Present Faces of Imperialism

In speaking with a friend recently about the nature of the war in Afghanistan, she defended her boyfriend’s role as a soldier by saying that our enemies there are often terribly evil people, who even use children as pawns in the war. It struck me then that many people, and even very intelligent ones, believe that we are, or at least were, engaged in some kind of melodramatic battle between good and evil in Afghanistan, and that it might be helpful if I illustrate what “child soldiers” could (and almost certainly often do) look like in Afghanistan. I preemptively admit that there are certainly cases of more heinous child soldiery and bodily exploitation going on there. In any country that has been engaged in unceasing war for over thirty years, the accumulation of traumatic experience will most certainly result in moral abominations almost beyond imagination. But I’m convinced such cases are outliers, and that our military leaders inveigh our enemies with claims of moral abomination much more often to describe scenes like the one I’m about to describe, so that our soldiers feel better about what they’re doing.

Radio communication has just come in ordering a platoon of infantryman to approach a local poppy grower’s compound. The head of the compound has been confirmed to have ties to the Taliban and even to host members of Al Qaeda. It’s also suspected that he and his followers have engaged coalition forces in firefights before, and that he even conscribes child soldiers.

The mission is to (if at all possible) remain undetected while positively identifying the individual and his eldest two sons, to locate the group within the compound’s central building, then to contact central command to conduct a military drone strike on the compound. But let’s first consider the possibility that things go somewhat awry – that the platoon is discovered by an armed man while approaching the compound and a firefight ensues. At length, all immediately apparent enemy threats are “neutralized,” and the platoon enters the compound. One more enemy combatant is neutralized as he attempts to fire on the platoon.

Within the compound’s defensive wall the poppy grower, and all five of his sons lie dead. Even the youngest two, ages nine and seven, have AK 47s dropped close at their sides. The soldier who shot the youngest child, confused at the time he shot the boy by the muzzle fire from his target, which seemed peculiarly erratic, approaches the young boy and sees there’s only a dark red circle where the left eye used to be, and that the back of the boy’s skull and his head’s contents have been blown out and lie in threads and pieces on the ground. Not entirely blown out though, but more like a watermelon which has been allowed to sit far too long before it’s cut, so that the flesh is largely hollowed out, having somehow dissolved into the deeper vermillion edges near the shell. Like this, but with much more vivid color, is the inside of the boy’s skull.

The soldier is of course infuriated at the ringleader for having forced the child to fight, and even peppers the man’s corpse with a few rounds before his commanding officer barks at him to stop. But let’s consider for a moment the possibility of this father not allowing his child to fight: What if the boy was instead discovered with the household’s women in the bedroom, where the soldiers had to corral them – the lot of them shrieking and scattering like hens in a coop – to be delivered up to the proper authorities, and the boy saw his mother lash out in a paroxysm of rage at the nearest soldier before she was restrained, and saw the corpses of his four brothers and father as he left his home that was no longer his home, never to return.

When one considers the gender dynamics of Afghanistan that these women would all then become subject to – that contrary to our most noble hopes, they wouldn’t all be on their ways to western educations and careers as physicians and women liberators, thanks to us – but would likely be headed to refugee camps, and would certainly be at the mercy of men who could take full advantage of their positionless positions – when one considers that the Taliban movement was begun by Afghan youths in Pakistani refugee camps during the imperial war the Soviets waged upon their homeland – youths much like this young boy (whose father has spared him from death, praise be to God) would be in a few years, it almost seems desirable that the mission would’ve gone off without a hitch.

If a drone attack had leveled the building with everyone inside, the infantrymen’s mission would’ve become one of reconnaissance – one of confirming the intended kills. Then, just maybe, the only evidence of a child soldier they would’ve seen would be a little leg jutting out from under a massive block of rubble, its tibia snapped and protruding sharply, the calf muscle torn somewhat and strangely contracted towards the Achilles tendon. At that point, as the soldiers tried, perhaps in vain, perhaps in “success,” to lift the massive concrete block that rested upon the child’s crushed body, the appellation “child soldier” would’ve been even more edifying for them, psychologically speaking. That is, this whole scene would be imugned upon the devil buried somewhere in this rubble.

