Endless War Film

It has been almost six months since I have updated this site.

Many of you often inquire about my health and I can tell you it has been up and down, although still much better than this time last year – the cost of that is a lot of meds with some side effects and possibly some long term consequences.

However, this post is to update this site on some recent work.

Last month An Endless War? Getting Out of Afghanistan premiered. You can see the full film here: http://endlesswar.org/film/

Besides myself the film includes Afghan and American peace activists and scholars, General Charles Krulak, who was the Commandant of the Marine Corps when I was a lieutenant, and the late Republican Congressman Walter Jones.

Representative Jones passed in February. I personally owe him a great deal and as I type this I am disappointed I have not written anything to honor his memory and friendship.

I am also including on this post a link to the hour long interview I did with Brian Lamb on CSPAN’s Q&A program in March.


Below is the transcript from my appearance with Brian.

Thank you for following my blog. Let me know of any thoughts you might have and Wage Peace.

Q&A with Matthew Hoh

March 1, 2019

  • Brian Lamb: Matthew Hoh, back in 2009, September the 10th, you wrote the following, “Dear Ambassador Powell, it is with great regret and disappointment I submit my resignation from my appointment as a political officer in the Foreign Service and my post as the senior civilian representative for the U.S. government in Zabul Province.” What was that?
  • Matthew Hoh: That was — and first of all, thank you for having me here. But that was almost 10 years ago now, and it’s hard to express how I was feeling then compared to now and what has occurred since then. I had no expectation of that letter actually becoming public. I had no expectation to become an antiwar activist or a peace activist or veteran for peace.
  • I had — and tragically, I had no expectation that we’d be sitting here in 2019 talking about this war in Afghanistan, the way it’s been escalated, the way it has escalated very year, the countless lives that have just been wasted and the continual suffering. So it’s shocking to hear. It is and it’s very surreal for me to be sitting here with you right now, Brian.
  • Brian Lamb: So what’s your background leading up to when you resigned from the State Department?
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes. I went to college and graduated college and worked in publishing and doing financing — doing finance. And I didn’t have a military family background. I had an uncle who had been in Germany same time as Elvis Presley and that’s about the biggest military connection we had.
  • And so, when I joined the Marine Corps a couple of years after college, it was mainly because I was bored, I was looking to do something bigger with my life. And I spent time in the Marine Corps in Okinawa, Japan. I was assigned to the Pentagon and worked for the Secretary of the Navy. I had a position on a State Department team in Iraq in 2004, 2005 doing reconstruction work and political work as a Department of Defense civilian.
  • I led a Marine Corps company back to Iraq in ’06 and ’07 as a combat engineer company commander. And then, I ended up receiving a direct appointment into the Foreign Service in early 2009, went to Afghanistan. I think what I was expecting was that the Obama administration was going to seek peace, seek an end to the conflict. President Obama had campaigned on winning the war on Afghanistan. But when he said so, he said so in the context of sending two brigades of troops which is about 6,000 or 7,000 men and women.
  • He ended up sending over 70,000 plus an additional 40,000 NATO troops and 100,000 contractors. What I saw in Afghanistan in ’09 was the same as I had seen in Iraq in ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, as well as when I worked on Iraq and Afghan war issues at the Pentagon and at the State Department in between those times. There was no difference in the administrations. The administrations were both — their desire was to win politically or to win for political reasons, domestic political reasons. Everything else was secondary.
  • And so, particularly in ’09 after I saw the elections stolen by the Afghan government after so many had been killed in the run-up to that, I just couldn’t go along with it any longer. I was basically broken inside. And so, the fact that I’m here now still doing this was never my intention. It was just — it just has continued to go along almost as if my work in antiwar or peace activism has been a way to make up for what I did in the wars.
  • Brian Lamb: What have you done in the last 10 years?
  • Matthew Hoh: Well, I became a think tank expert. So I have a title at a “think tank” which is nothing really more than a title but I’m a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, led a project called the Afghanistan Study Group in 2010, 2011, and 2012 which was a compilation of about 40 or 50 different international affairs experts, retired generals, academics, arguing for basically what we’re seeing now, a peace process in Afghanistan and an end to the war.
  • I’ve tried to get away from this type of thing. I’ve worked at the YMCA. I sold cars. I worked as a consultant for a private family philanthropic fund. None of that stuck. I keep coming back to this. A lot of veterans no matter what war it is will say, “I left the war but the war never left me” and that’s in my case.
  • So I primarily work with an organization now called Veterans for Peace. I’m on a couple of different boards and advisory boards, and this is what I do. I’ve also struggled with the invisible wounds of war, post-traumatic stress disorder, moral injury, depression, substance abuse, and also in the last several years, traumatic brain injury has flared up for me just as so many other men and women are experiencing. There’s a latency with traumatic brain injury. For me, it was probably from explosive blast exposure. I was around a lot of explosions both in training and then in combat, of course.
  • But, it’s very similar to what the football players or may be very similar to what the football players and the boxers are experiencing. So I’ve had to deal with that as well, which has been not just a challenge for me, but a challenge for my family, a challenge for my wife, a real challenge for my wife. It’s what she’s gone through because of my wounds, those invisible wounds of the wars. She has PTSD herself because of it.
  • Brian Lamb: How much combat did you see?
  • Matthew Hoh: Quite a bit. I mean, it was — one of the misnomers about these wars is that men and women aren’t seeing that much combat and it’s actually the complete opposite. According to the VA, according to the Department of Defense, according to various studies from like the RAND Corporation, veterans of the Afghan and Iraq wars have seen more combat than any other veteran of American wars as far back as the First World War. That’s as far back as we have those studies and that polling and that understanding.
  • So we saw a lot. I mean, even when I was over there as a civilian working on reconstruction and politics and going to parliamentary meetings and provincial council meetings and working with engineers, we were constantly under IED attack, rocket attack, mortar attack. You constantly were in small arms engagements. My time when I led a company of Marines in Iraq in ’06, ’07, this was before the Sunni awakening and the Sons of Iraq, every time you left your base, every time you left your outpost, you got into something. You got into a gun fight or there’s an RPG shot at you or a roadside bomb, an IED went off.
