Monday, July 27, 2009


Many times I've been asked to help find someone a job on a base somewhere here in Afghanistan. You'll certainly see a lot of Afghan men sitting around in the middle of the day doing nothing, but I've not found Afghans unable or unwilling to work. I suppose when the price is right people will work, and we probably pay far too much for what is delivered to us in the form of work, which would certainly increase the incentive to work for us. Whatever the case may be for the average Afghan citizen and his work ethic, I can certainly speak for the Afghan soldier, and his work ethic is by and large non-existent. Self-improvement is not a commonly sought after goal for the average Afghan soldier. Some of the younger officers and a few of the NCOs want to improve themselves, but most of these guys just do not really care (about their job anyway) and are "paycheck players".

Without attention everything reverts to chaos, and nowhere demonstrates that fact better than here. Things in Afghanistan just seem to fall apart. But then when you have a high level of apathy in the average citizen, I suppose that's to be expected. Nietzsche said that industriousness from generation to generation extinguished religious instincts. I the converse also true? Does religiousness hamper industriousness? Seems to in Islamic societies. I was confronted many times in Iraq with the "Inshallah" (if God wills it) attitude. You don't hear that word spoken as often here in Afghanistan, but the attitude it represents is no less prevalent. Of course, if you ask your Iraqi or Afghan counterpart something and he comes back with Inshallah once too often, you can always turn it around on him and say Inshallah when he asks if you're going to provide him with something. Inshallah can be a tough attitude to get past. There's no point in aiming your rifle if the bullet is only going to hit the target if God wills it.

The "Inshallah attitude" does lend itself to a certain ambivalence on the part of the populace that is alien to an American. We tend to see things as fairly black and white...not so much as shades of gray, and especially so among members of the military. As an American, if you have something to do, you do it. Simple. Not so with these guys. That feeling of "dualism" - that something or someone can represent two potentially opposing things or ideas, is much more common in the Eastern way of thinking. Not sure if we can attribute that to their religion or not, but in any case this ambivalence of thought tends to make the convincing of an Afghan of the need to get a certain thing accomplished, whether it be cleaning the base or conducting a patrol, that to us seems self-evident in its need to be done, more difficult.

I will say that to these people the Islamic religion is like food and water are to us, and without getting into a discussion on religion, for I am surely unqualified to speak on the matter, Islam emphasizes submission. If submission to God's or Allah's will is your overriding principle, a lot of that individual autonomy and will to forge your own path through your own efforts would seem to be extinguished...and you end up with what we perceive to be apathy. I am sure that Afghans do care about results, but the disconnect lies in how results are achieved. Marines understand effort and planning produce the results you want. Things don't just happen how you want them to because you want it that way.

Oh well, I'm probably attributing my issues with these guys entirely too much to culture and not enough to experience. After all, I've spent plenty of time with people back home that just somehow expected a certain event to transpire without any hiccups, and clearly did not understand the intricacies and difficulties that inevitably arise when one is confronted with situations beyond the norm (think of a weekend away with a significant other).

Ok, I think I'll close this entry before I run afoul of another Nietzsche quote...something about forgetting what you were trying to do in the first place being the most fundamental form of stupidity. Let's just hope that idea doesn't aptly represent the whole endeavor over here...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting article!