But what about this devil? He’d actually fought on the side of the U.S. many years before – the U.S., who in supplying the Mujahedeen (and the Taliban among them) with arms, and making sure (through the CIA) that the poppies of Afghanistan’s burgeoning export industry reached world markets in the form of heroin, helped the Afghans expel their soviet invaders (and pay for U.S. arms in doing so) in what has often been referred to as the Soviets’ Vietnam. Indeed, the U.S. government, and particularly the CIA, has a history of attempting to control much larger geopolitical trends through the poppy fields of Afghanistan. And that is how Afghanistan came to fit into the whole scheme of 9/11 and the War On Terror. The cold war era CIA/opium/Afghanistan is well documented by even mainstream reporting agencies, but what few probably remember is that quite strangely (while quite publicly) the CIA also took the lead in our more recent “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

But the conspiracy of 9/11 itself – the intricacies of its different players and their individual ends – is another story that’s well-documented already. If you’re looking for a crumb trail to lead you down the path of that story, a real-life, unimaginably horrible blockbuster in the making, read my post entitled, “The War Of Terror, or Down the Rabbit Hole of Disillusionment.” What’s important here is that in the case of our poppy grower, his land would be sold to some “anti-Taliban,” “pro-government,” “pro U.S.” candidate, probably at an absurdly low price, especially since the world is literally glutted with heroin now because of Afghanistan, and Afghans are now stockpiling opium. And this new candidate would begin to grow, and most importantly, his product would be turned into heroin and delivered to its destinations as expediently and lucratively as possible, because the CIA now controls the Afghan drug routes.

But why would the CIA want to control Afghan opium trading routes. The answer: it made accessible to its stakeholders, and to financial institutions in general, a massive amount of untaxable capital at a premium rate of interest – enough capital at the right time to significantly affect the whole world’s economy. According to The Independent, in 2003 drug trafficking constituted “the third biggest global commodity in cash terms after oil and the arms trade.” Since 2001, following the Taliban’s ban and subsequent eradication of more than 90 percent of the Afghan crop, poppy cultivation went up dramatically in Afghanistan for seven years straight, until in 2007 Afghanistan was supplying the opium for more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin. At that point it was estimated that Afghan poppy growers were making around 1.3 billion dollars per year off their crop, but in 2004 a U.S. State Department official was quoted by Voice of America in saying that the street value of heroin at that time was around 100 times the price received by Afghan farmers for the opium to make it. If we conservatively estimate that around 60 billion total, gross dollars are made off Afghani opium each year, that would produce well over 600 billion dollars in loans in our fractional reserve banking system. A great deal of money, and sadly, the main reason why our poppy grower is dead in his courtyard with his sons, or entombed with his family in a massive pile of rubble.

Meanwhile, one of the chief architects of 9/11 is likely somewhere like the four seasons in New York, having lunch with a few business associates, discussing the almost certain rise in beef futures in the coming months. And on the Spanish Riviera, a demolition expert – one of the project’s “foot soldiers,” as he likes to think of himself (though unfortunately he can only think it) – is having a My Thai by the pool outside his condominium. Among her many talents, his new Indonesian wife makes great My Thais. She was a bartender at his resort in Nusa Dua, and though she hardly speaks a word of English, that’s just as well. They’re in Spain, anyway.

Lastly, back in New York, a young homeless man gets a head rush and has to sit down, his back to the opaque construction fence surrounding the build-site of Freedom Tower. Of course, he doesn’t understand how his heroin addiction is connected to 9/11. He knows sometimes that the local pushers get much better stuff, but doesn’t understand how that relates to the prices middle-men pay, and the worldwide supply of opium. He doesn’t even know that as drug purity goes up, addiction rates go up dramatically too. He does remember though how earth-shattering his first heroin high was, back in 2006, much better even than the oxycodone he’d gotten hooked on back in high school, following his mom’s surgery. Interspersed on the fence behind him is printed the word “Remember,” again and again on down the line.

He remembers drawing halos. The bossy, self-appointed leader of his group in freshman history had told him to draw angels around the towers for the poster they were making to send to a firefighter or soldier or something. But he couldn’t draw angels, so he’d spent the period drawing halos with a gold colored pencil. His teacher had liked that.

