Peace with Horror: How a Psychotic Empire Loses a War

It has been a cold cold winter for Afghanistan and I’m afraid it’s only getting colder. As the temperature drops below freezing and the snow continues to fall, this tiny war-torn nation that has already seen so many different shades of hell faces yet another humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. With their post-occupation economy in shambles, millions of desperate Afghans are facing the terrifying possibility of starving to death if they don’t freeze first. According to the World Health Organization, over one million Afghan children may die this winter as a result of malnutrition if drastic steps aren’t taken to avert this famine and according to the World Food Program, 23 million people, which accounts for more than half the Afghan population, are facing extreme levels of hunger. Afghans are increasingly finding themselves choosing between food and fuel- freezing or starvation. Many have even been reduced to selling their own daughters into early marriage just to stay alive.

The western media covers this crisis, when they cover it at all, with a strange sense of awe at the plight of the Afghan people and an occasional interlude of tisk-tisking the Taliban government for overseeing it. But any simpleton with more than a year’s worth of memory can tell you that this is not a homegrown problem. The Afghans are not starving because of Taliban malfeasance. The Afghans are starving because America and its loyal western flunkies are starving them. I think the Red Cross put it best when they boldly accused the US government of holding millions of people hostage.

After devastating an already thoroughly devastated nation with twenty years of feckless war, annihilating anything that even remotely resembled an institution in our path, and developing a corrupt Afghan plutocracy designed to be almost completely dependent on foreign aid, the US is cutting off Afghanistan like an infected limb, freezing $10 billion dollars of their central bank’s own holdings in the US and doubling down on sanctions as we slash nearly all humanitarian aid. All this coming from a nation that supposedly cared so damn much about the plight of Afghan women that we were willing to stay forever to murder their fathers and husbands in the name of imperial feminism. Now Afghanistan’s daughters are being starved of more than just knowledge and don’t believe for a second that this is some sort of cruel coincidence. The entire population of Afghanistan is being collectively punished for daring to kick our asses in an illegal occupation.

For two decades, the mightiest empire the world has ever seen dumped every bomb in its arsenal into those mountains and we didn’t even make a dent in the Pashtun’s resolve. America of all places should have seen this coming from a mile away. After all, we used these same wily sheep herding peasants to bleed the Soviet Union dry in the eighties. I don’t know what convinced those same mandarins that they would fare any better but imperial optimism springs eternal until it’s shattered by a people whose culture is defined by not being ruled by anyone or anything but their own traditions. Thus, the Taliban, a ragtag band of illiterate mountain zealots, spent twenty years attempting to teach the New World Order a harsh lesson by beating our pink asses like a goddamn drum.

$2.3 trillion tax dollars went into murdering a quarter-million people in no-man’s-land and those bearded motherfuckers didn’t give a fucking inch. You don’t have to be an Islamic fundamentalist to respect that kind of tenacity and America realizes this. That’s why America has decided that the unrulable people of Afghanistan must suffer. Their children should starve so that an empire too big to fail can teach the world its own cruel lesson. That those who dare to resist our rapacious advances will be slaughtered on the battlefield or off. If this sounds evil, that’s because it is. If this sounds crazy, that’s because you’ve apparently never heard of a little patch of hell called Cambodia. Gather around the dying fire, dearest motherfuckers, Snarling Nicky has another story to tell.

The last time America had its ass handed to them like it did last fall in Afghanistan was in another impoverished backwater known collectively as Indochina. Much like Afghanistan, the empire had thrown everything but the kitchen sink at these fucking people. We bombed them to kingdom come, we drowned them in 20 million gallons of toxic chemicals, we built an entire opium empire just to fund secret armies of headhunting warlords, we raped their women and murdered their children and burned their villages to the fucking ground. By the time it was all over, 3 million lay dead, but the Vietcong just kept coming. Five-foot-three and 120 pounds of the bravest motherfuckers on earth went toe to toe with Godzilla, stared us dead in the eye, and said ‘so fucking what’.

By 1966, less than two years after the Gulf of Tonkin, the Vietnam War’s brilliant and merciless architect, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was already considering throwing in the towel. By 1968, after the bombastic spectacle of a Vietnam united behind the bloody Tet Offensive, that sharply dressed monster resigned in disgrace and his racist pigfucker of a president, LBJ, followed him out the door. But his successor, Dick Nixon, and his dead-eyed Svengali National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, knew better. Maybe they couldn’t win Vietnam in the traditional sense, but they could still sink Indochina into a black hole called Cambodia. Vietnam’s landlocked neighbor had long sought to serve the region as a kind of Buddhist Switzerland under the guidance of the popular Prince Norodom Sihanouk who chose to remain stubbornly neutral throughout America’s failed conquest. This wouldn’t do. Nixon and Kissinger saw the writing on the wall and sought to turn Cambodia into a blazing counterweight to Vietnam’s stability.

