On August 30, 2021, West Point graduate LTG Chris Donahue boarded the last C-17 aircraft to execute the embarrassing end to the 20-year lost war in Afghanistan. Upon return home, he was lauded as the “last man out” of Afghanistan and later promoted to 3 Star general. Currently, he serves as the 18th Airborne Corps Commander at Ft Liberty (formerly Ft Bragg), NC. The base name was changed a few months ago in a grand DoD anti-racist plan. His military installation has a robust Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program and undoubtedly conducts annual training for soldiers in his command.
Donahue had been sent to Afghanistan in mid-August 2021 to take charge of the escalating chaos at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. During the evacuation of the city, the US military flew over 120,000 refugees out of the country, a number the DoD and president touted as a success. However, it has been proven that thousands of Americans were left behind when Donahue left the country. Former military and patriotic Americans worked to get hundreds out after the military left, but as late as April 2023, the US Secretary of State acknowledged that American citizens were still trapped in Afghanistan, and many were known to still be imprisoned by the evil Taliban.
Most if not all of the American citizens left behind were not White. They are Brown Americans. For nearly 20 years, US soldiers fought alongside their Brown Afghan military partners. Many US soldiers risked their lives, were wounded, and in some cases, even killed defending their Brown Afghan partners. The US soldiers’ code of honor was color blind. Readers should not be surprised. Fighting for countrymen and allies is what makes America’s Army great. Apparently, though, this virtue gets lost at the higher echelons of military and civilian command.
Donahue’s supporters contend that he didn’t start the war, nor end the war. Further, he arrived in the middle of chaos to do as much “good” as possible in a bad situation. This is undoubtedly true. At the same time, he was the commander of security on the ground, the last officer to leave the country, and a general officer. He could have declined and/or refused the mission as he also undoubtedly knew that on his watch the US would be abandoning billions in military equipment and thousands of Americans (Brown skinned Americans) to the enemy. Once he signed on, he owned the actions that took place on the ground, including the abandonment of non-White people to the Taliban where they faced harassment, imprisonment, torture, and/or death. This is the moment in one’s career where the ultimate ethical dilemma exists. If he refuses and protests the mission, he likely would lose his job and be forced to retire, albeit with a clear conscience. If he accepts, completes the mission, and gets promoted (as he chose to do), he 100% owns what happened on the ground. He nor his supporters can blame this on a president or higher ranking civilian or military officials. West Point and the Army bombards service members with vignettes where the student must face a difficult moral situation and come up with the best answer. “He followed orders” was never the correct answer.
When the 18th Airborne Corps performs vignette training and discusses the racial implications of actions, they should add a case study into the ethnicity of the Americans and allies knowingly left behind in Afghanistan and debate if their callous abandonment was made easier be the fact that they were Brown. Did this lessen the severity of this dishonorable action in the minds of those in charge – ie LTG Donahue? Furthermore, any soldiers in his 18th Airborne Corps who are charges with racism could and should point to the precedent set by their current corps commander. How can a commander prosecute his charges when he is likely guilty of racism himself?
In addition to violating the Ranger Creed, did LTG Donahue’s abandonment of Brown Americans and allies in Afghanistan constitute a racist offense?
John Hughes, MD
USMA Class of 1996
President of MacArthur Society of West Point Graduates
Member of STARRS.US