Hands up any soldiers who know that another of Britain’s great military defeats took place in the very sands in which your colleagues are now fighting the Taliban. Yes, the Battle of Maiwand — on 27 July, 1880 — destroyed an entire British brigade, overrun by thousands of armed Afghan tribesmen, some of whom the official enquiry into the disaster would later describe as “Talibs.” The Brits had been trying to secure Helmand province. Sound familiar?br> Australian journalist Geoffrey Barker (it is notable that both Mr. Fisk and Mr. Barker lean decidedly to the left) has written recently under the title “The Long Shadow of the Past,” of “the devastating defeats suffered by British forces in the 19th Century” — “defeats,” plural, note. And of course “devastating.” The very word “Afghanistan” has come to mean something like “graveyard of invading armies.” Type “British Defeat Afghanistan” into Google and you will come up with about 3,360,000 entries.
It is a myth the British themselves largely created. It is ironic that it seems to owe much to Rudyard Kipling, the great poet of the British Empire, and the distinguished military artist Lady Elizabeth Butler, otherwise famous for her depictions of heroic British cavalry charges.
The British have always tended to revel in their disasters rather than their victories (when history was taught in British schools, all knew about the hopeless charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava; hardly any knew of the astoundingly successful charge of the Heavy Brigade the same day, both the subject of poems by Tennyson). Lately, of course, the adversary culture has seized avidly on any mythology that tends to discredit and demoralize the West and Western civilization.
However, the facts are somewhat different. The relatively few British adventures in Afghanistan, apart from one-off punitive expeditions, were, like the allied campaign today, basically attempts to support or set up friendly governments and then get out, not to conquer and annex or occupy the country. They had limited objectives and were for the most part successful.
They were unlike the Soviet invasion of 1979-88, which was an attempt to make Afghanistan either a communist country or a Soviet province and impose a permanent and irreversible communist and therefore atheist ideology. This largely united the Afghans against them, and the Afghans had modern American weapons as well.
WITH ONE EXCEPTION, THE BRITISH experiences show Afghanistan’s reputation as a graveyard of foreign armies to be at least overstated. The exception, the disastrous retreat from Kabul in the winter of 1842, was not really a campaign at all. It was the massacre of a small, badly-equipped garrison force — barely an army in more than name — that was trying to get out of the place and had no aggressive intent. Further, the British were handicapped by a commander of unusual incompetence in Major-General William Elphinstone.
The British garrison at Kabul had been intended to support a friendly and reputedly anti-Russian ruler, Shah Shuja, and protect the British diplomatic mission there. In December, 1841, Sir William MacNaughten, the British political chief, was murdered, leaving the British Army with no political direction or source of orders.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?