Jul. 13th, 2006

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The recent combat death of Canadian corporal Anthony Boneca in Afghanistan has prompted a minor controversy in the Canadian press about soldiers' morale.

Since Cpl. Boneca's death, questions have arisen about the fallen soldier's feelings about Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

The father of the soldier's girlfriend has suggested that Cpl. Boneca was terrified of his mission and ill-equipped for its demands.

“They weren't prepared for what they ended up with over there, that's the big thing,” Larry DeCorte said in an interview in Tuesday's edition of The Globe and Mail.

Cpl. Boneca was on his second tour in Afghanistan when he was killed. However, Mr. DeCorte said the latest mission was different, with the young soldier being sent to Kandahar to rout the Taliban.

“When they went over there, they didn't think they were going to have that kind of combat,” Mr. DeCorte said. “They thought it was going to be the same kind of things, going on patrols and stuff like that, not hand-to-hand combat like he ended up in. Also, they aren't mentally prepared for it. He wanted out in the worst way.”

This has been confirmed by his aunt, but contradicted by his father. At present, it seems that the safest conclusion to reach is that although the late soldier didn't enjoy his time in the army he was willing enough to serve. The fact that the Canadian military is deployed in Afghanistan is cause for concern mainly because of the dubious nature of Afghanistan's government.

Trumpeted as "the first democratically elected Parliament in over thirty years," [the serving parliament of Afghanistan] was planned at the December 2001 Bonn conference that followed the fall of the Taliban, and was brought into being at fabulous expense by an army of some 130,000 internationally paid election workers. The United States' inexplicable pressure to invite those mujahedeen commanders to Bonn plays out now in a Parliament where every other member is a former jihadi, and nearly half are affiliated with fundamentalist or traditionalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.

The presence of so many of the country's notorious bad guys is certainly the most peculiar feature of this "democratic" Parliament (another is the new Parliament building itself, which has plenty of room for prayer mats but no office space). One international analyst reports that among the 249 members of the Wolesi Jirga (lower house) are forty commanders (warlords) of armed militias, twenty-four members of criminal gangs, seventeen drug traffickers and nineteen men facing serious allegations of war crimes and human rights violations. The deputy chairman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission charges that "more than 80 percent of winning candidates in provinces and more than 60 percent in the capital, Kabul, have links to armed groups." Plenty of parliamentarians parade around town in armored cars packed with bodyguards flourishing automatic weapons. "How can I stand up to that?" asked one woman delegate. "I am only one small lady arriving on the bus."

I'm well aware that the process of denazification in both West and East Germany was compromised by the fact that many Nazis possessed skills and connections which made them vital elements of the post-war German regimes. To the best of my knowledge, though, these people stopped being practising Nazis. Isn't it insulting to the people of Afghanistan to expect less of their leadership?

Yes, yes, I'm quite aware that Afghanistan is different, that unlike Germany it has never been a particularly functional or prosperous state, that the very idea of being a citizen of Afghanistan is so compromised by other loyalties as to be meaningless, that the sort of rigid and bigoted social conservatism reigning in Afghanistan is something discarded piecemeal in the West barely more than a century ago. Even so, was it completely impossible to have strived for something better, like (say) a regime worth dying for?
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Author Deborah Davis's new book Party of the Century is an engaging look at Truman Capote famous 1966 Black & White Ball, held in the ballroom of New York's Plaza Hotel and funded by the wealth earned by Capote from In Cold Blood. Davis goes into considerable and enlightening detail on the structure of New York and international high society in the mid-1960s, describing how the new electronic news media and inexpensive transportation combined with Capote's connections and talent for publicity to make his ball become a news story worldwide. The most surprising and telling thing that emerges from Davis' book is the suggestion made by multiple witnesses that, as a party, the Black & White Ball was a failure, its diverse guests not mixing and its glamour sadly lacking. Davis' flavourful telling seems to confirm that Capote's magic only went so far.
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One of the books that Rob Ferguson cites in the bibliography of his book The Devil and the Disappearing Sea is Graham Greene's The Quiet American, described by Ferguson as a "novel about naive optimism clashing with the cynical realities set in French-run Vietnam of the 1950s, a theme I could relate to." Far from being an account of Cold War intrigue, Ferguson's is an account of the frustrating years that he spent in Uzbekistan, trying to organize an ill-fated project aimed at galvanizing public opinion about the plight of the shrinking Aral Sea. Ferguson's selection of The Quiet American isn't entirely unjustified on the grounds of the disorientation he experienced in a post-Soviet Uzbekistan that he describes as mercenary and desperate is comparable, although his choice of that title leads me to wonder whether he identifies himself more with Pyle or with Fowler. In the end, it's that inability to adopt a narrative persona more insightful than that of "disappointed foreigner" that ends up undercutting the book, that and the fact that the only person who dies is an Uzbekistani national. It's worth reading for local colour and a taste of the expat life, but this book is surely the lite version of The Quiet American.
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Visiting Wikipedia this afternoon, I came across an interestingly detailed article on the Aromanians, a sub-population of the Vlachs, Balkan speakers of Romance languages. The Romanians are far and away the most significant of the Vlach peoples, speakers of Romanian dominating the two independent states of Romania and Moldova. In comparison, the Aromanian population--concentrated in Greece, Albania, and Macedonia--has likely never exceeded a half-million and is now much smaller thanks to enforced assimilation and emigration in the 19th and 20th centuries. Nonetheless, as late as the Second World War there were enough Aromanians in the western Greek highlands to support a Principality of Pindus under Italian protection. Wikipedia's account of the life of the ephemeral state's leader, one Alkiviadis Diamandi, caught my attention: the man's remarkable career took him from schoolteacher to prince and then, finally, into the ranks of those people who managed to disappear after the Second World War.
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  • At the Opinionated Lesbian, Eleanor Brown wonders whether the world needs more single-issue politicians.

  • Bert Archer follows up on the death of Corporal Anthony Boneca.

  • After reporting on the resurgence of Greek paganism, Diane Duane links at Out of Ambit to a study suggesting that the way things are going, Superman will be more powerful than God by 2040. Power creep, see.

  • A discussion started by Douglas Muir at A Fistful of Euros about Macedonia's recent election spirals out of control in the comments, as Macedonian and Albanian nationalists fight it out with Greeks, Serbs, and tangentially uninvolved third parties.

  • Daniel Drezner is wrong when he suggests that Barbara Ehrenreich is being unserious when she describes the situation for women's rights as perilous. Her language was a bit over the top, but she is dead right about the way things are going now for women under the pressures of fundamentalism.

  • I'm sorry that I didn't link to Charlie Stross' critique of the profoundly inhumane living conditions for inmates at Guantanamo Bay a month ago.

  • Ian Irving, at False Positives, touches upon Canada's Shadow Generation, those people in the early 1960s born towards the end of Canada's baby boom, trapped between the hippies and the Gen Xers.

  • Far Outliers has a series of posts on the construction of a Tibetan national identity within and without the frontiers of the People's Republic (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

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