A few weeks ago I was listening to a bit about the Boston Massacre in which a meaningless argument escalated to a point where British soldiers fired into a crowd (well, mob may be a better word) and thereby set the stage for armed rebellion against England.
Around the same time came the reports of the burning of Korans in Afghanistan.
These two events have something in common. The specific facts in both cases (the British were threatened and feared for their safety and nobody knew that it was Korans about to be burned) weren’t particularly relevant. What mattered was how the events were absorbed by the local population.
In Boston, Raul Revere’s print made the rounds and painted a story very different from the truth. It didn’t really matter that a trial was held and virtually all the soldiers were acquitted. All you needed, really, was to look at the picture.
The Koran burnings and the much more recent massacre are much the same way. It simply doesn’t matter if there was an administrative snafu or a mentally disturbed individual. What matters is perception as THAT will ultimately determine reality and historical memory (think of how the Boston Massacre is remembered in our cultural memory and see how closely that jives with the truth).
But this isn’t just an ‘Afghan’ thing or an 18th century American thing. After all, imagine a visiting Afghan in the U.S. who goes on a shooting rampage killing 16. How much of the narrative (Islamic terrorist!) would be fixed before any facts were established? Would the country accept the idea that this guy might have a mental illness? Would we accept the idea that we shouldn’t be more suspicious of Muslims?
A significant portion of the country (at least among the political and pundit classes – the public can barely be roused to acknowledge there’s a war on) brushes off things like Abu Ghraib, accidental airstrikes, and collateral damage as ‘honest mistakes’ or a few bad apples. Since we’ve made that determination, we’re ready to stop looking towards the past and move on.
And we can’t understand why everyone else wants to reopen these ‘settled’ issues. They must be troublemakers since they don’t see the world the way we do, right?
So, we remember the 1979 Iranian hostage takeover and use that to mark the beginning of the ‘crazy mullah’ period where that country began it’s inexplicable hostility to the United States.
Anyone remember 1953? Huh? Wha..?
We all make (and become prisoners of) our own realities.
For a very long time I’ve refrained from coming down one way or another about our efforts in Afghanistan. After having served there I simply felt too emotionally attached to the mission AND the place to see the issue clearly. Now, I’m afraid, I simply see no way this can work. I can’t even see a ‘best case’ scenario. Even if everything breaks our way from this point forward, how does this end? What’s the best we can expect?
No. It’s over. We won what we had to (pushed al-Qaida to the brink of extinction) and lost what we wanted to achieve (a stable Afghanistan on the path to democracy and development). Time to stop throwing good resources (and personnel) after bad, bring everyone home and start the long process of rebuilding the force.