remote locale (Vietnam) and about how my idealism lost some of its luster. I can imagine how she felt, driving down a dusty Afghan road on a mission to deliver books. It must have felt personal to her and I’m sure she was sure she was making a difference and would connect personally to the people she was trying to help. We join the Foreign Service to make a difference and I’m sure most FSOs deeply believe that individual contributions add up to collective understanding. How sad to be a victim of a conflict that is bigger than any one person and will take more than armies to resolve. To all of you still serving, thank you for your service and for the risks you undertake in order to make a difference.

    Weren’t some others seriously injured? I haven’t seen their names anywhere.

    • SoML, thanks for your note. I’m sure folks from State who visit appreciate your kind words.

      I don’t recall DoS releasing names of injured, possibly not even inside the building. At least on one occasion I was asked if I’d be willing to write somebody’s story because none of his/her colleagues knew that he/she was injured. Then, of course, he/she got a real mag to cover his/her story and that was the end of it.