Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The constant fight to somehow better and change these Afghan soldiers sometimes feels as though we'd be better off fighting gravity or the tides.  The ANA are unchanging - impervious to exhortation and good example, resolute in their tenacity to hang on to mediocrity.

Being out here doing what we are doing day after day, week after week, you begin to ask yourself some questions and eventually question some of your assumptions after awhile.  First you ask yourself why.  Why are the ANA so resistant to change?  Thinking a little deeper, the next question is if the ANA are so resistant to change, then maybe what I'm trying to change them into is not something they are interested in?  Maybe, just maybe, they don't want to be like us or don't think it's possible.  Possible...?

So if they are not interested in being like me, maybe I'd better figure who I am.  How am I to do that...?  What do I stand for as a US Marine officer in his mid-30s?  What do I believe?  How do I see the world?  What is my paradigm?

I have the following beliefs and assumptions:

- Hard work pays off and it worth it any in case for its own sake
- Admitting a mistake shows good character
- Most people want to have a better life...and are willing to work for it if the right incentives are in place
- Education is a worthwhile pursuit in its own right
- Long term goals should not be sacrificed for short term expediency
- Honesty and genuineness in dealing with others works in the end
- Admitting ignorance rather than covering it up shows strength
- Negatives can be turned into positives and are a chance to learn
- If you are apprehensive about doing something, you should do it for that reason
- It's worth it to trust other people until they give you reason not to
- The world is fundamentally just
...and lastly and most importantly, that I control my destiny

Your typical Afghan soldier might see the world the following way:

- Hard work will get you nowhere and simply wears you out
- Mistakes should be avoided at all costs
- A better life can be had...for some...and not in Afghanistan
- Education has value, but it is not a real or direct path anywhere
- A man does what he has to do to get by
- Guile and cleverness are the best way to get what you want
- Ignorance is weakness
- Negatives should be punished
- If you don't want to do something, you probably have a good basis for that
- The best default position is not trusting
- The world is unfair, cruel, and difficult
- A man's life is in the hands of forces beyond his control

An Afghan's soldier's experiences have taught him this.  My experiences have taught me my views.  Neither one of us is right or wrong.  Not even my own teammates would agree with many of the things I believe, much less the Afghans.  I make no judgment on any of their beliefs.  And I daresay, as the world's economic outlook looks increasingly bleak over the short and mid-term, I would say more and more people may come to see the world from the Afghan perspective.  Everyone has their own way of looking at the world.  My beliefs are what works for me.  It helps me get by to think of the world the way I think of it.  For an Afghan with a decidedly more pessimistic outlook, his views are easily understood as a response to his experience.  They help him get by.

How to get over that hurdle?  How to teach a man to take control of his own life when everything he has experienced has proven the opposite?  Perhaps we need younger, more malleable stock with which to work...hah.

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