Michael's Dispatches

Girl with no Future


09 July 2009

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Esteban · 12 years ago
    Keep your head down, your eyes open, and do not forget to say your prayers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alex del Castillo · 12 years ago
    While am certain you are correct in your description of the relative backwardness of the stans, I am not without hope that they can be turned around in a generation rather than a century. There are some technologies and associated processes, that once introduced, are game changers. Kids can learn any language or game. Someone should mashup a version of something like OLPC ( http://laptop.org/en/ ) and a 21st century version of VOA to provide the network/internet connection and the problem will begin to take care of itself in a few years. R/ Alex from Winter Haven
  • This commment is unpublished.
    rob · 12 years ago
    It is imperative to imagine night

    totally without light

    complete darkness.

    For miles, nothing.

    Zero light.

    Do a mashup

    in a land of no electricity.

    Two trucks in fourteen years.

    Yes, someone should.



    other than me.

    Too comfy, thanks.

    PS: Mike, i sent you twenty bucks. And will send more. Remember, the bad guys will put a bounty on your head. Do you recall how they assassinated the Commander of the Northern Front with a camera, years ago? Survival is a function of attention to detail. Scrutinize everything within range, plus all outliers. An edged intuition is your greatest weapon, just like a sharp mind. Thanks for putting your life on the line for the indefinable ideal, warrior poet in the land of Alexander and Kipling.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    howarde12 · 12 years ago
    Would that we had fifty men like you over there, Michael, but you're the rare one who has perspective that others lack. But more than that, the bravery to "go it alone" as you have. Do you have Videos that your assistants back here could put on Youtube? Work with "Blackandright" and get the word out where lots of young people can learn about what you are doing.
    Sorry, I'm always suggesting, as if I know more than I do. But thanks again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ted Adams · 12 years ago
    I completely agree there is a huge disparity betweeen the media focus on civilian casualties and what the general public and Afghan soldiers think. The Afghans know that the Taliban use civilians as shields, they look at civilian casualties as the ugly but necessary part of destroying the Taliban. They also know that Americans operate with restraint, and don't target civlians. There are many targets they have encouraged us to "bomb" but our ROE will not allow it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    agnana · 12 years ago
    You ask the question, "How long does it take to achieve 80% literacy?" An
    interesting viewpoint on this question is the case of the Cherokee. When Sequoyah
    introduced his script for the Cherokee language it is said that within three years
    every household had a literate speaker. Within a decade literacy was widespread,
    the Bible had been translated into Cherokee and there was a flourishing newspaper.
    So there is an example of a society that went from illiterate to literate in (historically)
    the blink of an eye.

    An interesting question to ask is whether there were specific reasons for this.
    One key reason was the recent separation of the Cherokee into Eastern and Western
    Bands. The fact that one could *write a letter* and hear news of one's relatives was
    a revelation. A second reason was that Sequoyah's script was a syllabary beautifully designed
    for the Cherokee language. A third reason was that local Christian missionaries got behind
    the effort.

    So the question for Afghanistan is, what's the pull for people to learn to read? To
    what extent does "learning to read" mean "learning to recite the Koran" rather than having
    reading be a practical skill? I wonder if the fact that the Koran is not translated is one
    of the reasons that the modern Islamic world is so relatively backward.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Disharmony · 12 years ago
    From what I have read, there are about 47 "recognized" languages in Afghanistan.

    I think one kind of problem as to getting literacy widespread is to actually focus on which language should be the "main" or "official" language. Naturally one would think that ofcourse, it is the language spoken by the majority. Problem comes here I think a bit, when you look at the tribal conflicts allready going on. If you try and push a language on people, that they do not really care for, or really wish for, then you end up creating even more conflict.

    Comparing the Cherokee situation to that of Afghanistan does not work the same way if you consider the above, because with the Cherokee, it was a question of translating their language, into writing, thus unifying them in something they have in common. (Unless, there are 47 different dialects of Cherokee.)

    Also, in the Cherokee situation, there was not the same amount of conflict as you have in Afghanistan.

    So to expect to spread literacy "In the blink of an eye" in Afghanistan is impossible. It is, as Yon and many others has stated, a question of time and resources.

    I do hope however that the time and resource for this will be spent, since knowledge is a way from violence and war to begin with. Is one reason, I believe, that the "Taliban" and the likes of them prefer a low education level among the populace. Because with knowledge comes the desire to know more, and to question those in power, and thats one thing they can not afford, since blind faith is what they require in order to thrive.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cary · 12 years ago
    It's a cultural distance that cannot be spanned with asphalt. Paul Collier in his book The Bottom Billion suggests that cultures like the Afgan "coexist with the twenty-first century but their reality is the fourteenth century: civil war, plague, ignorance." The fourteenth century hadn't even begun to suspect that the sun didn't make laps around the earth.

