December 17, 2001

I'M FAMOUS, AGAIN Unfortunately, my

I'M FAMOUS, AGAIN

Unfortunately, my name is now Bryan, apparently... But cheers anyway to Damian Penny for enjoying Eric Margolis's piece (filed from somewhere deep within the Land of Denial) in the Toronto Sun as much as I did, today.

Posted by BruceR at 01:15 PM

TURN OF PHRASE FOR THE

TURN OF PHRASE FOR THE DAY: JAMES LILEKS

Taking apart another part of the now-infamous Ralls piece (see below), his comparison of the current Afghan quagmire (!) with Vietnam, Lileks came up with this gem to describe what the Americans should have been doing, since according to Ralls they've obviously already been defeated:

Vietnam = Afghanistan. Yep. No question. 50,000 dead vs. 5 dead... Someone get Mai Ling on the phone and start designing the memorial; itíll go right next to the sad black gash on the Mall. And it will be one inch high.

Nice.

Posted by BruceR at 10:31 AM

A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE..., vol. 1:

A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE..., vol. 1: TED RALL, "HOW WE LOST AFGHANISTAN"

The Village Voice's Cartoonist in Quetta came up with this little literary disaster. The thesis, if there is one, appears to be that "whatever the West does, like everything the West has ever done, is doomed to failure." Not much point arguing with that. But the first paragraph is something of a historical atrocity:

"In 1842, the First Afghan War ended with an infamous retreat across the Hindu Kush that cost between 10,000 and 15,000 Brits and their camp followers their lives. One guy, a Dr. Brydon, survived the Afghans to tell the tale upon his return to a remote outpost of the raj's Northwest Frontier province. Eventually a retaliatory expedition returned to slaughter the instigators of their humiliation, but this later victory accomplished nothing. Losing this desolate international leftover inspired testy sepoys to rise up against their supposed betters, sparking a chain of events that ultimately led to Indian independence, decimated the empire, and reduced England to a European backwater offering neither steady employment nor edible food to its pasty citizenry...

"Now a Third Afghan War is wrapping up its final act around Kandahar..."

Okay, to start with, Dr. Brydon didn't return to a "raj" fort, because the Raj only began in 1857. (Before that India was an East India Company trade colony: it was Company troops that fought and died in the First Afghan War.) And it wasn't 10-15,000 British: total losses in the Retreat to Kabul were 400 British infantry (the 44th Foot, which was wiped out) and 300 other Europeans (cavalry, artillery and civilians). Over 3,500 Indian soldiers ("sepoys") and over 12,000 Indian civilians (Rall's "camp followers") also died. And the First war didn't "end" with the massacre outside Kabul, since as Rall himself states the Company came back the same year, retook Kabul, and killed a lot of Afghans. That's when it ended. And it wasn't a remote fort in the Northwest Frontier province Brydon stumbled into, it was the Company-held city of Jalalabad (in Afghanistan). The Northwest Frontier (now part of Pakistan) was actually annexed by the British from the Afghans a few years after their victory in the Second Afghan War (1879-1880). And there is already a Third Afghan War in the history books, fought in 1919, which saw the Afghans capitulate once again to a British army, just as they had in the Second. Funny Rall doesn't mention either of those, isn't it?

But nitpicking aside, the entire paragraph is nonsensical. Rall not only believes in a direct causal relationship between the Retreat from Kabul and the Indian Mutiny of 1857, 15 years later, but then goes on to say the Mutiny itself led directly to the end of the British Empire in the late 1940s, over a century later. Suffice it to say no serious historian has ever drawn either connection. But if you believe Rall, if the British hadn't lost Kabul for a few months in 1842, the sun would still not be setting on their Empire... well, today, I suppose, as that was the only mistake they EVER made.

If nothing else, it's a slap in the face to all the other countries that have inflicted crushing defeats on the British. The Turks at Kut in 1917 come to mind... the British really lost around 15,000 soldiers in that disaster. They lost 10 times as many at Singapore in 1942 to the Japanese. Sudanese dervishes, Sikhs, and Zulus and many others have also all managed to massacre large numbers of British-paid soldiers... why don't they deserve any credit for the fall of the Empire? What makes the Afghans special? Are they magic people?

The massacre on the Jalalabad-Kabul Road was a disaster, of course (what's missing from Rall's account is that the British had their guard down because they'd been promised safe passage for their civilians by the saintly Afghans). But the Company's troops then retook Kabul, and killed or captured everyone they could find who seemed responsible for the atrocities before going home. The British did the same in 1879-1880, and much the same in 1919. After each war, they had 40 years of relative peace on their Afghan frontier (During which the Afghans fought with the Russians, instead.) If this current American intervention gives us 40 years of peace today, would that really be so bad? Hey, but if Rall is right, and the British example of a century of unchallenged empire before that Afghan magic voodoo curse kicks in holds this time, well, we've set an end-date on America's hegemony for... the year 2107, or thereabouts. Too bad Rall won't be around to say he told us so, I guess.

Posted by BruceR at 01:05 AM