  • So we saw quite a lot. I saw quite a lot. And it changes you, of course, and we know with PTSD, basically you spend a year or seven or eight months or however long every day going out hunting people and other people are hunting you. And that changes your entire body chemistry, to change that. We know that with PTSD, brain size and shape changes for soldiers who go over to war and come back. When they come back from the war, their brains are actually different sizes and shape because of PTSD, because your body is releasing all these survival chemicals constantly and that causes you to have serious problems when you come home.
  • But for me and for many others and I think this is what leads into understanding why so many veterans of these wars are killing themselves, there’s a moral component to it. So it’s the civilians. It’s the innocents who one way or another we took part in killing and that is something that you can never get past, that moral injury. It’s very much like Macbeth, “Out, out, damned spot”, you can’t get that blood off your hands.
  • And so, that sticks with you and that brings you to thoughts of suicide and that’s something I dealt with for a number of years and I’m here because I had really great doctors at the VA who saved my life.
  • Brian Lamb: Go back to your original resignation letter, the next day the Washington Post — I believe, I don’t have it in front of me, puts on you page one?
  • Matthew Hoh: Above the fold, too, Brian.
  • Brian Lamb: Above the fold on page one.
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes.
  • Brian Lamb: Headline, “U.S. Official Resigns Over Afghan War”, written by Karen DeYoung and in it — by the way, why do you think it made the front page? Did you ever ask Karen DeYoung?
  • Matthew Hoh: I did. I said, “Why did you do this? Why did you write this 3,000-word or however long expose on me?” And she said, “Because everything you said in your resignation letter and everything you’ve said to me — and at this point, DeYoung was — she was the — she worked on Secretary Clinton’s detail for the Post. So she covered Secretary Clinton and the foreign affairs and the wars.
  • She said, “Everyone I spoke to at the White House, at the NSC, at the Pentagon, the State Department, all of them agree about what you’re saying about Afghanistan.”
  • Brian Lamb: In this piece, early on it says, “While he did not share Hoh’s view that the war, quote, ‘wasn’t worth the fight’, unquote, Holbrooke said, ‘I agree with much of his analysis.’ He asked Hoh to join his team and then Washington saying, quote, ‘If he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of war on lives and treasure, why not be inside the building rather than outside where you can get a lot of attention but you won’t have the same political impact.'”
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes.
  • Brian Lamb: Did you talk to Richard Holbrooke about this?
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes. I did. I did. I went and saw him up at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
  • Brian Lamb: What was he doing then?
  • Matthew Hoh: He was up there for the United Nations General Assembly. He — I met with him in his bedroom. He was reclining on his bed drinking a purple Gatorade. I mean he was shuttling between all these different meetings.
  • I had just met previously the U.S. — I mean, I’m sorry, the U.K. ambassador to Afghanistan who later, Sherard Cowper-Coles who later wrote a book about the war and how the war was unwinnable and not just unwinnable, the war was a moral failure. But, Holbrooke, yes, he did offer me that position. He told me 95 percent of what I’d written he agreed with. I left and he had talked me into taking that job and I went home, took the train back home to Arlington and thought about it and on a few days later called back and said “I can’t do it because I didn’t resign just to get myself promoted. I mean, I quit because I was quitting the wars. I’m really done. I can’t do this any longer.”
  • And I also knew that nothing I did would have any impact, nothing I was — would have worked on would have changed the war. The decision had already been made. And I can tell you this from discussions with Holbrooke as well as with Ambassador Eikenberry that they were effectively — they were the voices of dissent of escalating the war, but they were shut down by Secretary Clinton. Secretary Clinton was very much in favor of escalating the war. You can see this very clearly in stories written in the New York Times at that time or in Bob Woodward’s, Obama’s Wars.
  • Secretary Clinton was very enthusiastic about escalating the Afghan war to the point that Holbrook and Eikenberry had no voice. So — and I knew that and so, it made no sense for me to accept that offer and to join that team. It wouldn’t have changed anything.
  • Brian Lamb: Ten years later and one of the reasons we asked you to come here because you wrote a huge piece about the last 10 years and how you feel about it now. And that was in — the title of this piece is “Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies.” Where can people read that?
  • Matthew Hoh: They can find that at CounterPunch.
  • Brian Lamb: CounterPunch.
  • Matthew Hoh: CounterPunch, yes.
  • Brian Lamb: And what is CounterPunch?
  • Matthew Hoh: CounterPunch is a — I’m not even sure how long CounterPunch has been around for, but it’s certainly — to say it leans left to center is probably a bit of not saying enough about it. But it’s been around for a long time and it is a very good, very thorough, very in-depth look at American politics in the world from a left of center perspective.
  • Brian Lamb: The word “lies” is in the headline of your piece. What lies are you talking about?
  • Matthew Hoh: There’s, I mean, from start to finish with this war, with the notion of who we put in power in Afghanistan, that somehow these men that we put in power were democrats or were in favor of women’s rights, let alone the fact that the — completely ignoring their roles as warlords, as war criminals, as drug lords, the notion that the Taliban have never wanted peace.
  • Brian Lamb: You’re talking about — by the way, when you say democrats, you’re talking about…
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes. Yes, exactly.
  • Brian Lamb: …Iraqis and Afghanistan.
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes, exactly, in the sense of believing in a democratic process and that what we were creating in Afghanistan was an actual democracy when in reality it is an incredibly corrupt, predatory kleptocracy.
  • The lies continue into when things are discussed about the drugs in Afghanistan. You hear that the poppy crops and the drug trade is primarily done by the Taliban, and that may be true now because the Taliban has gained so much land the last few years, but for most of our time in Afghanistan, the drug trade has really been in control by the Afghan government and the Afghan military.
  • I mean, the lies that go on that somehow American boys and girls are over there killing and being killed in order to keep us safe, that if we’re not there, another 9/11 is going to happen. Well, that completely is belied by an understanding of the 9/11 attacks, by the fact that Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan, but the 9/11 hijackers spent more time in the United States than they did in Afghanistan. The most important safe haven for those hijackers were the United States flight academies and those martial arts gyms they went to.
