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One book leads to another and then you’re nose-deep in Middle Eastern conflict non-fiction. Lone Survivor inspired me to learn more about the Taliban for myself. So, I checked out a book at the library called Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, who is a Pakistani journalist who has followed the Central Asian region (which loosely includes Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) for many, many years and has managed to condense his experiences into a succinct summary of the regional difficulties that have given rise to terrorism and the Taliban.
This is an overview of political, economic, and cultural strands that have combined to spawn a new breed of extremism that has infiltrates Central Asia, especially Afghanistan, and beyond. This is not a political finger-pointing book; no side is innocent and no side is responsible for everything that has taken place in the region. Rashid details the emergence of the Taliban, the role of jostling ethnic groups for power, the atrocities committed on virtually every side of the conflict(s), the West’s blind eye (especially when it benefitted the U.S. in their attempts to take shots at Russia and Iran) to the rise of extremism, and the wooing of the Taliban by oil companies.
This is dense reading, readers. One has to concentrate and underline and be able to refer back. There are several handy-dandy appendices, which help readers have the overall timeline, summary of major events, and definitions of unfamiliar words (in the West) for reference. The index is invaluable. Still, even if I haven’t processed everything (and it would take many, many, many readings and outside research), I am aware that I had NO awareness about Central Asia before. If you’re interesting in learning more about it yourself, give this one a try.
I think the bastards should die. And I think the bastards should live. Those are my comprehensive thoughts about war and the Other Side.
Listen. Let’s say you and I were driving somewhere, maybe to see my mother or camp or go shopping. You are driving. We are in a sharp curve, and a dog runs out in the middle of the road. I scream, “look out,” and you do and then you swerve to avoid hitting it. We crash into a tree. I die, you and the dog live. You are banged up. The dog is fine. The dog is not cute. The dog trots off, unphased. You were in a situation in which you had to react immediately, and you did what most people would do. Or what I/we would hope most people would do. What happens is I die and then you start second-guessing yourself. Not only that, but you’re overcome by the guilt that you and the ugly dog lived while a nice person (me) died. But you go beyond that because you are in such pain. You blame yourself, but then you begin to criticize all the people who ever liked dogs to begin with. All the fanatics who ever placed any value on dogs’ lives or expect others to. All those people are, in part, responsible for this tragedy and how you reacted.
End scene. Now listen. People are scarred by grief. Torture comes in many forms, and I’m most familiar with the self-inflicted kind. The selfish kind. Still, swerving to avoid the dog was the noble thing, no matter what the results were, no matter what the rules of war were, no matter what the “liberal” media says or does.
So, anyway, what I’m saying is this. We should die, and the dogs should live. But also, the dogs should die and we should live. We’re just all trying to live with what we can live with.
So I suppose I’m back to being a bleeding heart.
Even if you question yourself, my death, and the version of me that values the life of dogs.
I don’t question you. I know.
You did the right thing.
Gurglings of a conflicted mind, an exploratory post.
I read this book, and it’s haunting me. It’s about a Navy SEAL team that went on a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan. The team was compromised by local goat herders, who they allowed to live…to their own detriment. The goat herders presumably alerted the Taliban and a battle ensues. Four U.S. SEALs vs. 120 Taliban members. Not good odds…and only one member survived (obviously the author), thanks to his teammates’ continued efforts to fight once they were wounded, his lieutenant’s bravery, his own training (and bravado), and, surprisingly, Afghan villagers. The gunfight and subsequent deaths of Luttrell’s comrades is horrifying and stays with you long after you’ve read and reread the passages. (It reminds of how I felt after watching Bagdad E.R.)
It’s a timely read, too, as U.S. forces are again starting to concentrate their efforts in Afghanistan. This book sparked an interest in me to find out more about the Taliban, the complexity of war, and our troops’ experiences. Luttrell was tortured by the Taliban for a day or so, but never goes into exactly what that entailed and it wasn’t clear to me how he escaped. I have read a lot about torture techniques lately, and I can only imagine what they might’ve done to an American soldier (and a Special Ops guy at that).
Here’s the rub: Luttrell is no fan of liberals. He seems to be right wing all the way (a paraphrase: We were going to Afghanistan to do God’s good work on behalf of the U.S.A. and our commander-in-chief, George W. Bush). Especially in the beginning, before I had a chance to become engrossed in Luttrell’s story, I was furious. Obviously, I am left wing so of course I disagreed with nearly every one of his stances (the propaganda of the “liberal” media, how liberals have bleeding hearts but no good sense…). More than that, I was irritated that Luttrell took so much time taking swipes at liberals that it distracted me from such a compelling story.
