Friday, March 6, 2009

The Afghan Syndrome

The Afghan Syndrome, the Soviet Union’s Vietnam was written by Maj Gen. Oleg Sarin & Col. Lev Dvoretsky. It was published in 1993 in English. I don’t know if it was first published in Russian.

On page xii they write, “Perestroika might have happened if there had been no Afghan war. But the Afghan tragedy made perestroika inevitable. Our return to universal humane values and ideas was by way of this war. Mikhail Gorbachev has assured the world that we have once and for all removed the subject of war and revolution from our consciousness and political doctrine. Such a statement is due in part to the bitter lesson of the Afghan experience. Because of Afghanistan, we have been able to surmount another psychological barrier and find the courage to admit that our military interventions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 were mistakes, that there could be no moral or political justification for our attempts to reshape the destiny of other nations. Our new understanding of internationalism, Gorbachev has pointed out, is linked to our affirmation of universal human values. Thus, our call for democratization of our country rests on an understanding that authoritarianism had led to the blind alleys of the Afghan war. When we say we must help the Afgantsi, we are thinking of more than moral and material recompense to those veterans. Society owes them something else: It owes them a debt of gratitude. It was they who helped the rest of us overcome ourselves, our inertness, our mistakes; it was they who helped stir our consciences.

“The Afghan syndrome signifies not only our repentance, our wish not to repeat past mistakes or commit new ones, but our wish to live in conformity with normal laws of a civilized nation. Sadly, it is also a curse, a monster that still resides among us. It rears its head again and again when the demands of the moment seem more important than the real interests of people; when political expediency takes the upper hand over truth; when the fist becomes the sole argument and only brute force is believed capable of establishing justice. The parallels are evident: Baku and Nagorno-Karabakh, Tbilisi and South Ossetia, Lithuania and Moldova – Soviet cities and republics where troops have been used to restore order. The country’s crime rate is rising; there is demoralization in the army.”


Had I not encountered the Revisionist School of Russian history I would have gone on thinking that the views of General Sarin and Colonel Dvoretsky probably prevailed in Russia. They recount that they knew of America’s war in Vietnam and had heard of the term “The Vietnam Syndrome,” but that it had no special meaning for them in Russia. It wasn’t until after their ten-year war in Afghanistan that they learned the meaning. They clearly agree with the views of Gorbachev and rejoice in having returned to universal humane values and ideas. The interventions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 were the cause of many in Europe turning from the idea that the Soviet Union represented a Socialistic Utopia. But in Russia, just as the Revisionist Historians are doing now, they justified every such act. They justified interventions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Have the Russian Revisionists repudiated the declarations of Gorbachev and the sentiments of Sarin and Dvoretsky? Are they melting down their Peristroika plow shares and pruning hooks and hammering them back into spears and swords? There is a lot of chest-thumping going on over there nowadays, and I’m pretty sure none of it is being done by Gorbachav, Sarin or Dvoretsky.

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