What I Learned in Afghanistan – About the United States

Email Print



I was surprised
on my recent trip to Afghanistan that I learned so much…about
the United States. I was in Afghanistan for two weeks in March of
this year, meeting with a large number of Afghans working in humanitarian
endeavors – the principal of a girls’ school, the director
of a school for street children, the Afghan Human Rights Commission,
a group working on environmental issues. The one thing that all
of these groups that we met with had in common was, they were penniless.
They all survived on rather tenuous donations made by philanthropic
foundations in Europe.

I had read
that the United States had spent $300 billion dollars in Afghanistan
since the invasion and occupation of that country ten years ago,
so I naturally became curious where this tremendous quantity of
money and resources had gone. Many Americans had said to me that
we were in Afghanistan "to help Afghan women," and yet
we were told by the director of the Afghan Human Rights Commission,
and we read in the recent UN report titled "Silence is Violence,"
that the situation for women there was growing more violent and
oppressive each year. So I decide to do some research.

95% of the
$300 billion that the U.S. has spent on its Afghanistan operation
since we invaded the country in 2001 has gone to our military operations
there. Several reports indicate that it costs one million dollars
to keep one American soldier in that country for one year. We will
soon have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, which will cost a neat
$100 billion a year.

US soldiers
in Afghanistan spend almost all of their time on one of our 300
bases in that country, so there is nothing they can do to help the
Afghan people, whose physical infrastructure has been destroyed
by the "30-year war" there, and who are themselves mostly
jobless in a society in which there is almost no economy and no

Some effort
is made to see that the remaining 5% of the $300 billion spent to
date in Afghanistan does help Afghan society, but there is so much
corruption and general lawlessness that the endeavor is largely
futile. We were told by a female member of the Afghan parliament
of one symbolic incident in which a container of medical equipment
that was purchased in the US with US government funds for a clinic
in Ghawr province, west of Kabul. It was shipped from the US, but
by the time it arrived in Ghawr it was just an empty shell; all
the equipment had been pilfered along the way.

Violence against
women is increasing in Afghanistan at the present time, not decreasing.
The Director of the Afghan Human Rights Commission told us of a
recent case in which a ten-year-old girl was picked up by an Afghan
Army commander in his military vehicle, taken to the nearby base
and raped. He brought her back to her home semiconscious and bleeding,
after conveying to her that if she told what had happened he would
kill her entire family. The human rights commissioner ended the
tale by saying to us that he could tell us "a thousand stories
like this." There has been a rapid rise in the number of self-immolations
– women burning themselves to death – in Afghanistan in
the past three years, to escape the violence that pervades many
women’s lives – under the nine-year US occupation.

Armed conflict
and insecurity, along with criminality and lawlessness, are on the
rise in Afghanistan. In this respect, the country mirrors experience
elsewhere which indicates a near universal co-relation between heightened
conflict, insecurity, and violence against women.

Once one understands
that the US military presence in Afghanistan is not actually helping
the Afghan people, the question of the effectiveness or goodwill
of other major US military interventions in recent history arises.
In Vietnam, for example, the country had been a colony of France
for the 80 years prior to WW II, at which point the Japanese invaded
and took over. When the Japanese surrendered, the Vietnamese declared
their independence, on September 2, 1945. In their preamble they
directly quoted the US Declaration of Independence ("All men
are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit
of Happiness….").

The United
States responded first by supporting the French in their efforts
to recapture their lost colony, and when that failed, the US dropped
10 million tons of bombs on Vietnam – more than were dropped
in all of World War II – sprayed 29 million gallons of the
carcinogenic defoliant Agent Orange on the country, and dropped
400,000 tons of napalm, killing a total 3.4 million people. This
is an appreciable level of savagery, and it would be reasonable
to ask why the United States responded in this way to the Vietnamese
simply declaring their inalienable rights.

There was a
sideshow to the Vietnam war, and that is that the United States
conducted massive bombing campaigns against Vietnam’s two western
neighbors, Laos and Cambodia. From 1964 to 1973, the US dropped
more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos in an operation
consisting of 580,000 bombing missions – equal to a planeload
of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. This
unprecedented, secret bombing campaign was conducted without authorization
from the US Congress and without the knowledge of the American people.

The ten-year
bombing exercise killed an estimated 1 million Laotians. Despite
questions surrounding the legality of the bombings and the large
toll of innocent lives that were taken, the US Undersecretary of
State for Political Affairs at the time, Alexis Johnson, stated,
"The Laos operation is something of which we can be proud as
Americans. It has involved virtually no American casualties. What
we are getting for our money there . . . is, I think, to use the
old phrase, very cost effective."

One Laotian
female refugee recalled the years of bombing in this way: "Our
lives became like those of animals desperately trying to escape
their hunters . . . Human beings, whose parents brought them into
the world and carefully raised them with overflowing love despite
so many difficulties, these human beings would die from a single
blast as explosions burst, lying still without moving again at all.
And who then thinks of the blood, flesh, sweat and strength of their
parents, and who will have charity and pity for them? In reality,
whatever happens, it is only the innocent who suffer."