    From my perspective, the coalition is tasked with reconstructing Weltanschauung. Weltanschauung is pre-economic, pre-technological, pre-scientific, and I suggest even pre-philosophical. A worldview requires a perspective from outside-- if you want to understand water, don't ask a fish. How do you get a worldview that allows a fish to keep its gills but is simultaneously open to change? Or how can we avoid anarchy without resorting to tyranny?

    The West made that cultural trip from the 14th century to the moon, but I'm not sure post-post modern secularism even remembers the story of how we did it. Is it true that democratic secular tyrants have killed more humans than the crusades our "Enlightenment" superseded? Can't we offer the Afgans a better Weltanschauung?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AD · 12 years ago
    If it wasn't for the Brits and their stubborness, Afghanistan would not even have a railroad. But, that's the only evidence of the 19th-Century one will probably find there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alan G · 12 years ago
    I don't think there is (or ever was) a Railroad in Afghanistan. Remember - the Brits never ruled there - and the garrison that was stationed in Kabul was famously forcibly evicted (only one soldier made it to the British fort at Jalalabad).

    I lived in Afghanistan as a teenager in the early '70's. The Afghan people are an interesting bunch, and can be quite hospitable. The best analogy for us Americans is our own "hillbilly culture" and the "Hatfield and McCoys" feuds. These are a rugged, independent people. Too bad we didn't respond with a massive aid program when the Russians left.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    theworldisnotenough · 12 years ago
    and the place a little pin on Afghanistan on the wolrd map at the Pentagon "Bomb as neccesary." Afghanistan is REAL nation building from the ground up. This is more of a sociological petri dish than it is a war. The lines drawn on the world to represent this a nation are just that lines. And without a common/dominate language it will never be a nation. It took Belgium almost a year to get a government, largely based on cultural and language divisions. Yet Afghanistan is going to become a nation? Afghanistans only hope is capitalism, education, and benevolence.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    greg · 12 years ago
    I served in Afghanistan two years ago, observed and heard first hand (and many second hand) accounts of life in Afghanistan. There were locals who didn't know the Soviets had left; others were surprised the Americans were still there; others just wanted to be left alone and live their lives free of outside influence. I read a couple of great books about the region while I was there, including "Caravans" by Michenor, and although it was written in the early 60's, it was nearly spot on relevant to 2007. I doubt little has changed in two years. I heard on the radio yesterday a man talking about the influence of tribal culture in Afghanistan which agrees with this article. Us westerners have no chance of changing that country.

    Michael, be safe, keep up the good fight, return home, and thanks for the writings.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    S Kohler · 12 years ago
    I appreciate your candor. As a father of a 20 yr. old serving in Afghanistan, I am willing to read things I may not want to hear. I have great faith in the American soldier and the ideals he stands for. I hope you find positive things as you travel. Take care.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    S Kohler · 12 years ago
    By the way, I have supported your work and hope that you are meeting your financial goals.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gismo Fly · 12 years ago
    Quote: "I don't think there is (or ever was) a Railroad in Afghanistan. Remember - the Brits never ruled there - and the garrison that was stationed in Kabul was famously forcibly evicted (only one soldier made it to the British fort at Jalalabad). "

    I'm sorry to tell you that your history stopped short. The Brits went back and pacified Afghanistan, put a new Shah on the throne and prevented the Perisans (Modern Iran) from invading India. The peace lasted 120 years. Not bad, huh? Try and keep up.

    I lost an ancestor in the last stand at Gundamuck in the 44th Foot ( "All was lost but honour.") and now my son is serving with the Royal Signals in Helmand province. What's so sad about this is that we have to do it all over again.

    If you don't learn history you are doomed to live it all over again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    antares · 12 years ago
    I do not understand how US interests are served by any US presence in Afghanistan.

    We went into Afghanistan to retaliate against Bin Laden and his followers because the Taliban refused to hand them over. Had the Taliban given up Bin Laden, would we have invaded?

    What was the point? The point was to destroy Bin Laden's base of operations. That mission was accomplished. Bin Laden moved to Pakistan.

    So what are we doing in Afghanistan now? State building. Do the peoples of Afghanistan want to be built into one state? Most important, does building a state in Afghanistan serve American interests?

    I am persuaded that invasion of Afghanstan was correct. I have not been persuaded that occupation of Afghanistan is correct. (Conversely, I was not persuaded that invasion of Iraq was correct, but I was persuaded that subsequent occupation of Iraq was correct.)

