This week Bernard Darnton carries on up the Khyber.
Three New Zealand soldiers (below) are in trouble after sending home photographs of themselves posing next to a 2,000 lb bomb emblazoned with a Demon Drink sticker and the message “Dear Taleban, enjoy this.” Dr Paul Buchanan, on-again-off-again political science lecturer at Auckland University, has claimed that this stunt was irresponsible because it “might lead to reprisals from Taleban fighters.” Because dropping a thousand kilograms of high explosives on someone’s head can annoy him but a snarky remark and a bumper sticker can really send him over the edge.
Were there academics wandering round during World War II warning people not to sing songs about the cardinality of Hitler’s testicles because the Nazis might turn aggressive?
What’s unfortunate about this incident is that it’s not just a bit of innocent fun; it’s some marketing bollocks for an energy drink. A few days ago there was a story about someone putting a traffic cone on top of the Sky Tower. Now, if that was something two pissed blokes had managed one Friday night I would be impressed. Some inauthentic marketing exercise for a product I can’t remember? I’ll need several cans of that over-caffeinated fizz just to stay awake.
Those most likely to be shocked or – worse – disappointed about all this are those who don’t think we should be in Afghanistan in the first place. The Keith Locke types, who would hand Afghanistan back to the Taleban in a breath. Keith Locke’s ideas on good governance shouldn’t be given much credence. He called the Khmer Rouge’s coming to power in Cambodia “a victory for humanity.” With humanity whittled down by two million souls under his erstwhile hero, he admitted his mistake. Backing murderous thugs once might be bad luck. Twice is starting to look like bad judgement.
There are others all too willing to criticise Western excursions in the middle east and central Asia, too. Robert Fisk, for example, isn’t nearly as bat-shit crazy as Keith Locke. He is an erudite and knowledgeable man who has seen all manner of atrocities and is rightly horrified by them. But he’s a pacifist and regards all war-makers as morally equivalent. The problem with pacifism is that it allows the first person who has an axe and wants to grind it to take over the world.
In many ways, America is its own worst enemy in Afghanistan. Because they haven’t decided whether they’d prefer to win the war on terror or the war on drugs, they’re burning the crops of Afghan opium farmers. “Hearts and minds” didn’t guarantee victory in South Vietnam but the Afghan locals will be tempted to continue their tradition of handing foreigners their arses on plates if those foreigners insist on destroying the country’s biggest export earner.
There probably won’t be a day when America and her allies can shoot the last Taleban soldier and declare victory. Stephen Franks recently suggested that allied troops are on a policing mission, that “the SAS are no more likely to ‘win’ [in Afghanistan] than our Police are to ‘win’ in Manukau,” but that it’s still an honourable and important task.
America’s (and New Zealand’s) job in Afghanistan isn’t to hold a ticker tape parade through Kandahar; it’s to make sure there is no repeat of 9/11. If, on the eighth anniversary of those attacks, all we’ve got to worry about is our soldiers’ larking about and sending rude notes to their enemies, then those soldiers are doing a pretty good job.
* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *
UPDATE: Paul Buchanan and the Greens’s Frog Blogger respond in the comments on behalf of himself and Keith Locke respectively.