Counting the costs

Betsy PickleOpinion

When people ask, I tell them I majored in journalism in college because it had no math requirements. It’s a cute quip and the truth, but not the whole truth.

It used to be a cliché that journalists were terrible at math. I wasn’t that bad – I made As and Bs in high school – but I didn’t enjoy Algebra II or Senior Math other than sitting in the back of the class, playing Hangman with my friends. (Sorry, Mrs. McNutt!)

Even though I’m not crazy about math, I’m nuts about numbers. I love digital clocks and Yahtzee and Bingo and Bunco. I have my favorite numbers, but I won’t say which ones (the hackers probably already know them). And like a lot of people, I wince a bit at the number 13.

It’s supposed to be unlucky, 13. It certainly was last Thursday for 11 U.S. Marines, one U.S. Navy sailor and Ryan C. Knauss, a U.S. Army staff sergeant from Corryton. They were all killed by a terrorist bomb at the airport in Kabul – along with more than 160 Afghans – while helping to evacuate U.S. citizens and allies from Afghanistan.

That’s 13 American lives tragically cut short; 13 families devastated; 13 hometowns in mourning.

It’s also countless accusations of incompetence on the part of President Joe Biden and the U.S. military. The opposition party and members of Biden’s own party have been indignant. How dare Biden let 13 Americans die in a faraway land in a war that was a failure?

But isn’t that the irony? Biden finally made the decision – after George W. Bush started it, and Barack Obama implemented a troop surge, and Donald Trump agreed to a deadline that he couldn’t keep and released 5,000 imprisoned Taliban soldiers in the process – to end the longest war in U.S. history and the continuing deaths of this nation’s citizens.

I wasn’t impressed with the launch of the airlift, but reading the news, day after day, of thousands being evacuated changed my mind. More than 120,000 Americans and allies have been evacuated from Afghanistan, and the last U.S. service member left on Monday.


There are still terrorists to be dealt with, and there are around 250 Americans in Afghanistan who may or may not want to leave. But the war is over.

Any loss of our troops is tragic. But to the people saying that Biden is incompetent, I challenge you to go back to Oct. 7, 2001 – when the U.S.-led coalition first attacked Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan – and share your reaction to every one of the nearly 2,500 military deaths that ensued. Were you outraged at them? Why not?

Here are the numbers I think we need to focus on: 20, 22, 23, 25 and 31. Those were the ages of the American men and women who were killed last Thursday. Five of them, all Marines, were 20. Yes, 20 years old. Did you see their photos? They were babies – maybe not even born – when this war began.

Ryan Knauss was 23. He graduated from Gibbs High School. He left behind a wife and many other loving family members. I am heartbroken for them.

But here’s another number: 0.

That’s how many more families will have to worry about their sons and daughters fighting an unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

Betsy Pickle is a veteran reporter and editor who occasionally likes to share her opinions with KnoxTNToday readers.

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