I suppose that everyone has wished, at one time or another, that they had a crystal ball, or a magic screen, or some other device with which they could see the future – especially the outcome of certain actions that they might or might not take in the present. We would all like to know the answer to the question, “What would happen if...?” And if a glimpse into the future would be a desirable thing for an individual, how much more desirable might it be for a leader – someone who has the resources of a nation, and the lives of its citizens, in the palm of his hand? Wouldn't it be nice, for instance, if, before starting a war, a president or king or dictator could be shown the long-term consequences? (Would even that have convinced Hitler? Who knows?)
Well, such a capability might exist -- “might”, mind you – when it comes to the war in Afghanistan, which President Obama is actively engaged in escalating. A recent article entitled “Red Army vets still shaken by Afghan folly” provides a clue. Of course, at the time the Russians were fighting in Afghanistan – before the Soviet Union broke up, of course – all we knew, or cared to know, was that the Russians were a bevy of faceless brutes, engaged in oppressing a “freedom-loving people” (many of whom wound up in the ranks of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, by the way – so much for our romantic stereotypes!). Now it turns out that the Russians were, by and large, flesh-and-blood human beings, and many of them were not at all happy with the duties they had been ordered to perform in Afghanistan – or with the outcome. I'll say again – meaning, or the ability to attribute meaning, has a lot to do with one's ultimate “take” on a given experience; hence the tendency for World War II veterans to look back and see that conflict as noble, and worth pursuing... in contrast to Vietnam, which was widely considered absurd and futile at the time, and which, in retrospect, still is. And of course, we were happily chortling all during the Russians' struggle in Afghanistan, that it was “their Vietnam”. Well, so it was... but what goes around comes around, and it could just as truly be said that Iraq is our Afghanistan, and that Afghanistan is... also our Afghanistan.
The article makes it clear that Soviet soldiers suffered just as much as our own from what we call post-traumatic stress syndrome... and that they saw, as clearly as any of us do, the futility and utter foolishness of the war they had been ordered to fight. The waste of lives and resources was painful enough... but a government and an entire social and economic system fell as well (perhaps not to the total regret of those involved). Here is one quote: “These generals at the top, they had no sense of reality. They gave us murderous orders. I still bear a cross [note the expression! This is a Soviet soldier speaking] because I fulfilled those orders.” How many of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan could readily offer the exact same words today? Our military commanders are supposed to be the most experienced soldiers around, hence the most realistic. But as we can see on a daily basis from their actions and statements, as they go up in rank some sort of brain-rot sets in, and they all wind up with delusions of grandeur accompanied by a shocking disregard for human life – that of the troops under their command as well as the residents of the country we are fighting in. We wind up, in many ways, no better than the enemy we are fighting – which calls into serious question our motives for being there as well as the authenticity of our own hallowed system and “way of life”. If the only way to pursue the American dream is to crush other people and nations into fine powder, then of what conceivable value is the American dream? Isn't it more like a blight on the rest of the world, even if it serves to hold off despair on the home front? We expect other peoples to believe our propaganda and ignore what we actually do when we're in their territory... but the exact opposite winds up happening, and rightly so. The biggest weapon that “terrorists” have against us is our hypocrisy.
Another Soviet veteran pointed out that “Afghans will fight foreign troops as long as foreign troops are there. No one should go there armed.” How can it be put any plainer than that? And yet, here we go again, sending more heavily-armed troops in an attempt to “pacify” a place that hasn't been peaceful in its entire history. And in the process, we get thoroughly "gamed" by the corrupt Afghan government, which has only its own interests in mind (and we find this shocking for some reason).
The good news? The war in Afghanistan “hastened the collapse of the Cold War [Soviet] empire”. We might eventually come out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a collapsed empire as well – and a chance to reassert American independence from the follies of the rest of the world. We could do this right now, in fact... but, as usual, simply knowing what's right isn't enough, it takes a disaster to really convince us. And even that isn't always enough; time will tell.