I relish the study of history. The stories of nations, tribes and peoples of ages past have much to teach us. These days, however, I often wonder why we study and teach history at all. If we refuse to learn from it, then why not ignore it altogether? This is especially true when it comes to the war with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The United States of America is a relatively young country…only a couple centuries old. But enough history has occurred to teach some truths about the American people. Admiral Yamamoto may not have spoken some variation of the famous line in the motion picture, Tora! Tora! Tora!, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve,” but it states a historical truth: you can attack the U.S., but then you’d better find some place to hide.
It is difficult to understand what Al Qaeda sought to accomplish by bringing down the World Trade Towers. But, as the Japanese found out subsequent to Pearl Harbor, American reprisal is dogged, determined and swift. As they did in 1941, Americans rallied ‘round the flag, mourned their dead, praised their heroic police and firefighters then turned to find and destroy the enemy. Bin Laden is smart to cower in mountain caves and never show himself again. He will have to continue to hide until he dies or is caught, tried and executed. History teaches that truth, justice and the American way yet survive to fuel a terrible resolve.
Afghanistan has a much longer history which teaches that the Afghan people will never be subjugated for long by any outside power. Check with Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Persians, Russians and the British. I recently talked with a young, former sergeant who served several tours in Afghanistan. I asked him, “What should America do about the war in Afghanistan?” His answer was quick and direct, “We should get out as fast as we can.”
The truth about both Iraq and Afghanistan is historically based. More than dictators or any other form of oppression, the thing they hate the most is a foreign army, especially if that army is made up of “infidels.” Recent polls have shown that, for the most part, the Afghan people hate the coalition presence. Once they leave, history teaches that all the changes the troops have fought and died for will most likely be reversed and the Afghans will revert to their former state of affairs. This writer firmly believes that too much blood has been shed already for nothing. History screams its agreement.
Here’s another related historical truth: nation building is risky and often a fool’s errand. It worked in Germany and Japan because the Allies initially took over completely. Somalia and Haiti are pure failures. We never even got started in Viet Nam. Freedom and democracy are not our gifts to give. A nation must pay for it with its own blood sweat and tears. Only then will they value and cherish it. Can we give this gift to Iraq, Afghanistan? Not unless they want it enough to struggle and suffer for it. History is a great teacher, but only if the students pay attention.