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By Dan Carlson
Prairie Ponderings 

The Graveyard of Empires


August 18, 2021 | View PDF

I was 14 when Saigon fell, old enough to remember pictures of desperate people crawling over one another as they tried to reach American helicopters evacuating people from city rooftops when communist forces closed in.

I couldn’t help but recall those images as I watched what seemed like the same story unfold in Afghanistan over the weekend.

The parallels are similar. As the Taliban advanced on Kabul, increasing numbers of personnel that had assisted Americans in the region defected. As town after town was overrun by the Taliban, huge caches of American arms and equipment fell into enemy hands, weapons we can expect to be used against Western interests in the future. The exact same thing happened in Vietnam when captured American equipment was used against us in the closing months of the war there. And just like the early 70’s when intelligence officials were thinking the South Vietnamese could hold their own against the North for up to a year, today’s experts gave the Afghani government about a year before it could fall to the Taliban. The sad thing is that this outcome was predicted by many, including myself.

Afghanistan isn’t another nation. For all intents and purposes, it’s another world. A world where strategies, logic, religions and philosophies that originate elsewhere don’t apply. It’s been called “the graveyard of empires,” though the precise origin of that phrase is unknown. Over the centuries, the British, the Russians and now American have tried to establish order in Afghanistan and failed. Even the Mongols has difficulty in Afghanistan.

There are many challenges facing any nation or group of nations wanting to control the Afghanis. Afghanistan’s terrain is difficult at best, and its climate is harsh. Winters are so brutal that wars typically shut down between October and March because warring parties don’t want to be outside in the extreme cold and snow of an Afghanistan winter. Another factor is Afghanistan has been called the “most tribal place on Earth.” Blood feuds run long and deep in Afghanistan. Some tribes have been enemies for generations. That leads to mixed loyalties at best when third parties come in. To paraphrase what’s been said by many others, “One doesn’t earn or buy loyalty in Afghanistan, one rents it.” If a pastor/writer/meteorologist from Gurley, Nebraska, understands these things, who the heck is advising our leaders? How can they be so incredibly wrong?

The situation in Afghanistan is an embarrassment to Americans. We spent billions of dollars and saw thousands of our military personnel die there. For what? A few years of relative peace from terrorism? So what now?

First, we acknowledge the military service of brave men and women who went to Afghanistan to help and protect its people from tyranny. If you’re reading this and served in Afghanistan, we thank you for your service. You did an incredible job in difficult situations with inadequate support.

Second, we must abandon the idea that our kind of representative republic can work anywhere else. Some cultures don’t want McDonalds’, Starbucks and Netflix. Civil debate is impossible in a country where people believe one should kill one’s enemies. In the long run, as terrible as war is, we should make it even more so for our enemies by announcing to the world, “The American military exists to kill our enemies and destroy their capability to make war going forward. This is its sole purpose.” We let those who would attack us know that if they mess with us, we’ll go annihilate them and then come home. Period. No more “nation building.”


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