October 30, 2009

Daniel Dravot on nation-building in Afghanistan

From my September 26, 2001 essay on John Huston's movie The Man Who Would Be King, which was based on the Kipling short story.
Yet, if a war in Afghanistan does prove winnable, which it should, ought the U.S. to undertake a long-term benevolent occupation to attempt to turn that desolate land into a peaceful "normal country?" Huston's movie offers a skeptical perspective.

Initially, the two pirates' plan succeeds wildly. The pagans believe Daniel is a god, the son of Alexander. The high priests place the great Greek's crown upon his head and offer him a treasure room full of rubies and gold. All Daniel and Peachey need to do to become the two richest men on Earth is to fill their packs, wait four months for the snows in the Hindu Kush to melt, and then walk out.

While awaiting Spring, Daniel amuses himself by playing at being king. To the applause of his new subjects, he enforces peace, dispenses justice at traditional durbars, sets up granaries to insure against famine, and builds bridges to tie the country together.

When the passes finally open, Peachey learns to his horror that Daniel now feels too responsible for his people to grab the loot and run. The grandiose nation-building urge that in the 1990's helped inspire American interventions in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia has infected him. "A nation I shall make of it, with an anthem and a flag," King Daniel thunders. ...

Catastrophe ensues.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

23 comments:

John Seiler said...

One of my favorite movies.

Bush was a fool to think he could conquer where the Brits and Soviets couldn't.

l said...

If we leave Afghanistan now, the misogynists win.

Robert said...

One telling detail I picked up somewhere on the net: In all the years Western nations have been trying to control Afghanistan, no one has yet been able to keep a railroad running. The whole country only has 25 km of rail line. Every attempt has been frustrated by the stubborn lawlessness of tribes who prefer merchandise to be delivered by trucks, which can be stopped and robbed easily. So, until the Kabul express opens up, there's no hope for development, as far as I can see.

Gene Berman said...

I guess, by the time I was 12, I'd read everything he'd ever written, after first reading "The Jungle Book"; I loved Kipling. But I don't believe anyone kipples these days.

Anonymous said...

The current province of Nuristan (renamed in the late 1800s after the Kafiristanis finally converted to Islam) has emerged as one of the main fronts in the fighting against the Taliban.

And Kipling was definitely onto something in thinking that the inhabitants had European blood, judging from this picture:

http://afghan.smugmug.com/Other/Winter/67476_sjot6/4/2556374_dbCuX#2556374_dbCuX

l said...

Turns out the US tried nation-building in Afghanistan once before.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2009/10/kabul_city_number_one_part_3.html

Better luck this time.

Suresh said...

I think the novel had something to do with the British Indian Raj as well. The British Indian Empire was built by tough adventurous Britishers like Clive but the British intent in loot like Daniel soon became interested in administering India. To play king in a very alien world. Bridges were built, Sati and child marriage banned, western ideas taught, hygiene improved etc... The Hindus did not have to fear more Islamic invasions and the position of the lower castes improved. But disaster struck and British India did not last as long as the British hoped it would. I think as long as White people will interfere in the affairs of non-White world for good or for bad, there will be disasters. The White world needs to isolate itself from the large non-White world as far as possible. As Gary Brecher said, you either kill them, bribe them or leave them alone.
For anyone interested in the good that was done in British India must read Katherine Mayo’s brilliant book ‘Mother India’
http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300811h.html

albertosaurus said...

Excellent point!

However while Afganistan is a worthwhile target for a couple of adventurers, it is too poor to be of much interest to any nation or even a foreign warlord.

Iraq is a plusible place to try to establish a civilized regime. After all they more or less invented civilization. Afganistan on the other hand is only known for being a safe haven for troublemakers. It has been a nuisance for millenia. Some theorists ascribe India's failure to develop a continuing high civilization to the constant raiding from the Kush.

Iraq has oil and strategic position. Afganistan is not needed by mankind.

In the thirteenth century Hulugu had much the same problem with the Old Man in the Mountain and his assassins. He found a solution. He killed them all.

Mr. Anon said...

Our would-be nation builders could learn a thing or two from Kipling. They could also profitably spend some time reading "Flashman" by George MacDonald Frazier. He understood something about the Afghan national character that state-department nabobs and game-console militarists like Testing99 never will.

Anonymous said...


Yet, if a war in Afghanistan does prove winnable, which it should, ought the U.S. to undertake a long-term benevolent occupation to attempt to turn that desolate land into a peaceful "normal country?" Huston's movie offers a skeptical perspective.


Without a change in gene frequencies (more precisely, allele frequencies) in Afghanistan, I do not see them becoming more like us.

Anonymous said...

The South Vietnamese apparently wanted to try communism.


The Afghanis apparently are enraptured of sharia.


We shouldn't get in the way, we should leave. Sensible immigration policy would have prevented 9/11 all by itself.




BY THE WAY, FUNNIEST 9/11 SPOOF YOU WILL EVER SEE. REALLY FUNNY:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfDEyLbUSxo



m

Whiskey said...

Nation building in Haiti, Somalia, and Bosnia?