In Cambodia,
the United States was concerned that the North Vietnamese might
have established a military base in the country. In response, The
US dropped three million tons of ordnance in 230,000 sorties on
113,000 sites between 1964 and 1975. 10% of this bombing was indiscriminate,
with 3,580 of the sites listed as having "unknown" targets
and another 8000 sites having no target listed at all. About a million
Cambodians were killed (there was no one counting), and the destruction
to society wrought by the indiscriminate, long-term destruction
is widely thought to have given rise to the Khmer Rouge, who proceeded,
in their hatred for all things Western, to kill another 2 million

Four days after
Vietnam declared its independence on September 2, 1945, "Southern
Korea" also declared independence (on September 6), with a
primary goal of reuniting the country – which had been split
into north and south by the United States only seven months before.
Two days later, on September 8, 1945, the US military arrived with
the first of 72,000 troops, dissolved the newly formed South Korean
government, and flew in their own chosen leader, Syngman Rhee, who
had spent the previous 40 years in Washington D.C. There was considerable
opposition to the US control of the country, so much that 250,000
and 500,000 people were killed between 1945 and 1950 resisting the
American occupation, before the actual Korean War even started.

The Korean
War, like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, was an
asymmetrical war, in which the highly industrialized and mechanized
US pulverized the comparatively primitive North Korean nation. One
third of the population of North Korea was killed in the war, a
total of three million people (along with one million Chinese and
58,000 Americans). Every city, every sizable town, every factory,
every bridge, every road in North Korea was destroyed. General Curtis
LeMay remarked at one point that the US had "turned every city
into rubble," and now was returning to "turn the rubble
into dust." A British reporter described one of the thousands
of obliterated villages as "a low, wide mound of violet ashes."
General William Dean, who was captured after the battle of Taejon
in July 1950 and taken to the North, later said that most of the
towns and villages he saw were just "rubble or snowy open spaces."

More napalm
was dropped on Korea than on Vietnam, 600,000 tons compared to 400,000
tons in Vietnam. One report notes that, "By late August, 1950,
B-29 formations were dropping 800 tons a day on the North. Much
of it was pure napalm. Vietnam veteran Brian Wilson asks in this
regard, "What is it like to pulverize ancient cultures into
small pebbles, and not feel anything?"

In Iraq, Saddam
Hussein came to power through a U.S.-CIA engineered coup in 1966
that overthrew the socialist government and installed Saddam’s
Baath Party. Later conflict with Saddam led to the first and second
Gulf Wars, and to thirteen years of severe U.S.-imposed economic
sanctions on Iraq between the two wars, which taken together completely
obliterated the Iraqi economy. An estimated one million people were
killed in the two Gulf wars, and the United Nations estimates that
the economic sanctions, in combination with the destruction of the
social and economic infrastructure in the First Gulf War, killed
another million Iraqis. Today both the economy and the political
structure of Iraq are in ruins.

This trail
of blood, tears and death smeared across the pages of recent history
is the reason that Martin Luther King said in his famous Vietnam
Speech that the United States is "the greatest purveyor of
violence in the world today." Vietnam veteran Mike Hastie expanded
the observation when he said in April of this year (2010) that,
"The United States Government is a nonstop killing machine.
The worst experience I had in Vietnam was experiencing the absolute
truth of Martin Luther King’s statement. America is in absolute
psychiatric denial of its genocidal maniacal nature."

A further issue
is that "war destroys the earth." Not only does, as President
Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1960, "Every rocket fired signify
a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold
and are not clothed," but every rocket that is fired reduces
the life-sustaining capacity of the biosphere. In an ultimate sense
it could be argued that those who wage war and those who pay for
and support war, in reality bear some hidden hatred for life and
some hidden desire to put an end to it.

What are our
options? The short answer is, grow up. Grow up into the inherent
depth of your own existence. After all, you are a "child of
the universe, no less than the trees and stars, you have a right
be here." There is no viable, universally inscribed law that
compels you to do as you are told to do by the multitude of dysfunctional
and destructive authority figures that would demand your compliance,
if you acquiesce.

"If we
led our lives according to the ways intended by nature," wrote
French author La Botie in his book The
Politics of Obedience
," we should be intuitively obedient
to our parents; later we should adopt reason as our guide and become
slaves to nobody." La Botie wrote this in the year 1552, but
people today remain slaves to external authority. "Our problem,"
said historian Howard Zinn, "is not civil disobedience; our
problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over
the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government
and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this
obedience. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the
world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war,
and cruelty."

Do you want
to spend your life paying for the death of people (executed by the
US military) that you would probably have loved if you have met
them? Do you want to spend your life paying for the arsenal of hydrogen
bombs that could very well destroy most of the life on the planet?
If not, if you want another kind of life, then as author James Howard
Kunstler often suggests, "You will have to make other arrangements."
You will have to arrange to live according to your own deepest ethical
standards, rather than living in fear of the nefarious authority
figures that currently demand your obedience and threaten to punish
you if you do not obey their demands on your one precious chance
at life.

must know how the first ruler came by his authority." ~
John Locke

does it become a man to behave toward this American government today?
I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it."
~ Henry David Thoreau

A .pdf version
of this article with footnotes and photos is
available here

6, 2010

Dana Visalli [send him mail]
is an ecologist, botanist and organic farmer living in Twisp, Washington.

Email Print