Monday, September 03, 2012

Heart of Darkness

Wanted to mention this because...well, because it's worth mentioning.

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...
Anyway, the Oregon Guard had a recruiting table set up over atop the East Stand
(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 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?
This part of the world has been the setting for generations of intrigue, conquest, double- and triple-dealing, coup, counter-coup, invasion, occupation, and between all that the continua of intertribal feud and power-grab. Your Afghan has probably grown up with the understanding that the key to survival and success in Afghan society is an instinctive feel for which way the winds of power are shifting, and adapting or influencing those shifts. Loyalty is a relative term; there are people that you HAVE to be loyal to - and the degree of loyalty and the relationship between you and those people are certainly flexible by individual - while there are many other people that command your services only so long as they can compel, cajole, or deceive you successfully.

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 wishful thinking at best and utter madness at worst.
The sun was warm, and the noisy crowd excited, and the evening a colorful chaos of urban Portland out for a good time. But as the Guard sergeant repeated his assertion of Afghan changeability I didn't even have to close my eyes to see Conrad's dark African coast and hear the words he wrote:
"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."


Lisa said...

Excellent from Conrad:

"There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight ..."

As you say, they will not make the transition from personal to abstract loyalties to a compact anytime soon. If we know this, why don't the big machers?!?

FDChief said...

I suspect that they do. But they have to continue the Big Lie in the hopes that the groundlings will not beg their elected masters to cut off the sweet, sweet money spigot that is enriching so many "made guys"...

And those that "don't" are just fools; there have always been a percentage that refuse to believe that they can't Hustle the East. The East had usually been merciless with them...

rangeragainstwar said...

I'm reading Tom Rick's book=The Gamble and both Petraeus and Odierno back doored Casey by jumping the chain of command.
In Odiernos case he was operating directly opposed to his commanders guidance. And now he's the top dog in the Army.
We preach loyalty but actually deliver West Point ethics and practices.
Our Army had,or has little loyalty beyond careerism.
Who cares what the Afgh's do.
It ain't my problem.