Please. Clinton intervened in Haiti to keep boat people from floating up onto Miami's shores, all of them Black, poor, and Francophone. Plus, corrupt deals with Haiti Telecom under his guy, where Clintonites raked in the big bucks (along with the Kennedys). Somalia was a brief experiment that Bush 1 handed to Clinton who ran away quickly.

Unknown at the time but written about extensively by author Mark Bowden "Black Hawk Down" and Lawrence Wright "Looming Tower" was AQ's presence there as a sort of Condor Legion advising the Somalis how to shoot down US helicopters.

Bosnia was the US intervening to keep Austria, Germany, and Italy from being swamped by refugees and also forestalling Moscow's traditional role as protector of South Balkan Slavs, particularly Serbs. None of that can be considered nation building, any more than the annexation of Zululand, or the wars against the Boers, or other 19th Century influence flexing and general great power imperialism (or China in Tibet if you prefer).

Heck, China has done more "White Man's Burden" with rail lines, extensive industrial investments, education, and the like in god-forsaken Tibet than any Western power.

Afghanistan is a pressure-point on Pakistan (and vice-versa) and also a convenient way to press Iran to behave (by sponsoring Baluchi and other separatists if they don't). Plus of course deterrence and critically, an human intel system.

The 9/11 Commission blasted US intelligence for relying on signals intel exclusively. Due to lots of reporting on it, AQ and other guys know well our capabilities and run messages through letters or couriers. All of whom are tribally related, most of them Pashtuns. Guess who most of Aghanis are? Yep. And there is always, ALWAYS a tribal group on the outs, or a guy with a grudge, willing to settle scores.

But you have to be in the game to play it. With guys on the ground there, actively settling things. Among others, the Mongols played that way.

If Pakistan had no nukes and was what it was in 1895, Kipling would have been right still. But that is no longer true, making Afghanistan a "DEW Line" for human intel. About who has plans to do what with which nukes.

silly girl said...

"I guess, by the time I was 12, I'd read everything he'd ever written, after first reading "The Jungle Book"; I loved Kipling. But I don't believe anyone kipples these days."


My son loves Kipling, and he is 11.

At night he says, "Mom, let me read you this!" and then he proceeds to read some Kipling story with all his enthusiasm and might. It is pretty cute.

Those stories are great.

Anonymous said...

And Kipling was definitely onto something in thinking that the inhabitants had European blood, judging from this picture


We've been in Afghanistan long enough now that that poor girl could be the bastard daughter of an American GI or a NATO peacekeeper.

Anonymous said...

One telling detail I picked up somewhere on the net: In all the years Western nations have been trying to control Afghanistan, no one has yet been able to keep a railroad running. The whole country only has 25 km of rail line. Every attempt has been frustrated by the stubborn lawlessness of tribes who prefer merchandise to be delivered by trucks, which can be stopped and robbed easily.

Good point.

Im guessing (I should look it up!) that said railway actually extends in from a neighbouring country rather than being a truly Afghan entity?


And where does that leave that mythical pipeline that many powerful groups supposedly want built through the country? Vastly more impratical than a railway.

Anonymous said...

Afghan Railways...

This guy, Andrew Grantham believes there are no functioning railways in Afghanistan at all now, though he may not be counting that 25km as significant enough.

Salim Bhai said...

"We've been in Afghanistan long enough now that that poor girl could be the bastard daughter of an American GI or a NATO peacekeeper."

If you go to the northern parts of Pakistan you will come across loads o European looking peoples. And no they are not the product of recent rape. I know pathans living in my city for several generations who have had not contacts of any sort with non-Muslims. They could pass as Europeans.

Anonymous said...

As Kipling would have said - did say:

"A scrimmage in a Border Station
A canter down some dark defile
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail."

What the hell are we doing there - anywhere? We better sure as hell know, or we're just wasting blood and money and making fools of ourselves. In our debates with the left we essentially surrender from the beginning: "You're just going there to kill people and steal things!" "No but really we're going to help them, too!"

And the debate is lost from the beginning.

Sometimes we do just need to kill people and steal things, and we shouldn't have to excuse ourselves for doing it.

Anonymous said...

My favorite Kipling quote:

Naulahka
Now it is not good for the Christian's health
To hustle the Aryan brown,
For the Christian riles and the Aryan smiles,
And it weareth the Christian down.
And the end of the fight
Is a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased
And the epitaph drear: "A fool lies here
who tried to hustle the East."


-Black Death

rec1man said...

Anon wrote
--
And Kipling was definitely onto something in thinking that the inhabitants had European blood, judging from this picture

--

That girl is a Nuristani, a descendant of Alexanders Soldiers 2300 years ago

They were forcibly converted to islam in 1895, with british approval

The remaining Nuristanis are in the Kalash areas, ( Kalash Kafirs ) where they are being forcibly converted to islam today

Dutch Boy said...

Daniel Dravot was undone not merely by his altruism but also his vanity. He dreamed of meeting the Empress Victoria face-to-face as an equal sovereign.

rob said...

Rec1,

You hate the Muslims, then go home and fight. It is not America's problem. Your incessant "Let's you and him fight" is annoying.

rec1man said...

All I wrote was that girl was a Nuristani , a descendant of Alexanders Greeks, who got converted at swordpoint in 1895