    Persuade me that the US military must occupy Afghanistan.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Milspouse · 12 years ago
    Media? What media? The efforts as well as the tragedies I'm hearing firsthand from a loved one on the front lines compared to the lack of coverage in the news (online, on the air, and in print) is striking. It's so sparse that even the "good blogs" are feeding off one another. Many (not all) milblogs written by those no longer in the military are running on third hand accounts and speculation. But what isn't being handled by the major media groups is a feed that helps anyone gain an understanding about what's going on.

    It's no wonder that most Americans aren't really thinking about the war, or even know that it's been suggested that we'll be in this until 2015. As far as Afghanistan goes, you're right. We can't possibly expect to magically erase generations worth of illiteracy when it's been used as a convenient tool to subjugate its citizens. The idea of Afghanistan ever catching up in my lifetime is folly. No, I think the only goal can be some kind (leaving out the word "democracy") of governance on terms they can stand. It may never be a "fair" country, it may never have equal education. At this point, just getting every mother to be able to write her name would be a huge stride forward in the towns you write about.

    In the meanwhile, those of us on the homefront faithfully send packages to our loved ones. We send them supplies, we even send clothing and school supplies for the children. Whether any of this helps over the long run, we will never know. All we can do is hope, that somewhere in this crazy, unfair world, reason will come to light --if only for a glimmer, and that the voices will take form and more people will care. Because you're right. Each day more lives are being lost, and right now, I think America is just too sheltered to even know.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Milspouse The Kitche · 12 years ago
    What you pose is a natural but unanswerable question that cannot be shortchanged by an easy answer. Hence, every argument that one can give, has a counter argument --some more valid than others. Therefore, the convincing you seek --that either the WORLD'S armed forces or even toss in the NGO's need to be there is black and white. From what I can see, there is only hindsight, and dealing with the reality that we ARE there. We're also trying to keep in mind that (as Michael has pointed out), other extreme-Islamic-centric wars are boiling around the world (Indonesia, Phillipines) as well.

    Sadly, the time to ask all the questions was a long time ago. But lacking a distinct respect and knowledge of history, our politicians --left and right, voted to go into this war even though many experts advised against it. And whether or not Bin Laden moved to Pakistan or became a hostel owner in Sydney, you cannot easily stop what has been started. I think to pull out at our whim is impossible now. Every move we make disrupts the lives of Afghans in some way. The most we can hope for is doing as little harm as possible, and on a taller order, to leave an inkling of literacy behind. Unfortunately, many lives on all sides will be lost. But even so, we must never ask "was it worth it?" What we --who live with the fear, understand is our loved ones try their best to heal, protect and build in the face of policies that are sometimes imperfect. Maybe this is what the politicians, and daresay, those who adhere to the hoary stereotype of the military as jackbooted thugs, don't understand.

    You might want to read Sarah Chayes's book, "The Punishment of Virtue," to get another first hand look at the world's convergence on Afghanistan. I found it interesting, and she admits there are no easy answers. She's in Kabul now, running a business to bring alternate sources of revenue to Opium. Does she need to be there? Probably not. But she is.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 12 years ago
    A significant part of the Afghanistan "surge" was to be a large civilian component to handle the non-kinetic aspect of whatever it is we are trying to accomplish there. Any evidence of their involvement as yet?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Danger Girl · 12 years ago
    Please join Hollywood agent turned gonzo documentary film maker, & host of the JihadiKiller Hour, Pat Dollard (www.patdollard.com) with his very special guest, the inimitable Michael Yon, LIVE from AFG. Tonite. Sunday July 12 at 2200ET http://tinyurl.com/le4a4

    You can call in LIVE to speak with Mike. Call-in Number: (646) 652-2 57
    Archive of the show will be available 0 minutes after the show ends.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alan G · 12 years ago
    I stand corrected. The British did indeed "pacify" Afghanistan. The Shah was perhaps their best legacy. My point was more that, unlike India - Afghanistan was not colonized.

    To Antares question of the value of our troops being there in the first place: Afghanistan is an important piece of real estate. The reason for the British interest there (thus, the sacrifice of Gismo's ancestor), was to protect India from invasion/influence from Russia (and Persia). There was a great deal of intrige (and it certainly existed in the early '70's) between Western (Brits first, then US) and Russian agents. That this intrige was going for over a hundred years prior to USSR's invasion gives some insight to that invasion - and the Afghan peoples galant fight against them.

    Michaels followiing post about the Kuchis gives an excellent snap shot of the people. To me, the Ideal Afghanistan is not some modernized version of the west - but of people content and free from war, living unmolested in the land of their ancestors. That wish could become close to reality - but only with the military efforts currently underway.

    As to Scott Dudleys question on Civilian Presence: Kinda difficult with the Taliban about!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 12 years ago
    The Taliban will ALWAYS be about. There can be no improvement in the situation unless Afghans perceive an improvement in their lives. That is the non-kinetic element to be brought forth by the civilian element.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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