The events in Afghanistan are depressing and prayers should be raised for all of our armed forces, the families of those lost, the families of Afghans killed, and Christians in that country who live a miserable existence before this latest retrograde motion.
Military folks don’t like to talk of retreat or withdrawal. They massage language and call it retrograde motion or movement. Withdrawing and retreating in the face of the enemy is one of the most difficult things that can done. Someone the other day mentioned that most of George Washington’s encounters with the British ended with retreat, but he executed them masterfully and lived to fight another day.
The history of Afganistan is too complicated and the involvement of Russia, France, Britain, India and others in their internal affairs are almost as confused as Afghan internal affairs themselves. Everything about Afghanistan is retrograde motion. Their were emirs in Afghanistan but they spent their time raising armies to invade Hindustan, for instance, and then racing back home to put down a revolt by an angry brother. Bringing their invading army back home to put down the revolt, they were often surprised to find their army going over to the disaffected brother and turning against them. Shakespeare’s observation in Henry IV, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”, could have been a commentary on Afghanistan. Afghan emirs that weren’t beheaded, knifed, or poisoned had their eyes put out and were left to wander around like beggars, objects of derision, begging for subsistence. The idea of a “government” in Kabul that governed Afghanistan was an oxymoron and foreign endeavor to deal with a “government” soon realized that they dealing with hundreds of clans and tribes a small fiefdoms that were practically ungovernable. Foreign puppet governments were installed, propped up, and coached to govern but they were ineffective and expensive. British puppets were as callous as regular Afghan leaders. A British diplomat in 1840 was shocked to witness the stoning of a local woman who confessed to adultery, a colleague warned him that “we are not in Afghanistan to nation-build or to encourage gender reform”. Sounds like conversations that have taken place leading up to our retrograde motion today.
Britain was involved in at least two Afghan wars, the reasons for which were part of the “Great Game” (see August 17), neither of which turned out well for anyone. Britain was terrified that Russia and maybe France would work in Afghanistan to invade India, the great “jewel in the crown” of British Empire. In 1842 a British force began a retrograde motion out of Kabul trying to get back to India. It was an army of British soldiers, the Army of the East India Company which was comprised of Indian Troops which confused the issue as well. Along with the fighting force and their equipment the retrograde motion included unbelievably, wives and children of officers and soldiers alike and their belongings including furnishings and household goods The British were promised safe passage. The retrograde motion took place in winter and went over the Kyber Pass. They left with 16,000 souls and at the end of the motion a lone Doctor and a half dead horse stumbled into safety. The rest were killed or taken hostage along the way. Safe passage promises and other assurance meant nothing.
In India, Lord Ellenborough the guy who was in charge had the primary objective to avoid the expense of a long war. He ordered other British forces to retreat, arguing that once the British had evacuated Afghanistan, negotiations for the release of the hostages that were taken from the most recent retrograde motion could proceed calmly. Ellenborough was opposed by his generals and by the government in Britain, all of whom insisted that stern retribution was required. He accordingly modified his orders. The forces were again ordered to retreat, but one general was allowed to retreat by way of Kabul if he chose, making a detour of over 300 miles and the other General was permitted to move to Kabul to cover the others retreat. The late nineteenth-century historian John William Kaye wrote that, “No change had come over the views of Lord Ellenborough, but a change had come over the meaning of certain words in the English language.”
So we have a retrograde treatment of language as well. Withdrawal means attack until it doesn’t. Not negotiating with terrorists is a policy until it is not. The airport is secure until it is not. We promise to get you out of a troubled country so you will leave from the airport, except you can’t get to the airport. Evacuations are called through puts. Folks who can’t leave their house or go to the airport to become part of a through put cannot be called stranded, that would be mean. We are being led, as I have said before, by silly unserious people. Most of what they do is retrograde anyway, but a monstrosity like Afghanistan makes them show who they really are – mendacious functionaries posing as experts.