He wonders now if he ever could’ve been smart, or amounted to much of anything, and is immediately pained by the thought of his friend, Surge, laughing at him. He’d nodded off three times during a conversation they were having, and on the third time Surge said, “Man, maybe you should get that checked out,” and laughed. What was going on there? Was he falling asleep?… It didn’t feel like falling asleep.

Have we fallen asleep? These are the faces we’re hatching up out of our greed, and our fear of change and reprisal. These are present faces of imperialism.

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8 comments on “Present Faces of Imperialism

  1. Debra says:

    Well said.

    And the beat goes on…

    Yes, it’s interesting that when the Taliban was in power nearly all the poppy fields were eliminated. Of course, women do not fare well under their rule, but the U.S. certainly did not get involved to better the lot of Afghani women. That’s laughable.

    • Anthony says:

      I hope women lastingly have more freedom there because of operation “Enduring Freedom,” but that’s ultimately contingent upon a dramatic change of values among Afghan men in general, which we can’t impose as invaders and ironically could end up making less likely, long term, through this eleven year long war, which Afghans most likely see for what it is much better than we do ourselves. Such extreme, backwards groups as the Taliban grow up in reaction against oppressive forces, which are indeed (they’re at least right about this) closely bound to the values of modernity. This was the case in Iran, and with the Taliban, and with Bin Laden himself, who declared jihad when his native government allowed the U.S. to place military installations in Saudi Arabia to attack a muslim nation in the first gulf war. If we wanted to help women in Afghanistan, we should’ve supported moderate groups and leaders like Massoud after the withdrawal of the Soviets, but we didn’t care who we were helping during that chapter of the cold war (as in many such chapters; e.g. Latin America in general.), so long as they were buying our weapons (with drug money) to kill Soviets – and when the Soviets left, so did we.

  2. vitocap1987 says:

    Have there been any other epochs that have proven more the need for man to be overcome?

    • I think empire has often been this senselessly destructive, and was often more brutal in the past. But this is indeed the epoch most needful of overcoming, because this epoch IS modern technology, the most imperial interpretation of Being yet, so much so that it threatens the whole world and humanity itself. I read an interesting thing yesterday by Heidegger: An epoch is not simply a period of history. It comes from the Greek word epoche which means ‘a holding back.’ It signifies a granting of the dominant meaning, or explaination of Being in general, which at once gives man his “field” in which to work in the world, but at the same time ‘holds back’ in concealed reserve alternative interpretations of being. Becoming entrenched in a historical epoch means being held back, in that the next, the new – the coming interpretation of Being holds itself back from us.

      • vitocap1987 says:

        It’s one of my greatest disappointments that historians and philosophers are some of the least respected individuals in academia. I feel like many of man’s recent missteps can be traced back to his his lack of interest in purpose of Being and of former times. In fact, I believe that it is his tepidness towards these subjects that has made it so easy for him to lead himself into his present place. An extensive knowledge of historical events and strong virtue make for the greatest forms of prevention against future blunders… Hopefully this doesn’t sound corny or cliche… I just realized it’s 2:00 in the morning, and I write strange things at this hour sometimes. :o)

  3. Yeah, but what about this Academia? Why this title, as if it’s another land apart from the world of operative pragmatism? Certainly the ideas of engineering born in universities are finding practical applications, thus science’s preeminent place within the University. But look at those academics who are most successful in fields like philosophy and history. Are they really directing their efforts toward what’s most pressing? Do they understand the world and the gravity of our decisions, or is allegiance to the smokescreen of mainstream discourse (and the worldview such allegiance entails) a prerequisite for success in academia? Lastly, do they even remember – or did they ever really know – the great significance of their chosen fields? It’s sad to say, but I think studying with key questions like these in mind make advancement in Academia harder, and more obstacle-laden – not easier.

  4. But as you said, blogging is important. More so, our hearts, our vision, and our faiths are important. Because through these we’ll greatly better the world. Not the popular world perhaps (that depends almost entirely upon chance) but our world, in thought and practice, which means everything to me.

  5. vitocap1987 says:

    As it does to me too, brother. As it does to me too.

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