Alumnus speaks on experiences, disagreements with war in Afghanistan

Michelle Yan | Contributing Photographer

Matt zeller, an SU alumnus and military veteran, speaks at Maxwell Auditorium on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Zeller wrote a book about his experiences in Afghanistan.

Matt Zeller’s experience in Afghanistan was very different from what was reported in the mainstream media.

Zeller, a Syracuse University alumnus and veteran rights activist, spoke at Maxwell Auditorium about his book, “Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan” on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

Although he had always wanted to be a lawyer after graduating from college, Zeller said he decided on Sept. 11, 2001 that he wanted to serve his country. He graduated from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs with a master’s degree in public administration and international relations in 2006, and went on to spend most of 2008 with Afghan security forces. He was also a member of the CIA from 2007-2010.

Zeller’s discussion, “How We Lost the War We Won,” is a part of Syracuse University’s Alumni Speaker Series, sponsored by SU Career Services and the Office of Alumni Relations. His presentation detailed how the men and women in war, who were trained to help the Afghan people, instead spent most of their time fighting the Taliban.

“By the time I got there in 2008, I spent more time fighting an enemy that I wasn’t even supposed to engage with than I did training my Afghan security forces,” Zeller said.

Promoting literacy was a major aspect of Zeller’s time overseas. All Afghan students are granted an opportunity for education, he said, but many underprivileged people do not have access to necessary resources. Zeller said he went to different parts of the country to distribute school supplies, like pens and pencils, so these students could have an education.

Zeller’s book, a compilation of letters and emails sent to his family and friends during his time at war, highlights rarely exposed aspects of the life of an American soldier overseas. Some of these aspects include inadequate training and the difficulties of adjusting back to civilian life after returning to the United States.

It took Zeller two years after returning to the United States to revisit the accounts of his time in Afghanistan and begin writing his book.

Some students were surprised at how different Zeller’s firsthand account of the Afghan war was compared to the account the American media provided.

“Zeller shed light on all of the stuff that we don’t hear in the mainstream media about the war and what strategies we are actually implementing and how that differs from those we should be implementing,” said Steve Fatigrossi, a sophomore political science major.

Not only were students shocked by the information they heard, but some felt a stronger connection to Zeller’s experiences because he was in their shoes just a few years prior.

“I think his story is more personal for us students, seeing as we are basically standing in the same place he was only a few years ago,” said Nick Pescatore, a sophomore computer science major.

Throughout the presentation, Zeller discussed his displeasure with the events of the war and much of his time spent in Afghanistan, and said it could be used as an example for the future.

Said Zeller: “Afghanistan is a case study in a way that we should never run a war ever again in the future, and there are some lessons to be learned from that.”


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