  • Let alone the fact that the planning was, really took place and the preparation took place in Germany, in Pakistan. They had meetings in Spain, in Malaysia, possibly in the UAE. So the idea that they needed Afghanistan, that is, as if the jets that struck the twin towers took off from Kandahar Airport is one of the greatest and the most tragic lies, because what that lie does is it dishonors the memory of everyone who’s been killed, whether they were killed on September 11th, whether they’ve been killed in combat, whether they’ve been killed as innocents in the Afghan war, and not only that, we act as if the Afghan war was born or was hatched on September 11th.
  • When this war started — I was born in 1973, the same year the king was deposed in Afghanistan and you can trace this war to that. I mean, if I was an Afghan man, I would have lived my whole life with at best political chaos and normally war.
  • So that’s another lie that somehow this war began on September 11th, that it hasn’t been going on for over 40 years now. And so, you can unpack these things and go further into it. But the reality is that almost 17-plus years, getting close to — we’re going to be hitting 18 years come October in terms of how long our troops have had, been on the ground, again killing and being killed. And we talk about this with these sound bites that are completely unrelated to the reality of the conflict there.
  • Brian Lamb: And I’m going to say something and it may not be perfectly accurate, but you can correct me. You almost never hear anybody in this country talking about the Afghan situation, not entirely, but members of Congress don’t talk about it. Once in a while there’s a hearing on it. Why do you think that is?
  • Matthew Hoh: And I agree with you. I had a friend of mine running for Congress last year. In the year and a half she spent campaigning, she got exactly one question about the wars, not about the Afghan wars, but the wars in general.
  • So if you look at what journalists like Nick Turse have done who writes for The Intercept or Vice or TomDispatch or what the Cost of War project has done at Brown University, we have active combat operations in 14 different countries right now. We’re bombing at least seven nations. So today, today, as people are watching this show, we took the lives of people in seven different countries and we’re going to do it again tomorrow.
  • And so, it’s not just a discussion about the Afghan war. It’s a discussion about all the wars, what we’re doing overall, not just in the Middle East, but now throughout Africa. Why this is? I think that there is — and you contrast it to what I’ve been told. It was like during the Vietnam War where the Vietnam War was on at dinner time every night. I think there’s a real fear in much of the media to negatively speak about the war, to get into details about the war.
  • I also think and this is something that — so, a guy like Noam Chomsky talks about a lot, it’s hard to talk about something complex in two or three minutes or in 500 words. So for much of our media, it’s framed. It’s not like this show, where we’ve got an hour to talk which is this is great journalism. This is the way it’s supposed to be, right? You’ve got two or three minutes.
  • I, one time, was asked about by a journalist about this argument about safe havens, whether or not Afghanistan is a safe haven. And I start to explain that, look, they really don’t need these kinds of safe havens. They don’t need large amounts of land. How much room do you need to plan a hijacking? You need a basement or you need somebody’s apartment or a backyard. I mean, you don’t need much.
  • And he said, “I can’t…” and this is a pretty prominent journalist, he said, “I can’t go into all that. That’s going to take up too much room in the column.” So I think a lot of it is just the fact that once we get a narrative going, once — and it’s probably not just with the wars. You could probably say it about, say, healthcare or, say, social security or any other issue. Once we get a narrative going, it’s really difficult because of the way our media is set up in two to three-minute segments or 500 or 600-word columns to go back and reassess that narrative.
  • Brian Lamb: You talk in a lot of these pieces and there’s so much in there. We won’t get to half of it. The Pashtun, we have a map I want to put up on the screen that shows Afghanistan and where the Pashtun area also is over in Pakistan. Can you explain? What are we looking at in this map and what would you want people to know about your experience in this area?
  • Matthew Hoh: OK. Well, of course, going from left to right, the far left is Iran, Afghanistan, and then Pakistan and then India. Understanding that up to 100 — or I’m sorry, up until 75 years ago or so until after World War II, there was no Pakistan and India. There was only the one country ruled by the United Kingdom.
  • And the same going back now over 100 years, the border between Afghanistan and India as it was at that time was nebulous. It really didn’t exist and it was drawn like so much of the Muslim world, so much of Africa, so much of some parts of Asia, by European diplomats, just basically drawing a line down the map. And what you have there, the Afghanistan and Pakistan border is what’s called the Durand Line. And the idea behind that was for the British who had spent — who had gone to war three different times in Afghanistan, never successfully, always, always very bloody, always a punch to the noise, very much an embarrassment to their pride as well as they never achieved their objectives.
  • The idea was to divide the Pashtun people with that border. And so, what you get is you get the Pashtuns which by some estimates are the largest tribe in the world, divided by a border written by a British diplomat 100 years ago. And what that creates then is within Afghanistan, you have — Afghanistan is a country made up of different, of many different ethnicities, different religions. You have the Pashtun people who are in Afghanistan constitute about 40 percent of the Afghan people and they are primarily in the south and the east.
  • And what you have found over the last 40 years in particular was that whether it’s been the United States or the Soviet Union or other nations, India, Pakistan, Iran, they have — we have utilized those ethnic differences for the purposes of the war. So we saw this first under Jimmy Carter’s presidency with Zbigniew Brzezinski who was the national security adviser at the time who, his idea was to fan the flames of not just Muslim unrest in the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union at that time extended all the way down to Afghanistan, to cause ethnic problems and religious unrest in that — and as they described it, the soft underbelly of the Soviet Union.
  • And so, that begins this long process of ethnic division, a division that really didn’t exist and very similar, Brian, very similar to what happened in Iraq where the Shia-Sunni divide in Iraq didn’t exist in reality and certainly not violently. It didn’t exist anyway, as a civil war that was raging in Iraq 10 years ago until the United States invaded. And you could trace this back to the Native Americans.
  • The United States government, the United States military has used the policy of playing off one ethnic group, one religious group, one tribal group against another for centuries now. So the importance of understanding about the Pashtuns in Afghanistan is that they constitute or nearly constitute the whole of the Pashtun — I’m sorry, the Taliban insurgency. And they constitute almost nothing of the Afghan government and Afghan military.
  • Now, of course, you can point and say, “Hey, look, President Ghani of Afghanistan, President Karzai of Afghanistan, they are Pashtuns”, but that’s like pointing to President Obama and saying because we had a black President of the United States, we don’t have any racial problems in the United States or the fact that there isn’t a wealth gap in between blacks and whites in the U.S. because we had a black President.
