Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Vice On Afghanistan

Vice is one of those controversial things on the internet, especially in the liberal circles of the blogosphere that I tend to hang out in.  The main argument is that some of the founders and employees of Vice have said offensive things over the years.  I won't defend what various folks have said, I would just stress that people like Vice founder Shane Smith have engaged in lots of anti-social behaviors (like getting drunk in Chernobyl and firing off Russian automatic weapons) and expecting more mature behavior from him might be a bridge too far.  But in a world dominated by bloggers and reporters who spend their days shackled to computers in offices trying to explain what is going on in our chaotic and bewildering world, the fact that Vice is actually willing to send people to dangerous places to show us what's going on should be at the very least respected.  How many national security bloggers would be willing to walk through swamps with former Liberian war lords to try and figure out how to better help post-conflict countries or try and find out what it's like to be homeless in Bogota and have to live in the sewers out of fear of death squads by doing just that.

In a world of information dominated by arguments for and against things, the President's speech to Morehouse College graduates was wrong, the Republicans should embrace marriage equality, Vice is a welcome relief in that their "immersive" reporting technique simply portrays the reality as their correspondents experience it and let us come to our own conclusions.  Which brings me to Vice's three part series they just uploaded on their youtube channel titled "This Is What Wining Looks Like."

"This Is What Wining Looks Like" is a three part documentary created by journalist and independent film maker Ben Anderson about the final stage in America's longest war.  It is a highly disturbing look at the massive failures of our efforts of "nation building" in Afghanistan that focuses on the particulars of why efforts to create a functioning state simply haven't worked.  And the particulars are what make the piece so compelling.  It's easy to sit in a room in Washington and make an argument about "counter insurgency" or "providing security," but when the forces you are trying to do that with are involved in everything for massive corruption to keeping boys and sex slaves on their American built patrol bases, the irrelevancy of these arguments is revealed.  It's easy to talk about "training" the Afghan military but when those "trained" soldiers do things like smoke opium in the middle of a fire fight, the failures of the West to create a western style professional military is revealed as well.

The worst part about the piece is how it consistently shows that what we've been told about Afghanistan for years is riddled with lies.  The country is not fixed at all, and might very well be unfix-able, but what is being told to use back home is a series of rosy scenarios that seem designed just to further the careers of western generals and politicians.  Ben Anderson offers no easy answers to this massive mess, he does argue the US made a key error back in 2002 when in the rush to prepare to invade Iraq we made a bunch of norther warlords the defacto government and military instead of trying to build social institutions for all of Afghanistan, and that of course is one of the main arguments of the piece: there are no easy answer in Afghanistan.  But he does show the reality of whats going on, and for that he should be commended.

You should watch it, but viewer discretion is advised. 

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