They started by secretly carpet bombing the nation without congressional approval in 1969. Next, they overthrew Prince Sihanouk in a CIA-sponsored coup and replaced him with a deeply unpopular military strongman named Lon Nol in 1970. Later that same year we invaded, and the bombing intensified. Between 1969 and 1973, the United States Airforce dropped more than 500,000 tons of explosive ordinances, the equivalent of five Hiroshima’s, on tiny helpless Cambodia in the most intensive saturation bombing campaign in human history. Some 600,000 civilians were killed. Two million people out of a population of seven million were rendered homeless and forced to seek shelter in caves just to avoid the devastation. The nation’s rice production plunged by 80%. The Cambodian countryside was devastated beyond repair. Their nation had been effectively erased. This was the true beginning of the famed Cambodian Genocide and we started it.

The only people in Cambodia who seemed to benefit from America’s savagery were a violent little posse called the Khmer Rouge, a pack of medieval revanchists who posed as Maoists and despised the Vietnamese as much as we did. Using the bombings as a sort of public relations campaign, the Khmer Rouge, led by a roly-poly psychopath who called himself Pol Pot, grew from a meager force of less than 5000 in 1970 to an army of 70,000 by 1975. Most of their rank and file didn’t give a shit about communism, they were traumatized rural peasants who sought revenge against their nation’s metropolitan class for their perceived collaboration with the American bombers who annihilated their everything. They got their opportunity when the Khmer Rouge took control of Phenom Penh in 1975 just before Vietnam finally achieved reunification.

Pol Pot wasted little time, declaring it the year zero and completely emptying the cities into the rice fields were somewhere between one and two million people were either shot or worked to death. None of this stopped then-Secretary of State and Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger from reaching out to the savage regime he helped midwife a mere 7 months after they took power by instructing the neighboring American client state of Thailand to, “tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs, but we won’t let that stand in our way. We are prepared to improve relations with them.” And why not? The new regime saw the recently liberated South Vietnam as their rightful territory and wasn’t exactly shy about their revanchist intentions. It was a marriage made in hell.

After months of cross-border raids and ethnic cleansing that killed an estimated 30,000 ethnic Vietnamese on both sides of the border, the newly unified nation of Vietnam finally invaded Cambodia to end the bloodletting in 1979. God only knows how many more would have died if they hadn’t. It took them only two weeks to liberate the country from its tormentors, who fled to the Thai border where they were immediately met with aid from their new American allies in the Carter Administration and Kissinger’s old buddies in Beijing. Two months after Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping made his first historic visit to Washington in 1979, China launched a brutal two-week invasion of a still shellshocked Vietnam, killing another 225,000 people in the process, nearly half of them civilians.

The Carter Administration joined them in the cruelty by cutting off nearly all international aid to Vietnam and the newly liberated Cambodia. They gave the defeated Khmer Rouge Cambodia’s UN seats, blocked all investigations into their genocide, and began funding their terrorist army both overtly and covertly. A practice continued under both Reagan and Bush to the tune of $15 million dollars a year, to a genocidal army that diligently used these funds to fill the nation they once ran into the ground with millions of landmines that continue to maim children and farmers to this day. This tax-funded dirty war dragged on for decades, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees. Pol Pot died peacefully in his sleep in 1998 in an American-funded refugee camp on the border of Thailand without ever facing trial. Some say he committed suicide. Others say he was poisoned. Either way, he clearly knew too much.

The point of America’s savage rape of Cambodia is the same point as that of their current forced starvation of Afghanistan. Regardless of how you may feel about the Vietcong or the Taliban, they got the best of the empire, so the empire had to make an example out of them to send to a world of would-be peasant liberators who might dare to follow in their footsteps. That message is that the cost of humiliating Washington at their own game will be the lives of your children.

The lesson to fellow plebians who resist imperialism everywhere should be made equally clear. An empire will never be able to suppress the will of an indigenous population committed to their own autonomy, but a single indigenous population will never be able to defeat the empire alone. We must stand together undivided by borders or creed. We must build a united front across ideological lines, from third world socialists to free-market anarchists to Islamic quietists, to create two, three… many Afghanistans until we can bring this cruel empire to its knees beneath the weight of a thousand insurgencies and return the world back to the self-determination of local indigenous rule.

It is my heart’s desire to see this post-imperial order take on a completely stateless and voluntary structure. But if an Old Right isolationist like Murray Rothbard can break bread with the dope-smoking Bolsheviks of the Students for a Democratic Society in his fight against the American war machine than surely a genderfuck panarchist like me can find solidarity among starving Pashtun goat herders who subsisted without a state for a thousand years before Rothbard could even make a fist to throw.

After all, anti-imperial optimism springs eternal among those who dare to look the empire dead in the eye and say, ‘so fucking what’ and you can’t starve the desire to live free or die swinging.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.