The thing is, I think liberals should read it. Yes, we know all the bullshit things that are said about “lefties,” and Lord knows we have all bemoaned the audacity of the right, but having read the whole book, I understand the right-wing stances a lot more. I even have begun to rethink my own stances. Luttrell says once diplomacy is exhausted and you send the military into combat that we as the American public should give them free reign to fight the battle they are there to fight. As in the Taliban doesn’t adhere to the Geneva Convention rules, while Americans do, and this creates problems in the field. For example, the team in the book was compromised by goat herders and the military reasoning would suggest that if these guys wanted to live, they needed to prevent the goat herders from leaving…whether by restraining or killing them. Okay, easy enough. Tie the goat herders up and be done with it, but these guys weren’t expecting to be compromised and they had no way to simply restrain the goat herders. (The dilemma is much more clearly articulated in the book.) They let the goat herders go, in part for fear of being charged with murder once the liberal media got wind of it. Look. When I read that, I was like, wtf, dude. These were unarmed civilians. There’s a clear ethical path to take.
But then our soldiers’ heads and bodies got blown up, the Taliban fired several rounds into the faces of death soldiers just for kicks, and this made me physically ill. Because I realized this: the goat herders lives were not more important than those soldiers’ lives. Three goat herders for the lives of soldiers. I sound fucking right wing, I know, but I am angry. I think there should be more freedom to fight battles the way enemies do. I don’t agree with having no oversight…I mean there has to be some rules. I have no idea how war should work. In situations where America is in a battle (even if the “reason” we’re there is insane), I would prefer that our soldiers (who are there to serve whether or not they agree with the reason(s) we’re there) live versus the “enemy.” I’ve come to see that’s where Luttrell is coming from…that war is his life and his teammates are his family. Or something like that. He’s passionate and he has a right to be.
But back to the clear ethical path. The team was unable to make radio contact with their headquarters once they were compromised. They were on their own and keep in mind, their pickup was preplanned for several days later. No one was coming to get them early and high-tail it out of there before havoc ensued. It was their lives or the herders. And Luttrell wonders, was it the ”right” choice in the end? He makes a good point: the American public doesn’t really want to know what has to be done in order to fight wars or win battles. Or more honestly, Luttrell has me pegged: I don’t necessarily want to know what happens until after the fact, until after it’s lost its reality, until it becomes a story instead of the here-and-now. It’s gruesome, but someone has to go out there and figure out where Taliban officials are and even kill them if need be. Why does it make sense to me that blood will run no matter what? I am so conflicted about feeling gun-ho about war tactics. My stance is, apparently, just this: do what you do. It’s all so ugly and once I start to imagine what it must be like to have your thumb blown off or half your skull ripped away and still be alive and know you’re dying, I can’t un-imagine it. So maybe it’s better for me not to see it in the first place.
For all these thoughts in my head, I still have absolutely no doubt that American soldiers were sent into harm’s way before diplomacy had been exhausted where Iraq was concerned. The Taliban and Afghanistan were trumped by Iraq and it’s inexcusable that American soldiers have been murdered so that public cheer for the war on terror would rise again. Soldiers were murdered for and by distraction. And President Bush and the rest of us will be frantically trying to scrub the blood stained on our hands forever.
Anyway, if you can stomach the right-wing rants and the blood and guts, you might give this a go. Or you can refer back to my scathing review of Luttrell’s book as I was reading the first part of the book: http://medicatedlady.wordpress.com/2009/03/29/we-had-an-idiot-as-president-gods-wicked-sense-of-humor-exposed/ That post was not exploratory; it was decisive….I think I felt as left-wing as he is right-wing. And now that it’s marinated, look how my thoughts scatter. I’m my own personal clusterfuck of ideas.
So I bought this book, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell (and quasi-ghost writer Patrick Robinson), on a whim in an airport bookstore. It’s clearly a tale of a major military clusterfuck in which everyone dies (except that one) so I thought, oh hell yeah. This is for me. I was meant to have this book.
The writing isn’t anything that you couldn’t see in a high school AP class or college composition, but the actual story seems to be a good one.
Except I have to wade through the conservative propaganda military bullshit (and Luttrell’s seemingly endless bravado):
- “There are no other passengers on board, just the flight crew and, in the rear, us, headed out to do God’s work on the behalf of the U.S. government and our commander in chief, President George W. Bush.”
- Referring to the established rules of engagement, which prohibit American soldiers from firing the first shot (unless the “enemy” has clear intentions of assault on troops). “That situation might look simple in Washington, where the human rights of terrorists are often given high priority. And I am certain liberal politicians would defend their position to the death. Because everyone knows liberals have never been wrong about anything. You can ask them. Anytime.” Rage when I read this b/c the only thing Bush says he’d do differently about the war is not have hung the sign, “Mission Accomplished,” so early.
- Luttrell is intolerant of just the idea that every person on this planet is given basic human rights and is indignant, if not plainly outraged, that the public and politicians would dare challenge the all-knowing military and its methods. Murdering everyone is clearly the answer. “This entire business of modern war crimes, as identified by the liberal wings of politics and the media, began in Iraq and has been running downhill ever since. Everyone’s got to have his little hands in it, blathering on about the public’s right to know. Well, in the view of most Navy SEALs, the public does not have a right to know, not if it means placing our lives in unnecessary peril.” Let’s not point a finger at the president, who might start a vendetta war that puts soldiers in harm’s way “unnecessarily.”
- A joke: “I am not a political person.”