Afghanistan: A PROZAC moment? (NOT!)
One of the truly nice things about the human aging process is that the older one becomes, the more firmly the muddy footprint of ultimate hopelessness presses unrelentingly down on former youthful ambitions, hopes, dreams, ideals and allusions of earthly happiness. In a process that simply continues to gather speed as one’s latter years pass, the human mind reflexively seeks oblivion from the unending cares and concerns of a world gone progressively mad by retreating into itself. Medical authorities characterise this process with various appellations, among them dementia, Alzheimer Syndrome, geriatric senilia, etc., but I suspect that it’s actually more of a self-protective mechanism designed to shield the more emotionally fragile among us from unendurable mental anguish over the collective stupidity of one’s fellows.
Needless to say, it’s been a long, long time since I have maintained any reasonably definable optimism for anything, least of all the future of the human race, that annoying clot of annoying little ‘sentient’ parasites that infests the surface of the beautiful blue-green globe we call Earth.
From my perspective as an up-and-coming old poopy-pants entering his 65th year of observing human behavioral failings and misrecreations, there’s really neither justifiable cause nor unassailably valid support for any celebration of our chief assets as the highest evolved sentient life forms on the home planet. Our vaunted ability to reason, formulate wise conclusions, interact intelligently, and conduct those interactions humanely, contrasted against the markers of our history, appear ever so vastly overrated and specious.
In darker moments, it seems to me as if the entire species has long since succumbed to a progressive form of mental breakdown that can be characterised as a protracted, subtly drawn-out process of moral and ethical disintegration that surely can have no end other than total, mutual and complete species self-annihilation.
This depressing affliction appears to be particularly contagious for those of us who maintain the misapprehension that a free, democratic society (like ours) can somehow rise above all the gratuitous daily brutalities human beings are subject to at the hands of their fellows to embrace a higher, nobler vision of human existence. A search for compelling or conclusive evidence to the contrary is nothing, if not laughably doomed to failure. Just look about you. Observe the local animal (two-footed variety) life. Watch the available media. Monitor the current political contests (but not too long, since that will simply deepen any preexisting depression). Nolo contendere, yer honner!
On the streets, nothing observable but legions of stultified and dulled-down, vacuous mouth-breathers, all totally preoccupied with their hand-held electronic entertainment devices (cell phones, communicators, games, gizmos, at al) and appearing to exist in near absolute obliviousness of anything richer and more intellectually fulfilling going on around them (let alone traffic dangers, potential hazards, criminal intent by others, what have you). Situational awareness: Z*E*R*O.
On the airwaves nothing worthwhile to listen to but noisy drivel (without the pictures). Commercial (televised corporate broadcast media) programming, brutally hacked into disconnected segments that are interspersed with moronic advertisements preponderantly aimed at seniors citizens suffering from a breathtakingly broad array of apparent health afflictions (thanks to the unrelenting, banal advertising of the pharmas). On non-visual (radio) media, an unending barrage of equally moronic ‘talk’ that is divided equally between misguided, grossly partisan political sermonizing, programs pandering to abysmally ignorant ‘popular’ opinion, highly irritating noise masquerading as pop-culture ‘music’, and hard-sell commercial advertising trying its best to convince us to buy yet more, spiritually unsatisfying and often totally unnecessary material things that once purchased, are quickly forgotten and discarded.
Even cable and satellite television media, formerly only modestly contaminated by creeping commercialism of the meanest sort, are now plagued by the same sort of utterly vapid commercialism that continues to turn any vestige of reflective intelligence into the sort of mere programmed rote-process, thought-devoid reactivity exhibited by stale vanilla-custard pudding (i.e. none).
At my own home, I have resisted the urge to connect with the non-commercial broadcasting media options (cable and satellite), despite the temptations of some features found therein that vaguely appeal to me (like the History Channel, the SyFy channel, and a few other venues reflecting mildly stimulating thoughtfulness), largely out of reluctance to get hooked on what appears to be a treadmill pattern of steadily rising annual service charges; but that leaves little to watch on commercial broadcasting channels other than PBS’ consistently impoverished fare, most of which seems to draw elderly Lawrence Welk fans and (help-I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up) ‘seniors’ who seem to inhabit their own little time-warp of a fantasy world in which Elvis, the Beach Boys, Tom Jones, Wayne Newton,and the ‘Gratingly Still Not Dead’ remain s**t-hot, current stuff.
