On a cold January day in 1842, a half-starved soldier – slumping across the neck of a dying horse - appeared at the gates of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. The horse and rider had survived a 10 day, 90-mile “retreat” over and through the Spin Ghar Range that sprawls between Kabul through Jalalabad to the Khyber Pass. Behind them lay the frozen, mangled bodies of General Sir William Elphinstone and more than 4,500 soldiers of The British and East India Expeditionary Force. The General had been promised a safe withdrawal to India by Muhammad Akbar Khan, the leader of the Afghan tribesmen who had revolted against British rule; but after evacuating Kabul, the British force was attacked by Khan’s tribesman army at Gandamak, where the British Force made a valiant but futile last stand. When Dr. William Brydon, the lone survivor of that first Battle of Kabul was asked where the rest of the army was, he simply answered, “I am the army.” In 1879, Dr. Brydon and his horse were immortalized on canvas by Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler. Her painting, “Remnants of an Army,” ranks with Picasso’s “Guernica,” Goya’s “The Third of May,” Emanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” William Bass’ “The Battle of Bosworth Field,” Paul Phillipoteaux’s “The Battle of Gettysburg” and God knows too many more paintings depicting the horrors of war.
On a hot August day in 2021, I was reminded of Lady Butler’s painting as I watched another “remnant of an army,” General Chris Donahue, retreat from this most recent Battle of Kabul, a retreat which I’m guessing was against the General’s will and better military judgment. General Donahue, Commander of the vaunted 82nd Airborne, was “captured on film” by a night vision camera as he solemnly trudged up the gangway of a C-17 to leave Afghanistan and GOD only knows how many American citizens behind.
Over the last “fortnight” as the Brits would say, I have searched my heart, soul and mind, trying to get my brain wrapped around the events of the last two weeks. President Biden’s shameful, cowardly, militarily indefensible, politically-motivated decision to surrender the most powerful military force on the planet to a rabble of 7th century Neanderthals - murderers, terrorists, and rapists - the Taliban. I confess that I am so damned mad at the “Surrenderor-in-Chief that any clear-eyed assessment of the situation on my part is difficult if not impossible. What I really want to say cannot be printed “in these pages” and if it could be printed, would probably prompt a visit to my house by “employees” of one or more security agencies of the United States government. At the very least, I would be cancelled from Facebook and Twitter (I don’t “do” either one, BTW.)
In order to try to accomplish that probably impossible task, I decided to try to get some historical perspective regarding wars - the victories, defeats, surrenders and retreats - the cowards and the heroes from the past. I went back and re-read some of the classical writers on warfare: Herodotus, Thucydides, Gibbon and more recent writers, Stephen Crane, Eric Maria Remarque, and finally my contemporary literary hero, Ernest Hemingway, because I remembered what he had said when asked how he started a new novel, “I just sit down at my typewriter and bleed.” So this morning over coffee, I re-read for the umpteenth time, parts of Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” on the chance that it might help me understand this latest chapter (THE BIDEN BLUNDER) of what Captain Arthur Conolly and Rudyard Kipling long ago dubbed “The Great Game,” the fight for Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Since I don’t own a typewriter, and since my iPad is a cold, black piece of metal and composite poly something or other and has no soul, I sat down at my writing table, the surface of which are my two priceless 1798 Imperial Editions of Charles Knightly’s “The Plays of William Shakespeare;” took my Palomino Blackwing 602 Pencil in hand; and let it “bleed” onto a piece of unlined white paper.
1) I am not a warrior.
2) I have never REALLY been shot at. (Once in Somalia...a few rounds fired over my head...different story for another time)
3) I have never shot at anything that didn’t have 4 legs or 2 wings.
4) I have never been in that “hell” that General Sheridan called war.
5) I’ve never seen another human being blown apart in front of my eyes.
6) I’ve never heard the dogs of war howling all around me, or felt the earth shake from exploding ordinance on a killing field where life seemed to be so cheap and so costly at the same time, so how can I possibly write anything that matters?
The answer is, maybe I can’t; but this morning I watched and listened as a “30-something preppy-looking buttoned-down Ivy League-looking” robot was trotted out by the Pentagon to try to convince me and my fellow Americans that we need not worry about the $90,000,000,000 worth of state-of-the-art military equipment that was left behind in this latest retreat from Afghanistan and that it poses no threat to us. I respectfully offer that those who believe that are either heartlessly indifferent, woefully naive, ignorant of history, just plain stupid or all of the above; and I will state emphatically that there is a danger looming in those remote mountains that has been, for almost 300 years, and still is one of the most strategically important places in the world - the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan and our “friends and “allies” to whom we have given almost $80,000,000 since 1948. And our “friends” have nukes…a lot of nukes…and they have friends called the Taliban...and the Taliban has poppy fields…a lot of poppy fields…which means money...a lot of money…which means weapons...a lot of weapons...which means dead bodies...a lot of dead bodies...because the Khyber Pass is still right there where it has been since the beginning of time - at the crossroads between England, through Europe, through the Straits of Bosporus to Central Asia, India, Arabia and Russia to Africa, intersecting the Silk Road from China to Africa and the Mediterranean. And whoever controls it, to a large extent, controls half of the world.
[SEE: Tom Clancy’s “Sum of All Fears,” wherein the bad guys obtain fissile material from an unexplored Israeli nuke and make a “ dirty bomb” that they explode at The Super Bowl in D.C.] The scariest thing of all is that Joe Biden and “all the usual suspects,” his lemmings/handlers/sycophants, are still in charge of keeping America safe and protecting America’s interests, including the above-mentioned Khyber Pass....and…
THEY JUST DONT GET IT...HELP US!! So Clueless Joe Biden surrendered...again, GOD HELP US!!
Dr. Brydon and his fellow British soldiers were fighting to keep the Khyber Pass open because it was the gateway for trade, for “goods and services” back and forth between England and India, the Jewel of The British Empire. The passing of “goods and services” is no longer the reason to secure “THE KHYBER,” unless by “goods and services” you mean nukes or fissile material, and I’m afraid that there will be nothing “good” passing through The Khyber any time soon.
George Santayana wrote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I would offer that Clueless Joe can’t remember what he had for breakfast, and he is repeating the same old mistakes.
And finally, Plato wrote that “Argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are some one cannot instruct.” Clueless Joe has proven that being knowledgeable is not one of his strong suits, and that he cannot be instructed unless by “instructed” you mean, “I was instructed to call on Kelly O’Donnell,” etc. etc.”
I would offer that there are some whom one cannot even shame, which is, in fact, a shame.
Charlie Wilson said, “Three things happened. They were glorious. They changed the world. Then we f’d up the end game.”
I would offer that because we “f’d up” the end game back in ‘88, we had to go back to Afghanistan, and that’s what precipitated this latest tragic episode - Clueless Joe Biden’s disastrous surrender of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
GOD HELP US...Dr. William Brydon must be rolling over in his grave.