Friday, September 27, 2013

Brothers in Arms? The U.S. is Abandoning its Afghani Translators. If They Knew About the Hmong People in Vietnam, the Afghanis Would Not Have Been Surprised by Their Fate.

Machiavelli warned against employing mercenaries to fight wars. He considered them unreliable, dangerous, and not worth the trouble of using, as they were a threat to a given king or queen's regime and a country's safety and stability.

We can agree with Machiavelli's wisdom, while also considering how theory and broad claims often mask and hide the experiences of a given human being that we call a "mercenary"--people who are ultimately just pawns in the grand game.

America's war in Afghanistan was an imperial misadventure. As such, there are my folks who have suffered because of war fever and the country's poor strategic choices. While acknowledging such a thing, I am also saddened by how American empire has killed too many innocent folks--and is a drain on treasure, blood, youth, and the United States' future--while still honoring those individuals who have fought, suffered, and died in the service of those policies.

As such, the misfortune befalling the native interpreters in Afghanistan who allied with American forces against the Taliban is unfortunate and a national embarrassment. Consider the case of Janis Shinwari:
Five years ago, my Afghan interpreter Janis Shinwari saved my life in a firefight against the Taliban. Ever since then, I've been trying to save his as the Taliban placed him on a kill list for his service to the US military
Afghan and Iraqi interpreters are promised that if they give the United States military one year of "faithful and valuable service", they and their immediate families will receive Special Immigrant Visas to come to the United States. Janis has served our military for the past nine years. He has more than earned his place in America, so you can imagine our joy when after years of pleading with the State Department, the US embassy in Kabul issued him and his family US visas two weeks ago. 
But this past Saturday, everything came crashing down. Janis called me at 2am in a panic. After giving him and his family their salvation, the State Department revoked it only two weeks later without any explanation.
America, like so many other great powers, does not always treat its soldiers--either domestic or foreign born--very well. Ultimately, they are tools to be used, and thus discarded and forgotten, when their existence is made inconvenient.

The Afghani translators like Janis Shinwari who have been thrown into the refuse pile are not alone--during Vietnam the United States also betrayed the Hmong people who fought in a "dirty" covert war sponsored by the CIA in the country of Laos:
They call themselves America’s forgotten soldiers. 
Four decades after the Central Intelligence Agency hired thousands of jungle warriors to fight Communists on the western fringes of the Vietnam War, men who say they are veterans of that covert operation are isolated, hungry and periodically hunted by a Laotian Communist government still mistrustful of the men who sided with America.
“If I surrender, I will be punished,” said Xang Yang, a wiry 58-year-old still capable of crawling nimbly through thick bamboo underbrush. “They will never forgive me. I cannot live outside the jungle because I am a former American soldier.”
Out of sight is out of mind...except for those souls who cannot easily walk away from the consequences of American policy abroad.

Sadly, those who know, worked with, and remember the Hmong's service in the Vietnam War are able to rationalize abandoning them:
Bill Lair, the legendary CIA agent who co-ordinated the operation to build an anti-Communist resistance army out of poorly educated jungle tribespeople, defended the Agency's actions. Speaking by phone from his home in Waco, Texas, he said that the US originally hired the Hmong and used Thai recruits to train them because the Hmong "were better than anyone else around, every step they took was up or down so they could move a lot faster than the enemy".

But when asked if America should now take steps to save them, he replied: "The CIA owes them nothing. We gave them the choice to leave but they decided to stay, thinking they could go back to how they used to live in the mountains".
I do not believe in American Exceptionalism.

But, I do think that a country should honor its promises to those who take up arms in her name. The Hmong in Vietnam, like the Afghanis today, are the "dogs of war". Unfortunately, they are being let off the leash and abandoned when their loyalty is no longer convenient.

Hurt and abandoned pets often turn on their former owners. Are the American people prepared for when now former friends act on their betrayal in reasonable acts of revenge?


OldPolarBear said...

If they do ever commit such acts of revenge, everybody in the US will be all shocked and wonder how it could possibly happen to such a wonderful, Exceptional Nation. They hate us for our Freedoms!!!! Will be our pathetic wail.0

Learning is Eternal said...

With all this knowledge out there, there are those who are still so patriotic. Is it wrong of me to NOT discern patriotism & racism?

Anonymous said...

Actually, when you think about it, the roots of the mentality underlying this travesty go much further back in the past, and are implicated in the history of labor in the U.S. America has always been happy to have immigrants (forced and voluntary) come here to perform the labor necessary to create and maintain the wealth of the nation. But as soon as their labor is no longer forced or needed (emancipation, industrialization, innovation, etc.) their presence becomes an 'inconvenience," and the attitude quickly morphs to "okay--now you can go back to where you came from." The abandonment of the Afghan translators is just the latest iteration of the mentality that suggests that some folks were put on Earth to serve others...

Astute Observer said...

Actually, the mentality underlying this stretches back further into the past, and is connected to the history of labor in the U.S. America has always welcomed immigrants (forced and voluntary) to perform the hard labor necessary to create and maintain the wealth of the nation. But as soon as their labor is no longer forceable or necessary (emancipation, industrialization, innovation, etc.) their presence has become "inconvenient" and the attitude has quickly morphed into "okay--now you can go back to where you came from." The abandonment of the Afghan translators is just the latest iteration of a mentality that suggests that some folks were placed on Earth to serve others...

chauncey devega said...

Disposable labor. Absolutely. It took the Hmong many years to get some of their folks over here. What is happening with the Afghanis is a betrayal. Talk about bad PR.

chauncey devega said...

Always. They hate our "way of life". Silly talk for even more foolish people.

chauncey devega said...

Some smart folks have connected nationalism and racism together.