  • So what you could see is that you have this insurgency that’s almost completely composed of Pashtuns against a government and an army that by last count I saw was only four percent Pashtun. So you very much have this divide.
  • Brian Lamb: You’re talking about the Army of Afghanistan.
  • Matthew Hoh: Of Afghanistan. Last time I saw only four percent of their soldiers were Pashtun.
  • Brian Lamb: In your letter 10 years ago, you listed, you said the Afghan government’s failings, particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars appear legion and metastatic, and you list things. And the first one on the list is glaring corruption and unabashed graft.
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes. Yes.
  • Brian Lamb: Where’s the corruption and who gets the graft?
  • Matthew Hoh: It goes — first of all, I would say and I think many Americans who look at this would understand that the graft starts here in this country where corporations receive the lion’s bulk of — or the bulk of the funding for the war.
  • I remember when I was working on reconstruction work in Afghanistan — I’m sorry, in Iraq, 40 percent of every dollar, so, 40 cents on each dollar that the Congress had appropriated for Iraq reconstruction never even left the United States. Right off the bat for overhead in management cost right to corporations here in the United States. The same occurs in Afghanistan. But everybody takes their cut, and not just in a way that you would think of corruption to grease the wheels to make sure the machine works. This is, as I said, unabashed and it’s — well, I mean, you can look at what we know about it.
  • We know that billions and billions of dollars each year in cash are moved out of the Kabul Airport. We know that. We know that there are billions of dollars, more money and cash leaves the Kabul Airport out of Afghanistan than the Afghan government budgets.
  • Brian Lamb: Where does it go?
  • Matthew Hoh: It goes offshore to Dubai. It goes offshore to Europe. It goes into various local banks.
  • Brian Lamb: Who’s doing it?
  • Matthew Hoh: It is everyone who is somehow connected to the war, including the highest levels. So when…
  • Brian Lamb: You’re talking about Americans.
  • Matthew Hoh: Well, no, the Americans get the money through what others would say — others outside the United States would say is corruption because it’s — that’s cooked into the system, OK? As I’ve said, 40 percent of every dollar that the Congress appropriates for building bridges, say, in Afghanistan stays right here in the United States. It goes right to the corporation overheads many times, right, or goes into security costs.
  • Brian Lamb: Do you have any idea how the physical money gets from here to Kabul and then physically gets from Kabul to some place offshore?
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes. We put it and I have this in Iraq when I — because it’s very similar. When I was in Iraq and I was running my reconstruction programs, one program I had was $50 million. It was all done in cash.
  • The most money I ever had once in my possession was $26 million. I kept that in safes, in my bedroom, on the base I lived in, Tikrit and we paid that money out in cash. It came right from the Federal Reserve, was shrink wrapped $100 bills. You can get $6 million in your standard C bag or duffle bag. That standard green military duffle bag, that holds $6 million.
  • So that money arrives in pallets in Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria or wherever — Libya, wherever these wars are taking place. It is then moved under control of the U.S. government and U.S. military and it’s then paid out through various mechanisms, various types of projects, various types of programs, building schools, buying desks for the schools, paying teachers.
  • Brian Lamb: Can you, by the way, take some of that for yourself?
  • Matthew Hoh: No. No. No. I never did. I was…
  • Brian Lamb: No. No. No. I didn’t say you did. But, I mean, could you have?
  • Matthew Hoh: Absolutely, absolutely.
  • Brian Lamb: And did you know anybody that did?
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes, I did. I know that just for example my predecessor in Tikrit, in Iraq he left the day that I arrived. After I showed up, $200,000 was found in his bedroom.
  • I took over for this guy and he had just pages and pages of paperwork, no pay receipts though, no receipts have actually — and because the way this — the way the wars were running, because of the desperation, because of what other choice did you have.
  • If you’re an Iraqi or an Afghan engineer or contractor, you’re going to take whatever is given to you. And particularly if it’s coming from the United States, so very easy that I could have. And I spent time dreaming about if I was going to write a novel how would I do it? And I would have moved the money up to Kurdistan and then gone back and gotten the money. But now, you spend your whole life looking over your shoulder for the FBI or something like that at that point of the Treasury Department I guess.
  • But there has been. There are a good many stories of this money showing back up in the United States because it comes right from the Federal Reserve, right? And because it — the banks know that this money shouldn’t be showing back up in the U.S., but it has. It shows back up around Fort Benning or around Fort Hood, Texas, around Camp Pendleton, California because it’s so easy to take this money.
  • Now to get it back here, it requires a bit of work because you have to go through customs and everything. But if you’re in — and if you’re not too greedy, if you’re only going to take $40,000 or $50,000 back rather than $4 million, you’ll probably get away with it, no one’s looking for that.
  • Now on the — on the say Iraqi or the Afghan side, that money after it arrives in Afghanistan and then changes hands to the Afghans and various people take their cuts, that money just gets transported directly out of Afghanistan. We know, because of WikiLeaks, we know that the Afghan vice president showed up in Dubai with $55 million in his suitcases, U.S. taxpayer money that he was just bringing and no repercussions at all.
  • Brian Lamb: But if you know this, why doesn’t the Congress know it? And I know we’ve had John Sopko in this network many times who is the Special IG for Afghanistan and he talks about this. It doesn’t — does it seem to matter this — you don’t ever hear about anything, and has this stopped?
  • Matthew Hoh: It — it’s very frustrating and it’s heartbreaking.
  • Brian Lamb: Let me read something you wrote in your piece, this latest piece we’re talking about. “The idea of military success and hard-won gains has nothing — has been nothing but craven and homicidal war propaganda trumpeted by U.S. generals and the world’s largest public relations operation and bleated obediently by politicians and, shamefully, journalists, the Pentagon spends on journalists,” I’m sorry about the way I’m ready it. “Depending on spends, almost $5 billion a year on recruiting, public relations, and psychological operations. By comparison, the largest public relations company in the world had annual fees for all of its clients of less than $900 million.”
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes. Yes.
  • Brian Lamb: Where did you get that figure? So…
  • Matthew Hoh: Oh, the $900 million, it’s linked in the article but it’s for, through some public relations institute.
  • Brian Lamb: More importantly, where how — where did you get the $5 billion?
