Monday, January 18, 2010

More from Charlie Wilson's War

One reason the Russians ended up pulling out of Afghanistan was, of all things, Russian mothers. As Crile, the author, points out, Russians "go to extraordinary lengths to honor their patriotic heroes." To this day, those who served in WWII, "the Great Patriotic War," are honored even by the very young. But, because of propaganda, "the Soviet veterans of the Afghan war did not exist. By official policy for more than five years, they were not fighting a war." Hence, when the bodies were shipped home in planes called the Black Tulips and presented to the mothers for burial, they, the mothers, were told that they could not put on the tombstones that their sons had died in Afghanistan. "A mother would be told that her son had not died in combat in Afghanistan and that he couldn't be awarded a medal for valor because there was no war." This was mistake, a big mistake. Eventually, other men returned home who knew there was a war going and then "the ugly whispers and the agonized drunken stories that the thousands of young men were bringing back with them year after year. By 1986 it started to achieve a critical mass...."

The denial of valor did not go over well with the mothers of these dead. And in 1985 at some time these mothers began to organize and the veterans began to organize. And the Russian vets did not return, as ours did during Viet Nam, as individuals but rather as units, often from the same town. As a result, "they met at night to drink, to take drugs, and to recite poetry and sing songs of their experience. The songs contained the entire secret history of the war - an explicit account of all that the government insisted had not happened and was not then continuing. They told of the invasion, of the storming of Amin's palace. They told of the devilish Dushman and of their comrades who had fallen in battle. There were songs about the Black Tulips and the tin coffins and the instructions to the mothers to lie for the state." [pp. 486-87]

Even the system created by Lenin and Stalin, which was built to maintain discipline, could not control or overcome these protests, such as they were. "Everywhere the mothers were talking and complaining and asking questions. Worst of all, these young veterans now walking the streets were missing legs and arms, limbs lost in a war that never early 1986 everyone, everywhere, knew something of the horror of Afghanistan....By the winter of 1986, a poison was loose in the spirit of the Soviet Union, and Gorbachev and his inner circle knew it." [488]

Lo and behold, the Russians are not so different than the Americans, who also came to see, with the help of the media, the horror that was Viet Nam and its war. And, apparently, it is not even necessary to have an intrusive media presence for people to know, eventually, of the horrors that one's government is committing. And, moreover, along with attributing the fall of the Soviet Union to the "greatness" of Ronald Reagan, he has to share the credit with the mothers and the veterans of that union. It would not be the first time that mothers had helped to unseat a government.

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