I had been quite upset over the completely politically motivated Oscar award for the Best Picture to a rank ordinary, non thrilling, slow paced, average film called Argo, specially in the year when Lincoln was released, and Django Unchained – with its heart in a similar place and with film making par excellence – was released! So when a friend of mine suggested to me that we watch a slightly older film called Charlie Wilson’s War, saying that it was based on a true CIA operations story, I was least interested. I thought that it was one of those films that had been again made to lobby for American ‘heroism’ at the cost of putting another nation down. I couldn’t have been wronger. After seeing the movie, I wondered how I had missed this gem when it was released! Never too late I guess.
Charlie Wilson was an American Congressman (elected 11 times from Texas to the US House of Representatives, from 1972 till 1996) who became the first civilian to be decorated with the Honored Colleague Award by the CIA. He had achieved no less a feat. Almost single-handedly, this man could be credited with bringing an end to the Cold War era and the breaking down of erstwhile USSR (Yes, he was also unabashedly a party loving, womanising Congressman – but he made no bones about it or about hiding the fact).
The film is about how, in less than a decade – starting early 80s when USSR invaded Afghanistan brutally – Charlie Wilson influenced the CIA budget for covert operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan to support the Mujahideen forces and increased the same from a mere 5 million dollars to 10 million dollars initially, and then subsequently to 20, then to 40, then 100, then again to 250, to 500 and finally to a billion dollars! And that, mind you, is what they officially accepted! And all this money was to be used to paradrop high end arms to the common men and boys of Afghanistan so that they could fight the mighty USSR and defeat them! And they did! By firing down hundreds of Russian fighter jets and blowing off almost as many Russian tanks with handheld bombers and high-end guns! Of course, the rest, as they say, is history! The mighty USSR conceded defeat and pulled out of Afghanistan, the Berlin wall came down and USSR broke down!
The reason I wrote about it all is not to explain how America won the Cold War! It’s about what happened post that! The CIA operative who gave all the knowhow to Charlie Wilson, on how to beat the Russians, tells him post the victory that the biggest mistake now would be to leave Afghanistan ravaged. Young boys would go back to find their homes destroyed and families killed. He insisted that America build schools and health facilities and rebuild the country before leaving. Charlie went back to the Senate to ask for funds for building schools in Afghanistan. Of course, this time he asked for a meagre one million dollars! Yes, you read it right! Just one million. Imagine the comparison – one billion to ravage the nation, but just one million to rebuild it! Shockingly, the Committee rejected his proposal, commenting, “Who cares about schools in ‘Pakistan’...”. Yes, Charlie did counter that it was “Afghanistan” he was talking about which won the war, and not “Pakistan”. But the committee was dismissive about it with a “Yeah... whatever” attitude! Charlie himself wrote subsequently, “Yes, it was a great war... A great feeling... But at the end, we screwed it all up!” What he didn’t write was that at the end of the war, they created Osama bin Laden!
Yes, that’s exactly what had to happen when a country was left devastated with high quality arms in the hands of the common man and the knowhow of where to get it all from, but without access to education, health and livelihood! There is, of course, no doubt that the most ever wanted terrorist on Earth was a creation of the Americans. What, however, amuses me is the unbelievable lack of heart and humanity in American policies! They have now done the same in Iraq and again in Afghanistan – left these countries devastated and bleeding! And this time, the cost of war has been one humongous trillion dollars!!! I remember, when I was a child, my father used to say that it amused him no ends how Americans in the 1960s had spent 32 billion dollars on the war in Vietnam to keep it away from swerving towards communism, whereas the reality was that nobody should have cared if one literally invisible country took to communism! The same money could have been poured into India; and India would have become a developed nation and would have never moved towards communism (those days, with India’s proximity to USSR, the fear of India eventually taking up the communist ideology was real).
And that’s exactly what I wonder today! 600 billion dollars would be good not just to remove health and education problems from India but to make it a nation with a living standard comparable to Chinese living standards! Another 400 billion would do the same magic not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but additionally, the whole of Africa put together! Yes, that could have been the alternate use of this one trillion dollars! And it would have benefitted the Americans far more. War benefits only their arms industry and of course it helps them capture oil! But an alternate investment plan to develop Africa and India would have meant another five uninterrupted decades of boom for their entire economy! For more purchasing power here in the hands of these two huge land masses would mean more sales of Coca Cola, Apple and Chevrolets etcetera! For years to come! War mongering, it seems, comes naturally to Americans than spreading peace, love and humanity! These are huge strategic blunders and I only hope humanism soon prospers in capitalist nations. That’s the only way to global peace.
- 25 April 2013 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics