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On the uneasy satisfaction of prescience

This afternoon, I drove my sweetie to the airport. She's off to Europe for a couple of weeks, scratching her nomad's need to move. As we drove in, she noticed the Canadian flag flying above The MacDonald-Cartier International Airport's welcome sign was at half-mast. "Look at that!" she said, "I wonder who died."

It took me a moment, then I realized. "It's 9/11!"

And of course, that's who died, the special victims, our victims, to be mourned forever, because 15 years on, we are a nation at war. Sort of.

And I remembered that I had written what I thought was a pretty powerful piece of analysis not so long after the fact, and went looking for it when I returned home. Only to realize that, somehow, it was a piece of work no longer attached to my website. Somehow, gone, lord only knows when or how.

Thank god for Archive.org! There were my words (not to mention an even more primitive design than the one "gracing" my site now), preserved for posterity, and for me. Remind me to send them a donation.

In any event, what follows is (but for a half-dozen typos I could not resist correcting) exactly what I posted on October 8, 2001.

It is, if I do say so myself, almost frightening in its prescience. To quote H.G. Wells, writing (if memory serves) on the eve of the Second World War, "I told you so, you damned fools." Click here for my full, depressingly accurate look ahead from October 8, 2011.

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In honour of the coming U.S. "withdrawal" from Iraq and concommitant "escalatio" in Afghanistan
When will they ever learn ...?

The following was printed in the June 2009 issue of Harper's Magazine, and was taken "from a May 10, 1988, letter from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to all Party members. The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan began on May 15 and was completed February 15, 1989. The letter is among documents related to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan published in February by the National Security Archive. Translated from the Russian by Svetlana Savranskaya.


The decision to invade was made when there was a lot of uncertainty in the balance of forces within Afgan society. Our picture of the real social and economic situation in the country was also insufficiently clear. We do not want to say it, but we should: at that time, we did not even have a correct assessment of the unique geographical features of that hard-to-enter country. This was reflected in the operations of our troops against small, highly mobile units, where very little could be accomplished with the help of modern military technology.

In addition, we completely disregarded the most important national and historical factors, above all the fact that the appearance of armed foreigners in Afghanistan has always been met with arms in the hands of the population. This is how it was in the past, and this is how it happened when our troops entered Afganistan, even though they came there with honest and noble goals.

Babrak Karmal became head of the Afghan government at the time. His first steps in that capacity gave us grounds to hope that he would be able to solve the problems facing his country. Nothing new emerged, however, in his policies that could have changed for the better the attitude of of a significant portion of the Afghan population toward the new regime. Moreover, the intensity of the internal Afghan conflict continued to grow, and our military presence was associated with forceful imposition of customs alien to the national characteristics and feelings of the Afghan people. Our approach did not take into account the country's multiple forms of economic life and other characteristics, such as tribal and religious customs.

One has to admit that we essentially put our bets on the military solution, on suppressing the counter-revolution with force. We did not even make full use of the existing opportunities to neutralize the hostile attitudes of the local population toward us. Often our people, acting out of their best intentions, tried to transplant the approach to which we are accustomed onto Afghan soil, and encouraged the Afghans to copy our ways. All this did not help our cause; it bred feelings of dependency on the part of the Afghan leaders in regard to the Soviet Union, both in the sphere of military operations and in the economic sphere.

Meanwhile, the war Afghanistan continued, and our troops were getting engaged in extensive combat actions. Finding any way out became more and more difficult as time passed. Combat action is combat action. Our losses in dead and wounded — and the Central Committee believes it has no right to hide this — were growing heavier and heavier. Altogether, by the beginning of this month, we had lost 13,310 dead in Afghanistan; 35, 478 Soviet officers and soldiers were wounded, many of whom became disabled; 301 people are missing in action. There is a reason people say that each person is a unique world, and when a person dies that world disappears forever. The loss of every individual is very hard and irreparable. It is hard and sacred if one died carrying out one's duty.

The Afghan losses, naturally, were much heavier than ours, including the losses among the civilian population.

One should not disregard the economic factor either. If the enemy in Afghanistan received weapons and ammunition worth hundreds of millions and later even billions of dollars, the Soviet-Afghan side also had to shoulder adequate expenditures. The war in Afghanistan has cost us 5 billion rubles a year.

* * *

If I haven't made myself clear, Mr. Harper, this war is wrong and it's unwinnable. Give me a happy Dominion Day and announce that you're bringing our troops home now.

April 2017

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