  • Matthew Hoh: Oh, the $5 billion is — that’s U.S. government data, that comes out of the, what is it, the blue book or whatever the — if you go to — one, you can go to the Department of Defense website and the budget’s all there.
  • You can go to OPM and look at it there, or you can just Google as I did what is the Pentagon’s budget for public relations. And there had been numerous articles written about this. So none of this is hidden, this is — this is well known. I’m blanking on exactly what source I used for the $5 billion figure in there.
  • Brian Lamb: But you sourced everything.
  • Matthew Hoh: I’ve sourced everything and everything is sourced. Every — and it’s sourced using U.S. government or U.S. military data, United Nation’s data, Afghan government data, or if it’s used, journalism, I’m not using some far left or far right alternative media. I think probably I quote from the New York Times the most in there or…
  • Brian Lamb: But let me ask you, because I know what some people in the audience think when we have these guests on. People out there are saying, “PTSD’s gotten to this guy.”
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes.
  • Brian Lamb: “He’s a left winger, he’s way over there, he has no sense of the responsibility, the worldwide responsibility that the United States government has to stop all this stuff.” What do you say to them?
  • Matthew Hoh: I’d say you use your own brain. I mean, you use your own…
  • Brian Lamb: And what are your politics or your overall?
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes.
  • Brian Lamb: And what were they — when you first went into the Marine Corps?
  • Matthew Hoh: Well I Bob — I voted for Bob Dole in 1996. And 1992 was the first time I couldn’t vote and I didn’t like any of my choices or I could vote and I didn’t vote, and voted for Dole in ’96 and went into the Marine Corps. Reading the Economist, you know, being a conservative like most of my family was.
  • And at some point around 1999, 2000 I started moving more to the left, and now I am in many ways a socialist and not — now, if I was European, of course, I would be just a member of a left party. But I have come to understand the world that we have to work together. That — so I’m a civil libertarian, so I’m against government surveillance, I’m against government saying what you can do in your bedroom, I’m against over politicization.
  • If you’re actually to look at what I’m actually am, I am a libertarian socialist. So I believe in working together…
  • Brian Lamb: But what does socialism mean to you?
  • Matthew Hoh: Socialism just means to me that we are working for the — for the benefit of the whole as opposed to the individual, which is what I believe capitalism is about.
  • So I — I’m a believer that we need to come together to move forward, and we have done that in the past and in our best examples in this country when we have moved forward, we’ve done it together. So my understanding, my beliefs are that there is no way we can survive.
  • And when I say survive, you know, I’m talking about climate change, I’m talking about the divisions in this country, I’m talking about another aspect of the work I do, the dangers of nuclear war which is something we never or hardly have spoken about.
  • Brian Lamb: For the time being, let’s go back to the Afghanistan situation.
  • Matthew Hoh: Sure. That’s a whole another episode, right?
  • Brian Lamb: True. But let’s go to February the 8th, 2019. Here is some video of Zalmay Khalilzad who is a special representative of this government to try to negotiate with the Taliban. By the way, is there a way quickly for you to define who the Taliban are?
  • Matthew Hoh: It’s — they’re not a monolithic organization. The best way to describe it are primary Pashtun groups who are fighting against foreign occupation and against the government in Kabul as well as traditional enemies.
  • Remember, this war goes back to the ’70s. These men, their grandfathers fought originally in the ’70s. So much of this goes back to conflicts and grievances and rivalries that go back four decades.
  • Brian Lamb: OK. Let’s watch Zalmay Khalilzad and give me your reaction to this.
  • Zalmay Khalilzad: After many conversations, we have reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban on a framework that would provide guarantees and enforcement mechanism that no terrorist group, international terrorist group or individuals would be able to use Afghanistan, the areas that they can control and should they be part of a future government against the United States, its allies and others.
  • Brian Lamb: What is your reaction when you hear him say that?
  • Matthew Hoh: The Taliban have been saying that for over 10 years now. You’ve — if you go and look at the statements from at that time, their supreme leader, Mullah Omar going back in his — he would produce annual statements.
  • And he would say exactly what Khalilzad had said. When Bin Laden died, Osama Bin Laden was killed in 2011, the Taliban’s official statement about that was, we respect him because he fought against the Soviets and then he fought against the Americans and we respect him. But his war was not our war. Our wars in Afghanistan, we had nothing to do with Bin Laden.
  • Brian Lamb: Here’s the current president of Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014, it was Hamid…
  • Matthew Hoh: Hamid Karzai.
  • Brian Lamb: Karzai, thank you. Here is Ashraf Ghani currently and I want your reaction to this.
  • Ashraf Ghani: The United States is not there because it’s fighting in Afghanistan. It’s fighting for its security. Second, we have engaged in a very open dialogue, the United States is a sovereign power, it’s a global power, it’s entitled to leave. But we need to get the departure right. All the fundamental reasons that brought the United States to Afghanistan, are those objectives accomplished?
  • Brian Lamb: That was in the month of February.
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes. And he says the — what brought the United States to Afghanistan, that’s been accomplished. I’m very suspect of the Afghan government because the government is propped up by the United States. So the desire for the Afghan government to see the United States leave is not there, because it…
  • Brian Lamb: How much has this war in Afghanistan already cost the American taxpayer?
  • Matthew Hoh: Well directly, it’s almost $1 trillion.
  • Brian Lamb: How many people have we lost?
  • Matthew Hoh: Twenty five hundred plus another eighteen hundred or so contractors and relying on Department of Veterans Affairs figures, and you can’t really untie the Afghan and Iraq wars because the money crosses over as well.
  • Brian Lamb: What’s that total cost?
  • Matthew Hoh: But in terms of total cost, if you’re looking at what’s going to — what it’s going to cost in terms of future as well as the — $6 trillion we have spent according to Brown University just on debt payments on these wars.
  • So just on — because we’re paying for these wars — we’re not funding these wars, these wars are being paid on the credit card basically. So according to Brown University, we have already spent over $700 billion just on debt payments, on interest payments for these wars. But with regards to the bodily cost, the physical cost of the wars, when you look at suicide data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, 9,000 American soldiers or American men and women who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan have killed themselves since coming home from the wars.
  • Brian Lamb: How…
  • Matthew Hoh: So that’s a number that you can’t — you can’t divorce from that.
  • Brian Lamb: How close did you come to…
  • Matthew Hoh: I came very close. I came — I was — a number of times I tell you I was getting my — putting my cat in the — had the cat in the crate and the dog was getting leashed up and I was going to my vet to drop them off and then I was going to go kill myself.
