Ruralist Lament: Afghanistan, 20 Years On

It had been dry for a while and I was priming the irrigation pump. My wife made an unscheduled visit to the pond that cloudless September day. She had news. “All hell’s breaking loose,” she said. A jet plane had apparently flown into a big New York City building on purpose.

Though most of the men on suicide missions that day were Saudi Arabian, the Bush II administration quickly made the decision to send an expeditionary force against the devastated nation of Afghanistan in revenge. Maybe some readers remember that time and the blood lust whipped-up by the chattering classes. Radio shock-jocks replaced pop music programming on all the local radio stations with endless rumor-peddling and exhortations for the domestic population to embrace a remorseless slaughter of peasants half a world away. “Americans have to get the stomach to kill women and children,” they said: Literally. Maybe you heard the cry as I did.

The guy down the street was working on his roof that week with his radio blaring the relentless, bloody sanctimony. One day the cable guy up on the pole across the street  also had his RevengeRadio thumping out the same species of propaganda in a dueling cacophony echoing in and around our roadside vegetable stand.

The Bush administration soon settled on the story that Afghanistan was culpable and that an heir to a Saudi family fortune had planned it. A demand was made to the acknowledged Taliban government that Osama bin Laden should be extradited to the United States. As is legally customary, the Afghans requested some evidence. None was provided. Bombing quickly followed.

Wikipedia reports: “….eight days after the bombing of Afghanistan began in October 2001,…. the  Taliban finally did offer to turn over Osama bin Laden… a third-party country for trial in return for the US ending the bombing.  This offer was rejected by President Bush stating that this was no longer negotiable….. ‘There’s no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he’s guilty.’ ”

This position was a family tradition. Ten years earlier, after bombing the snot out of Iraq’s civilian population and infrastructure, GHW Bush had bragged that “What we say goes.” (In an increasingly “multi-polar world;” we’ll see about that. But I digress.)

America had actually been actively backing reactionary fundamentalists in Afghanistan since the 1970s when the Afghan king was deposed and a republic established. There was need for a revolution. William Blum (Killing Hope) reports, “Afghanistan was a backward nation: A life expectancy of about 40, infant mortality least 25%, absolutely primitive sanitation, widespread malnutrition, illiteracy of more than 90%, very few highways, not one mile of railway….. a life scarcely different from many centuries earlier.”

Blum continued: “Reform with a socialist bent was the new government’s ambition: Land reform,…. controls on prices and profits, and strengthening of the public sector,…. separation of church and state, eradication of illiteracy, legalization of trade unions, and the emancipation of women in a land almost entirely Muslim.”

Such changes were very unpopular with the gentry, tribal elements and others content with monarchical rule. Of these sectors the Afghan prime minister said,”…. every effort will be made to attract them. But ….. they should think about the people and not, as previously, just about themselves—to have a good house and a nice car while other people die of hunger.” Debts were being cancelled, usury was abolished, schools were being built.

In reaction to such “godless communism” the Moujahedeen (holy warriors”) were born and bank-rolled by the United States. They waged war on the secular government. When that government asked the neighboring Soviet Union to provide civil war  assistance the involvement was termed an “invasion” by Cold Warriors here, and military aid to the tribal warlords greatly increased in an attempt to “give the USSR its own Vietnam.”

There’s much more history if anyone’s interested. Suffice it to say however that 20 years on from the post 9-11 vengeance-slog the US has succeeded in its longstanding mission to keep Afghanistan pre-modern/ feudal. We’ve heard that  President Biden just announced plans for withdrawal of “all US troops” by the symbolically pungent date of September 11th, 2021. A brief AP story in the local paper carefully remembered the $1 trillion QuestCost, the 2,200 American dead and 20,000 wounded. It (predictably) left uncounted the millions of dead, disfigured, and displaced Afghans and the continued destruction of their country.

Some of us, however, still remember a sunny September 20 years back.

And more.

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: