Saturday, 30 July 2011

In their nightly little dramas...

I believe I dreamt last night that I was a Talib fighter planting landmines under a dirt track in Afghanistan.

I say I believe I dreamt it because I didn’t really think of myself as a Talib or that I was planting bombs to kill American (or NATO, which comes to the same thing) occupation forces. I was just this guy in a turban and wispy beard, kneeling by the side of a stony mountain track while I placed an explosive device armed with tripwires and stuff. I woke up before I could do any damage to anyone.

The point of this dream, then?

I remembered one of my favourite old Vietnam War protest songs, Tom Paxton’s Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation. In part the lyrics go:

Every night the local gentry
Sneak out past the sleeping sentry
They go to join the old VC.
In their nightly little dramas
They put on their black pajamas
And come lobbing mortar shells at me.

If you run an occupation of another country, you’d better make sure of a few things:

  1. That you can actually win the goodwill of the people of that nation. Just saying “We are here to do you good” doesn’t make a bit of difference, even if you believe it yourself, even if you convince the rest of the people of the world to believe it. As long as the people you are occupying don’t believe it, you can count on them resisting by all means they can. You might, for instance, tell the people of Afghanistan that you’re protecting them from the Taliban, but they know the Taliban; the Taliban (who now call themselves “mujahideen”, and aren’t really the old woman-hating, backward-looking Taliban any more) are their own sons and brothers and uncles. They won’t believe you just because you say something, however much you say it.

  1. I mentioned resistance. As the Paxton song said, anyone, but anyone, can be radicalised into taking up arms against your forces. Your soldiers can’t even depend on the goodwill of the people they’re ostensibly defending, and will have to watch their backs as much as anything else. If you want to run a successful occupation against these odds, you’d better be willing to put enough troops on the ground to place every citizen in the country under surveillance, every moment of the time.

  1. A military machine that can obliterate an aircraft carrier from halfway across the globe, or destroy enemy satellites in orbit in an instant, or blow away entire cities at the press of a button, isn’t of much use in defeating someone who refuses to fight on equivalent terms. They don’t even need sophisticated weaponry. As the Red Army found out, a teenager with a nineteenth-century muzzle-loader can kill you just as dead as a sniper with the latest Heckler and Koch scoped rifle.

  1. You haven’t a hope of conducting an occupation if you or your allies keep killing, maiming, humiliating, raping and looting the people of a nation – any nation. When it’s a nation that has a history of outlasting all conquerors, that is even more of an imperative. The Afghans know the truth behind the drone strikes, the midnight raids, the so-called insurgents blown away. A farmer who hates the Taliban will still take out his old rifle and go shooting at your soldiers if they break down his door at night, shout at his wife, destroy his poppy field (the only source of his income), shoot his brother dead at a crossroads, or bomb his son from a drone piloted by some CIA spook from halfway round the world. A million pious pronouncements won’t make a difference to that.

I could go on and on, but the simple fact is that the resistance is unquellable as long as the occupation lasts. If anyone believes the war in Afghanistan is winnable, I suggest they volunteer to go and fight in it, because they deserve whatever happens to them.

Here’s what Rudyard Kipling said, a long time ago:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Good advice.

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