Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Afghan Campaign

Steven Pressfield pulls no punches with his realistically fictional account of Alexander the Great’s infamous Afghan campaign. Campaign utilizes an interesting literary style by incorporating modern military terms like enemy noncombatant into the ancient style of warfare of Alexander’s Macedonians. That combined with his expert descriptions of Afghan culture and terrain periodically trick the reader into thinking that he is reading about NATO troops storming a hovel in Kandahar. The whole thing is very effective.

At other times Campaign reads like cheap military pulp. As I said, Pressfield pulls no punches. This is a carnal telling of a brutal story but it not without message.

Pressfield toys with the modern notions of morality that have been common in military fiction since WWI and prerequisite since Vietnam. What effect is slaughtering civilians having on the souls of Alexander’s troops? Can they ever return home and be reintegrated into society?

These questions add to the story but more often then not Pressfield discards them to make a more focused point about fighting Guerillas, specifically Afghan Guerillas. The conclusions that I take from the book are that Afghan culture has changed little in 3,500 years and that the rules for fighting against Afghan Guerillas are the same now as they were then – You must fight on their terms, their way. It is brutal. It is contrary to our morality and code of honor but on their turf it is their code that matters. Do not underestimate the depth of that code. Ultimately, when the hearts and minds of the population cannot be won by carrots and they instead choose to support an active insurgency, a military commander must be willing to terrify them into submission through brute force on a massive scale.

Will NATO need to conform to Afghan codes of warfare and levels of brutality to win there? Is it even possible for anyone to win in Afghanistan long term? Am I reading too much into a fictional piece of Literature?

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