What little ‘news’ there is on regular broadcast programming television channels is almost invariably obsessed with the day’s quota of municipal shootings, stabbings, rapes, house-fires, child-molestations, parole-breaking former inmate crimes, or….perhaps worst of all…smarmy, syrupy ‘human interest’ stories about rescued puppies (always a sure-fire heart jerker), heroic children, disprivileged scholars, or paeans to local civic minded people trying to ‘make a difference’ in the community (gag!).
All of the above stories, of course, are delivered by tight-bloused, bosomy young female news personalities with irritatingly high pitched voices, perfectly practiced coif-tossing affects, ‘just-so’ posture that finds them joining their finger tips precisely in the approved modeling manner, and appropriate displays of synthetic emotional empathy at just the right moment in their reports.
And that’s just on the local scene. Moving on to the larger state and national scene in Merca (that’s ‘America’ to you, Mr. mainstream American), the carefully packaged political bullshit, verbal effluent, and talk-mongering fantasy that we are daily served as blue-plate special verifiable reality, it is quite easy to feel an urgent need to just shoot the television and disconnect totally from any further contact with the dolts, morons and idiots whose life work seems to be to drag our awarenesses down to the same bottom-feeding level of the awareness spectrum they inhabit.
Hm. OK. You’re probably wondering by this time what provoked such an unconstrained outpouring of bitter dislike for the whole cultural context of our American society, as produced, packaged and promulgated by commercial advertising (at the behest of corporate profit seekers). Succinctly summed up: Afghanistan.
Each day in the office I skim through that paragon of Rupert Murdoch’s grotesquely bizarre capitalist news publication, the Wall Street Journal. Although a few of its features are genuinely good (the book reviews, for example, are usually excellent), the editorial page reads like a Rush Limbaugh impression of William Kristol doing an impression of Paul Wolfowitz doing an impression of Sarah Palin doing an impression of Donald Rumsfeld as Ronald McDonald’s half-witted younger brother. Occasionally, succumbing to a similarly contra-positivist spin that presumes real progress is being made in the present American campaign to kill Talliban in Afghanistan, one stumbles across an article or two in the WSJ supporting our heroic American efforts in that nation and describing them as being ‘encouraging’, productive, and/or hopeful. Frankly, having to suffer through such outrageous wool-gathering effrontery without gagging is enough to make a true son of auld Erin see orange!
The blunt and painful truth is that our war in Afghanistan is not just unsustainably unaffordable, it is clearly unwinnable. What fails to have dawned on all the eager proponents of American interventionist philosophy in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) is that Afghanistan is, by any assessment, an abysmally ignorant, hopelessly primitive, and extremely rudimentarily developed nation comprised of equally ignorant, primitive, and emotionally volatile tribes that haven’t the merest understanding of such high-flown ideals as ‘American democracy’, ‘free market capitalism’, and/or social egalitarianism. To say their awareness of such things as gender equality, human rights, freedom of speech and expression is almost non-existent is understating the Afghan status quo by an order of magnitude. As a tribally-based people, their loyalties to concepts and institutions beyond the basic family and tribal loyalties are more ephemeral and unpredictable than the sere desert winds that daily cauterise the region. These are people whose concerns center on the basest survival level of human function. Most of those in the lower two-thirds of the population would as gladly slit your throat for the coat on your back as they would slaughter a prized goat for your dinner. Fortunately, the highest third of the Afghani people (those well-connected and influential) are too preoccupied with illicitly profiting from poorly monitored American handouts (and skimming profits from the immensely profitable Opium trade) to engage in actual throat-slitting.
Regarding the ongoing effort to train Afghanistanis to become police and military personnel capable of taking over (from US forces) and maintaining internal order, given the absolutely unbelievably terrible quality, ignorant nature, and highly corruptable tendencies of those tribal recruits, this strategy is itself so farcical that it defies belief. The moment American forces withdraw, leaving domestic law enforcement control and regional regulation in the hands of 'home forces', the nation will immediately revert to the chaotic conditions that prevailed prior to the original US incursion into Afghanistan (duh!).
When you take these unstable qualities and mix them together with a highly irrational and emotional religious theology that is daily reinvented by whatever mullah happens to command the most fear among local villagers and you have an immensely resistive, amorphously resilient force that can overcome any systematic deployment of high-tech war hardware thrown at it by a petulant western nation bent on dismembering and restructuring the region. As if that weren’t enough, next-door neighbor (Islamic) Pakistan continues to provide a rest & relaxation haven for the Afghani terrorists, whilst simultaneously doing their best to put on a complicated dissembling show, in order to convince the Americans they are serious about cracking down on the (Islamic) terrorists.
