What the fall of Kabul reveals about America’s culture of anti-democracy

Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller’s case is nothing new

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Collegian File Photo

By Anay Contractor, Collegian Contributor

The Taliban offensive on Kabul in August precipitated a series of drastic decisions and events that had varying consequences. The resulting fall of Kabul concluded a drawn-out and rather confusing conflict that checked another box on the list of America’s failed foreign wars. What the fall of Kabul tells us is that modern American politics is a cocktail of hypocrisy and anti-democracy that attempts to disguise domestic problems with foreign interventions.

Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller was a respected officer in the Marine Corps and battalion commander for the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In a viral video in light of the suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members in Kabul, Lt. Col. Scheller called on holding senior military and political leadership accountable for their hasty decision-making. He lamented the lack of ownership senior leaders have taken for their decisions and actions over the course of the United States’ time in Afghanistan.

Naturally, there was backlash, condemnation and persecution. Scheller was relieved of his duty as the video made its way around the internet. He is currently facing a pre-trial hearing with potential charges of unbecoming conduct, contempt towards officials, disobeying a senior officer and failure to obey an order/regulation. Now, this is a standard procedure in martial law. But the question is, why?

There are a few things to unpack here. Firstly, checks and balances are a fundamental tenet of American democracy and as a result, American institutions. However, the fact of the matter is that because our institutions are so hierarchically constructed, there isn’t as much room for accountability and, well, checking and balancing. This, in my eyes, is fundamentally anti-American and anti-democracy. The preamble to our constitution says “We, the People,” but do we have any respect and value for the men and women who have laid down their lives and sacrificed normality to protect our nation? Sure, we need laws in place to ensure things like mutiny and revolt do not occur, but when there’s a logical basis for one’s opinion, why is draconian punishment the only answer?

Beyond this, we must also consider the fundamental principles of American law. America’s courts function on the principle of stare decisis which, in short, means that like cases should be decided alike. To elaborate, when a judge is arbitrating a case, they must rely on similar precedents and discount all external influences. Now in a case like this, we must consider the precedent a decision in favor of Lt. Col. Scheller would set. Instead of continuing the witch hunt for out-of-line officers, what if we started investigating the ones up top? What if we started asking them the questions?

A fundamental axiom of the universe that has been repeatedly proven is that seniority does not equal efficacy. The fact of the matter is that the men and women in the ivory tower only have a top-down view of our military, and because of that, they can dictate the status quo. It’s time that our generation starts asking questions all around, especially to the people who don’t want to be questioned.

Beyond establishing a true American liberal democracy, we must strive to be skeptical with reason and relentless in the pursuit of our personal truths. Lt. Col. Scheller’s personal truth is unfortunately intertwined with layers of caution and calculation. It is critically important that we encourage cross-institutional dialogue and stop hiding behind layers of privilege. Without meaningful conversation, we lose our sense of self.

Anay Contractor can be reached at [email protected].