I was in attendance Friday when my beloved Timbers laid a 1-nil spanking on the Colorado Rapids. It was the usual roaring Timbers Army crowd, and the match, while a bit ragged, had enough lovely attacking pieces from the Boys that I went home that night well satisfied. There was a party in Portland...
(and just as an aside, we really need a name for our stands. The North End - where the Army stands - is "The Shed End"; that's what you're looking at in the picture above. The low seats down near the Multnomah Athletic Club have been tagged the "Southern Front" by the club, and I'm fine with that. But the east and west stands don't have names, and I think that's too bad. Perhaps given the glossy Key Bank Club section we should call the East Stand (to your right in the above snapshot) the "Posh Porch" or something like that. Names. Need to think of them. Sorry, I'll go on.)and I spent some time chatting up the two sergeants and the young private (who was the son of the platoon sergeant working there) manning the booth.
The SFC had returned from an Afghan deployment not long before, and we spent some time discussing how to hustle the East, and during our talk he repeated a statement several times that struck me, and I wanted to repeat it here. It went something like;
"They are the most loyal people in the world...to whoever's standing right there in front of them at the moment."
The sergeant clearly felt that this was a problem, and I have to agree - if you're an occupier, it IS a problem. Because it suggests that the moment your attention wanders someone else is going to come along and suborn your supposed "ally". That their loyalty is a thing of the moment, and liable to change with the wind or, at least, with the arc of fire of the muzzle of the weapon closest to them.
But - and here's the point of this - why would anyone who had spent more then ten minutes reading about the tale of the area that we call "Afghanistan" think anything different, or be surprised by this?
The single biggest change that separates the Western Westphalian state from it's predecessor is the change from personal to institutional loyalties. In a tribe or a group loyalty is about people; in a "state" loyalty is about things, ideas, and places. The modern United States is about loyalty to an abstract idea, a Constitution, a social compact. The modern Afghanistan still tends toward an older tradition, and the notion that armed soldiers can change that in a decade...or a generation...is wishful thinking at best and utter madness at worst.
"Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn’t even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long six-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts.
In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech—and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives—he called them enemies!—hidden out of sight somewhere."