The Soviets learned the utter futility of their own efforts to subjugate Afghanistan only after 10 years of bitterly harsh and immensely costly (both in terms of expense and casualties) experience, spanning 1979 through 1989, for the Soviet Union was no more used to fighting this type of extreme guerilla warfare than the United States is today. Afghanistan has (happy fact for them, very bad for us) one of the harshest geophysical environments in the entire world and the tribes who have inhabited it for centuries have had hundreds of years to perfectly adapt themselves to it. The primitive nature of life in this part of the world demands an equally primitive survival adaptation…not something that colonial sahibs of any nationality or era have ever been able to replicate or endure with anywhere near equal capability.
The United States, with its extraordinary reliance on highly sophisticated technology and imbued with a population of ‘overly civilised’ people, are poorly prepared to take on the daunting challenges implicit in the region, no matter how one separates them out for considered analysis. Further, we Americans are used to quick and decisive wars fought with massively destructive weapons, the use of which just coincidentally happens to be severely handicapped by the ‘civilised’ rules of modern warfare we westerners abide by. The Afghanistani terrorists (the Talliban, their Al Queda cohorts, and Islamic Pakistani supporters) for their part are not encumbered by any such Marquis of Queensbury rules, nor do they need the unimaginably costly weapons systems American puts so much faith in to nearly equal their powerful Western adversaries in terms of overall strategic gains and territorial wins on their own backyard battlefield. Furthermore…and perhaps most importantly…they want to win MORE than we do (the same sentiment existed in Vietnam and our war there was eventually lost largely because of it).
Most recently, the American war-fighting policy in Afghanistan that one hears discussed with increasing frequently involves the so-called COIN strategy (or COunter-INsurgency program) that seeks to gain hearts and minds gradually, in small but steady increments, as tribesmen and villagers are won-over by material and economic support as much as by ‘bad-guy’ control. While the theory behind COIN operations seems to hold valid long-term promise (based on the few existing models we can evaluate), the fact often overlooked is that these small but steady gains require a severely protracted commitment, both in terms of financial and human resources (military combat forces and organized socio-economic infrastructure support). America, after having just sunk trillions of dollars into a futile and senseless effort to remake Iraq in its own image, now has neither of these to spare and is therefore doomed to ultimate failure if it thinks the American people still have sufficiently infinite patience and willingness to commit the precious resources with which would be required to carry through that very long-range plan.
Furthermore, America has a demonstrably proven track record of being shy on steadfast commitment once a certain number of battlefield casualties have been sustained. It is as true in Afghanistan now as it was in Vietnam of the 60s and 70s (another ill-conceived and ill-fated adventure that should never have taken place). Furthermore, Americans are so ‘hooked’ on their high-science and leading-edge technological weaponry (that permits surgically sterile destruction to be wrought on an enemy while radically minimizing the human-lives cost of our direct, hands-on involvement….we think!) that once the supremely costly technical hardware fails and the dead bodies of local boys from every neighborhood in America start to stack up, sooner or later a point is reached where the tide of favor for continuing a war begins to measurably turn and then regress with logarithmic, daunting surity. We are almost at that point in Afghanistan and we had actually just reached it in Iraq, were it not for the fact that we were able (fortunately) to draw down our massive levels of logistical hemorrhaging in that country just in time. This is, viewed within a certain focus, a predictable characteristic of a nation that has in recent decades grown too physically soft and too emotionally fragile, too remotely detached from the harsh realities of direct, actual bloody and violent warfare to engage a primitive enemy successfully, yet remains susceptible to the catalytic patriotic sentiment of the sort that so readily stirs up emotionally indignant posturing and posing to the boil-over point.
I might suppose that a nation whose whole conceptualisation of war, pain, suffering, and awareness of violent conflict is now drawn largely from the fantastic unreality of extremely violent popular entertainment (e.g. video games, movies, et al) would suffer particularly and especially from the sort of total chasm of disconnect that separates fantasy body counts and virtual bloody severed limbs in video games from their actual real world counterparts on Iraqi and Afghanistani battlefields. And of course that actually is the case. But if the ground-level warfighters (most barely out of adolescence) are bizarrely out of touch with what war REALLY is all about (useless death, extreme violence, and mutual destruction experienced at little-to-no real advantage) and the costly price (if not physical death or severe injury, then at the very least life-long mental anguish and PTSD effects) that has to be paid by those fighting it, so are their leaders (who persist in thinking Afghanistan can be won-over by our present efforts and remodeled into a happy little democratic bastion of capitalism, despite all the evidence to the contrary).