  • There’s been times I’ve walked into the Wal-Mart and looked at the gun I was going to use. I’ve always been fortunate that I haven’t owned a weapon or else I probably wouldn’t be here. So I came close a number of times.
  • Brian Lamb: How did you stop from going that far?
  • Matthew Hoh: There’s a couple of things, one is I had professional help and that’s the reason why. Secondly, I called the crisis line. I called the people who are dedicated to answering those calls and a number of times that saved me.
  • But the only reason why was because I got professional help. The first time I ever got professional help was, that was almost — it was the beginning of 2012, my first therapist had been in the Navy, he had through very similar experiences, that’s the only reason why I trusted him.
  • I mean, so many of us come out of these wars and if you didn’t carry a rifle, I’m not going to listen to what you said. You don’t know anything you’re talking about. So I needed someone like that that I could trust. And he’s the one who got me on the path to be able to be here with you today. But I was laying on the floor broken down in 2012, and I had to decide either go put that gun in your mouth today or get help, and fortunately I chose to get help.
  • Brian Lamb: When did you get married?
  • Matthew Hoh: We just got married this past year, but we’ve known each other since 2004. We met in the Pentagon. And she has been with me, we’ve had a saga but she has known me since before the wars and she’s seen me every time I’ve come home from the wars and she’s been with me in so many ways. We have been back together now for five years or so, but yes, she has — she’s a veteran of this war as much as I am.
  • Brian Lamb: Back in 2017 here is General David Petraeus who was the boss in Iraq — in Afghanistan, and Iraq for some time, let’s watch this.
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes.
  • Brian Lamb: It’s not very long.
  • General David Petraeus: This is a generational struggle. This is not something that is going to be won in a few years, we’re not going to take a hill, plant the flag, and go home to a victory parade and we need to be there for the long haul. But in a way this is again sustainable. You know we’ve been in Korea for 65-plus years because there’s an important national interest for that.
  • Brian Lamb: We need to be there for the long haul.
  • Matthew Hoh: No, we don’t. Absolutely not. Our presence, and this is something that General Petraeus himself has said, our presence causes these insurgencies.
  • For every one “terrorist” we kill, we create 10 more. I mean, this is — this is knowledge — well-known knowledge. Also too, one of the things when I — when I signed up to go to Afghanistan, General Petraeus had taken on central command, so he was in charge of the Middle East for the United States military.
  • And I remember very clearly his thoughts were that — his words were that we were going to seek peace, that we were going to talk to the Taliban just like we talked to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. What strikes me so much about that comment there about Korea is that as we now see what’s happened over the last year and a half with North Korea, it’s all happening just because we’re talking to them.
  • And that’s what’s happening now with this peace process in Afghanistan, just like what happened in Iraq with the Sunnis in ’07, ’08 when I — in ’06, ’07 when I was there, all we did was start talking to them and the violence stopped. They came forward with their grievances, we said, “Yes, that’s understandable” and we worked to figure out a way past that.
  • That’s what we’re seeing now with these talks in Afghanistan. All it took was just us saying, “Yes, we’ll talk to you.” And now there is a potential peace process.
  • Brian Lamb: I want to show you a chart and it’s all because of reading your stuff and the background. There’s one of these organizations that you’re a member of called — oh where is it, World Beyond War.
  • Matthew Hoh: Oh yes.
  • Brian Lamb: What is World Beyond War?
  • Matthew Hoh: World Beyond War is just exactly like it sounds, it’s an organization devoted to creating a world without war. That — and it sounds Pollyannaish, but I tell you what, there’s no other alternatives.
  • Brian Lamb: One of the things, and I just came across that link to is the U.S. Census Bureau showing the number of bullets that this country sends over the years. And if you look on the chart, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 through November. And if you look up some of the big numbers there, that worldwide we have sent cartridges and parts thereof to 474 million.
  • Matthew Hoh: Yes.
  • Brian Lamb: And then it goes down the list and some of the bigger countries, Afghanistan was 123 million bullets. Canada is 74 million, it doesn’t explain why. What is — do you have any idea what all this is — why we’re…
  • Matthew Hoh: This is just an example of just the amount of bullets, not planes, not tanks, not ships, but just bullets. Whether it’s .556 or .762 millimeter, just the amount of rounds that we export as a country each year.
  • So one of the titles — subtitles I used in my piece was even a losing war makes money, and it’s true. The amount of money involved in these wars are what allow the wars to continue to go on. What — it’s what underlines the wars. It is campaign donations to members of Congress, it is think tanks that are funded by the defense industry that then go into Congress and say this is what we’re going to do. I had — I met with Senator Bob Casey’s stuff in…
  • Brian Lamb: Pennsylvania.
  • Matthew Hoh: …in Pennsylvania.
  • Brian Lamb: Democrat.
  • Matthew Hoh: A Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he has a military officer on his staff. Like so — like everyone in the Senate and most members of the House do. And this military officer told me, because he was upset by this, he’s saying, “You know what, seven out of ten briefings that we get on Afghanistan or Iraq doesn’t come from the CIA or the Pentagon or the State Department, it comes from these outside think tanks.”
  • Like Institute for the Study of War, Center for New American Security, American Enterprise Institute, that receive millions of dollars each year from the defense industry. So this money is circular and that is one example of, yes, even a losing war makes money.
  • Brian Lamb: Former ambassador I believe to both Iraq and Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, here’s 30 seconds of him I want your reaction of this.
  • Ryan Crocker: You have to understand the Pakistani perspective as well. We walked out of them — we walked out on them in the early ’90s after the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, slapping sanctions on them and heading home.
  • The Pakistanis are never ever going to forget that. What we have to do now is provide some assurances that this time we’re not going home, this time we’re going to stay with whatever force composition makes sense because we have vital interests at stake here.
  • Matthew Hoh: Well that’s one of the myths that I get when we left Afghanistan when the Soviets left. We didn’t. We continued to fund the various rebel groups, the Mujahideen groups for over three years until the government in Kabul fell.
  • We had no interest in a peace process, we wanted victory. And that led directly to the civil war, that brought about the Taliban. One of the things too that Ambassador Crocker, it strikes me and as I just heard this again recently is that over the last couple of decades, the Pakistani people have seen 70,000 people killed through terrorist acts.
