Saturday, October 31, 2009

Air Evacuation

Don’t ask me how I find these things. I just do. Anyway, it’s an interesting story about a place with current relevance for America.

Afghanistan: 80 years since the British evacuation of Kabul

”Eight decades before the Taliban-led insurgency that now sees the city again under siege, the RAF carried out the world's first major airlift and a very British evacuation.

Using only fragile biplanes the RAF saved Kabul's entire diplomatic community from the jaws of a violent tribal revolt. “

I hope -- beyond the details -- that you will consider the fact that the British Empire was involved in all the places that, currently, the American Empire is involved in. Kabul, Jalalabad, Peshawar, Baghdad. It didn’t end so well for them.

I read a book, long ago, by Niall Ferguson entitled: Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. I readily admit it has influenced my thinking on the subject. It is not an easy book to read but I am reminded of its central theme again and again as world events unfold. This is from the Amazon review of the book:

”Though the book's breadth is impressive, it is not intended to be a comprehensive history of the British Empire; rather, Ferguson seeks to glean lessons from this history for future, or present, empires--namely America. Pointing out that the U.S. is both a product of the British Empire as well as an heir to it, he asks whether America--an "empire in denial"--should "seek to shed or to shoulder the imperial load it has inherited."”

That seems a fair assessment of the decision President Obama currently faces. Do we shoulder this “imperial load” in Afghanistan or shed it ? There’s another line quoted in that review that bears repeating.

"...the difficulty with the achievements of empire is that they are much more likely to be taken for granted than the sins of empire,"

It seems harder to remember that we won World War II and the Cold War than it does to remember Vietnam and Abu Ghraib. I still think on the playground level. Every kid knows that when you’re king of the hill everyone takes a shot at you. That is just how the game is played.

There are perils involved in empire.

'Remnants of an Army' by Elizabeth Butler portraying William Brydon arriving at the gates of Jalalabad as the only survivor of a 16,500 strong evacuation from Kabul in January 1842.“

Photo by Hubert Vanes (click here for the story)

Don Brown
October 31, 2009

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