Let’s face it. Our chance to staunch the terrorists in Afghanistan is long past. After dropping a few big bombs for effect on Afghanistani terrorists (right after 9/11) and then withdrawing our major military effort from Afghanistan to go spend trillions of taxpayer dollars cleaning Saddam’s palatial toilet, we immediately lost a critical moment of opportunity to destroy Al Queda. That opportunity will never come again and Dubya Bush’s decision to abandon Afghanistan and go after Iraq is a singularly fatal mistake that shall haunt America for decades, in the years to come.
OK. I am depressed by all of the above. I admit it and at the moment feel overwhelmed by it. Writing this all down does help me cope to some degree, but it doesn’t alter the extant status quo as our absolutely and amazingly stupid refusal to get a grip on reality continues to merrily perpetuate all of the foregoing colossal follies.
As for me, I’m sick to death of soldiers’ families telling the nation (on candid ABC/NBC/CBS News interviews that their loved ones’ sacrifices over there are ‘noble, justifiable, and worthy’, because they just plain ain’t. Thanks to present high levels of medical support efficiency on the battlefield, combat fatalities are far more rare than they were in previous wars, but the incidence of severely disfiguring injuries (loss of extremities in particular) continues to rise dramatically (thanks to the efficacy of modern soldier-carried weapons such as RPGs and IEDs). Our young soldiers are increasingly returning from their tours in Afghanistan with dramatically increased evidence of PTSD, as well. Further, 20% of all female soldiers serving in the Afghanistan theatre have been conservatively estimated to have been raped or sexually attacked by their male cohorts. The number of returning soldiers who have suffered single or multiple amputations is alarmingly high (including mothers of children who remained stateside with relatives during their tours). It all threatens to continue, and simply become even worse, judging from a plethora of present indicators.
Meanwhile, the typical American citizen who has never been involved in violent war (and there are many, many millions) continues to remain absolutely clueless about what that sort of indescribably horrific experience is like….and continues to mindlessly support all this unnecessary carnage with the usual obligatory flag-waving and rote recitations of empty patriotic phraseology.
Both as a general historian and as someone who is especially interested in military history, I find little to encourage me in feeling that humanity has made quantifiable progress in terms of its greater understandings. Very recently I finished reviewing an excellent book on the horrors of what we at one time termed ‘The Great War’ (WWI) that relied heavily upon first person recollections of participants to convey to readers what savagely brutal and violent trench warfare was actually like. Reading a few chapters at a time was usually more than I could tolerate in one sitting, given the unimaginable horrors faced by largely untrained and inexperienced soldiers (on both sides) facing the lethal hazards of gas, unrelenting artillery barrages, and other newly developed mass killing machines such as the machine gun that were introduced at the turn of the century.
By the time that barbaric war finally came to an end, both sides (both the Entent Cordiale and the Central Powers) had long since recognised the utter futility of the conflict, but lacked no valid method of bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion (despite the stalemate). When the armistice was finally signed, millions of men had been killed and millions more lethally injured or severely disabled. Fortunately for our soldiers in Afghanistan, the conditions in Southwest Asia (while brutal enough in their own regard) are FAR less terrible than anything WWI soldiers had to face (on a comparative scale, of course). That doesn’t lessen the fact that ANY war is too costly to long endure, nor does it reveal that those who revel most in and glorify warfare are usually the ones who had the least to do with the actual fighting in that war…
But human beings are and always have been notoriously short-sighted and all too easily aroused by misplaced patriotic noise and military muscle flexing. It’s just another one of those unhappy flaws in humanity that collectively contributes to my gathering depression and that makes it increasingly difficult for me to muster up any enthusiasm for the species I regrettably just happen to be associated with by birth.
All that having been shared, I suddenly feel the most compelling urge to go sit on a mountain summit somewhere far away, with a full bottle of something red and about 7% ETOH on my lap in which to contemplate the Universe. Do me a favor and come get me once our nation has finally come to its senses and gets the hell out of the Southwest Asian (that’s ‘Middle East’ to you, Bunkie) area, eh?
Thanks a heap, eh!.