  • You know, I heard that. I mean, it made me — made me — you know, really startled me. That amount of people, that would be the equivalent of, we have roughly three and a half size — we have roughly three and a half time the size of Pakistan. We’re talking about 250,000 Americans being killed over the same period.
  • So the Pakistanis have very legitimate grievances, some of which Ambassador Crocker does speak to, but others that we don’t talk about ourselves, that we don’t — we don’t acknowledge. We don’t acknowledge what these wars have cost them. As well as too, again, that was a good example of the myths, that we just got up and left. You know, we didn’t. We stayed funding those groups and for years after the Soviets left.
  • Brian Lamb: Here’s former general — I mean, retired General Jack Keane talking about this subject.
  • General Jack Keane: From 2003 Stewart to 2008 Afghanistan was on a diet. We never provided adequate resources. The Taliban reemerged during that timeframe and gained momentum.
  • It wasn’t until late 2008 that President Bush because of the success of the surge in Iraq, he was able to put some forces in. And then Obama puts some forces in in 2009 and 2010, but shorted the commanders by 25 percent and then pulled the forces out 15 months later. So we have never ever gone about this thing appropriately with the right strategy and the right amount of forces.
  • Matthew Hoh: He’s one of those craven warmongers I was talking about. General Keane who was chief of staff of the army has the institutionalized madness I believe. He is completely — he is not stating factually what occurred in Afghanistan…
  • Brian Lamb: But why wouldn’t he? I mean, he’s not here, so…
  • Matthew Hoh: Right. He’s — I mean, a number of reasons. One, he’s on a tremendous number of boards for arms companies. General Keane is, if people are aware of the recent controversy of the — of the Trump Administration wanting sell nuclear technology to the Saudis without the approval of Congress.
  • Well, the company that’s involved in that, IP3, General Keane founded that company. General Keane is on, again, the boards of many different arms companies like the ones that export 475 million bullets a year.
  • Brian Lamb: But in a way, though you’re suggesting that General Keane is not a good American, that he’s not patriotic, this is all about his pocketbook.
  • Matthew Hoh: Absolutely. I have no problem saying that. I have no problem, because so many people have died, so many people are living lives of hell now because of men like General Keane and because of the lies he keeps telling.
  • We didn’t ignore Afghanistan for all those years, we went after the Taliban mercilessly. We were backing warlords who were — who were — who were trying to settle decades-old — decades old quarrels. We were backing drug lords for all those years. We started expanding NATO in Afghanistan in 2006.
  • It was only when we got to the American sector in ’08 that we’ve started putting American troops in, then he talks about shorting the commanders by 25 percent, we didn’t have the troops to do it. The way Obama — we just did not have that many troops to send. And besides, again, Obama sent 70,000 American troops, he sent 40,000 NATO troops, he sent 100,000 contractors, that’s 200,000 troops. So Keane wants you to believe that another 25 percent more would have made a difference?
  • Brian Lamb: Right after your letter of resignation that ended up on the front page of the Washington Post in 2009, a couple months later Barack Obama said the following on December the 1st about more troops.
  • Barack Obama: We will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum and increase Afghanistan’s capacity over the next 18 months. The 30,000 additional troops that I’m announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010, the fastest possible pace, so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers.
  • They’ll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces and they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.
  • Matthew Hoh: Again, at that point…
  • Brian Lamb: Ten years later now.
  • Matthew Hoh: Ten years later. At that point at his speech he’d already sent 40,000 troops. Something that was barely talked about while he was doing it, and this is why when I was there in ’09. Then he spent — so he sends all these extra troops.
  • I wish President Obama was here now. I wish he was here to explain how he felt about it. If you read books like the Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward, you see that he was very skeptical. I remember when President Obama first received recommendations in the fall to expand the war, continue to expand the war in Afghanistan, he said, “Where has this been successful? Has this ever worked?” And they couldn’t show him where it had worked.
  • And all they did was — the Pentagon, all they did was give him small, medium, large escalation. The large escalation was completely impossible because we didn’t have that many troops, just did not have that many troops in the U.S.
  • And so what President Obama does in ’09 is the small escalation was 20,000 troops, the large — the medium escalation was 40,000, I’m going to cut the difference, 30,000 troops. And that’s what happens.
  • Brian Lamb: We’re about out of time and I want to make sure that we go over some things quickly. If people want to read your article, “Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies,” where do they go?
  • Matthew Hoh: Go to counterpunch.org.
  • Brian Lamb: And you served how many years in the United States Marine Corps?
  • Matthew Hoh: Ten years.
  • Brian Lamb: And you served in how many different war situations?
  • Matthew Hoh: Well, I went to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once.
  • Brian Lamb: How long did you work for the State Department?
  • Matthew Hoh: Oh, in Afghanistan, it was only for a period of five months. I couldn’t do any more than that.
  • Brian Lamb: And before I forget, what is the white flower on your lapel?
  • Matthew Hoh: Most people are familiar with the red poppy that recognizes the deaths of soldiers. The white poppy recognizes the deaths of everyone involved in combat, soldier and civilian alike. It’s to remember all the losses and all of the suffering of war.
  • Brian Lamb: Last question to you is, how have you recovered — at what point have you — is your recovery at this point from PTSD and concussion and all that stuff?
  • Matthew Hoh: I take 19 pills a day, sometimes I take as many as 26 because the migraines, the exhaustion, the being overwhelmed, mood issues. I go to therapy weekly. I have a great therapist at the Washington, D.C. VA.
  • But it is — it is my primary — I only do things like this when I’m able to. And I certainly don’t work. I’m a hundred percent disabled, I can’t work basically, I just don’t have the ability to do it fulltime. After an interview like this, sitting with you for an hour, I’ll probably sleep for 14 or 15 or 16 hours to recover from it and the rest of — you know, the next couple of days will be not good days for me.
  • So it — and it’s — but, you know, live by the sword, die by the sword. I’m not saying any of this to gain sympathy other than just to communicate so that people can understand that these wars don’t really ever end, that they come home and they stay home with us. And if we continue them or if we expand them or begin new ones, we’re going to create a whole new generation of young men and women and their families and their communities that are going to live through that kind of hell.
  • Brian Lamb: Matthew Hoh, thank you very much for joining us.
  • Matthew Hoh: Thank you, Brian.
  • END

