DuffelBlog’s tongue in cheek report by Cat Astronaut is a little unfair on General John Nicholson who, rather than ‘real progress’ has actually reported a ‘stalemate‘ in Afghanistan. But the point is still well made.
We continue to blind ourselves to failure in Afghanistan with self-deceit and the relentless pursuit of good news where none exists:
‘With hindsight, despite our very best intentions, it seemed we all had fought under a misapprehension. Rather than “protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice” we had preserved tyrannical injustice in the form of a hopelessly corrupt and irredeemable government.
We had been “used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes” of a governor in the pay of the illegal opium trade and of a police chief feathering his own nest and lining it with little boys for unspeakable purposes.
Rather than face up to the unpleasant reality of the things we knew to be happening around us, and which we appeared to be perpetuating, we blinded ourselves with self‑deceit.
Perhaps it was fanciful thinking on my part to believe that Brigadier Chalmers might share my own deep misgivings. After all we had met only once before when he had misjudged my efforts to influence policy in Afghanistan as “deeply impressive”. But if I was right, we were not alone in self‑deceit.
It enveloped us all:
In the pronouncements of the Provincial Reconstruction Team; in the declarations of successive Prime Ministers; in the statements of visiting government officials, movie stars, musicians and glamour models; in the “cautiously optimistic” reports of the international media; in the glittering array of honours and awards bestowed upon Afghan veterans, and in the millions donated to service charities.
Even though, in my heart of hearts, I knew these claims to be false I perpetuated them myself because I desperately wanted them to be true. Not because national pride or high profile political and military careers were at stake – although this was certainly the case. I wanted to record success because, in the previous nine months, I had seen men killed and others grievously wounded in the pursuit of these aims. Their sacrifice should mean something. The pain and suffering endured by their loved ones should not be in vain.
So, rather than admit the possibility of failure I embraced the deceit and, to my shame, I found myself basking in its warming glow of self-satisfaction. I consoled any inner misgivings by telling myself I wasn’t a government minister, or a glamour model, so what did I know?’
SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back (but check the smallprint first).
‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club
Doug Beattie, bestselling author of An Ordinary Soldier
‘A must read.’
Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zone
‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army