7 thoughts on “Endless War Film

  1. Explative. Croud mentality has led us here. It’s worse now than my 70-some yrs have ever seen. A trait of survival I suppose. At the same time, a trait of extinction. Matthew Hoh, you somehow were ment to shake that trait off. Thank you for the enlightenment you labor and the suffering you pay. They are both profound. Quite litterally, profound beyond my comprehension. This recognition barely a token of my appreciation. This from a Viet Nam era Conciencious Objetor, the bow of my head to all Hoh-likeminded citizens of our Mother Earth.


  2. Thanks so much for this comment Jake. I think you are right on. And thank you for having the intelligence and courage to have been a CO. I wish I could say the same about myself.


  3. Thank you for speaking truth to power from the inside. I’d like to ask you what you think about some new information which came out on a topic related to what you said here:

    “And so, that begins this long process of ethnic division, a division that really didn’t exist and very similar, Brian, very similar to what happened in Iraq where the Shia-Sunni divide in Iraq didn’t exist in reality and certainly not violently. It didn’t exist anyway, as a civil war that was raging in Iraq 10 years ago until the United States invaded. And you could trace this back to the Native Americans.

    The United States government, the United States military has used the policy of playing off one ethnic group, one religious group, one tribal group against another for centuries now.”

    This January saw the release of a major Army study of the Iraq war which was commissioned by Odierno in 2013 and completed in 2016. It had been suppressed reportedly because it had aired “dirty laundry”. It revealed that as commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Odierno received orders from the CPA and CJTF-7 to release members of the Badr Corps who had been captured in late May 2003 in connection with revenge killings in Diyala Province. While it doesn’t mention exactly when, the text strongly suggests that the orders came very soon after they had been detained.

    Derek Harvey told Reuters in December 2015 that in 2003 and 2004 the coalition had released assassins from the Badr Brigade who had been captured with target lists of Baathists because his superiors said that “this stuff had to play itself out”.

    Moreover, the NYT reported that in July 2003 the coalition (specifically Ryan Crocker, then one of Bremer’s aides) was making concessions to the head of the Badr Brigade to get him to join the Iraqi Governing Council – specifically kicking off three potential members which he didn’t like and replacing them.

    In February 2004, the Coalition published a letter from Zarqawi to Al Qaeda in which Zarqawi says that jihadis need to start a more open civil war against the Shia to mobilize Sunnis against a covert war of assassinations targeting them. Zarqawi cited only the Badr Brigade as a specific group which was behind these killings, which constituted his only contemporary reason for bombing Shia. Yet they doubled down on the death squad strategy in response to this letter.

    Why do you think that this happened? Was this the kind of thing you were referring to? Thank you.


    • I forgot to mention that the page number for that claim in the study was pg 181 with footnotes on pg 192.


    • Yes, it was Patrick and I am sorry for the delay in a response. The Badr Corps was needed to fight the Sunnis, the Nazis of Iraq as Americans such as Paul Wolfowitz described them.

      My own experience with the Badr Corps and it’s parent the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is limited to my time in Baghdad in spring 2004 when the reconstruction program I was working on, with the Ministry of Youth and Sport, had a budget of approximately $20 million (cash, US dollars provided on pallets, shrink wrapped and direct from the US). Rather than this money being used for any construction project it was signed over, in entirety to SCIRI and to the Badr Corps.

      What of course disturbed the plans of the USG was that the Shia militias such as Sadr’s Mahdi Army, were not content to be puppets of an occupier and so the clean split of Shia Arab and Kurd vs Sunni Arab in Iraq was never so clean.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No problem. Thanks for responding. I think it’s amazing that in both the run-up to the war and during debaathification Wolfowitz and the rest could so confidently rely on the mainstream media to never mention Iraqgate (our support for Saddam) or how Bush incited the uprising after the Gulf War to let the rebels be massacred.

        I hope that the new info above gets out somehow. If a war with Iran starts we may see the “end of history” in a different sense.


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