Posted by: Christian | May 16, 2008

Kings of Nuristan

The Strategist blog recently wrote about the Rudyard Kipling short story The Man Who Would Be King. And then a new milblog appeared, authored under the pseudonym T.T. Carnahan (a play on Peachy Carnehan, a character in the story). That fact was hinted at by Kip at Abu Muqawama, I’m not versed in Kipling well enough to know that off-hand.

The Man Who Would Be King is a short story about a couple of Englishmen who travel to the wilds of Kafiristan and get mistaken for Gods. The story is set in what was then referred to as Kafiristan (Land of the Infidels), before the Afghan king invaded and forced them to convert to Islam (and renaming the area Nuristan). Nuristan is now an Afghan province.

From the film adaptation, here’s a clip en espanol of the Englishmen attempting to train some proto-version of the Afghan National Army. And a warning to those at work or school, it ends with some rear nudity. But not of Michael Caine, thankfully. Don’t worry about the moral issues, it’s Caine’s real life spouse Shakira supplying the fanny.

One memorable bit of dialogue:

Billy Fish: He wants to know if you are gods.
Peachy Carnehan: Not gods – Englishmen. The next best thing.

Things then go badly for the English gods and one is forced to hike back to India with the other man’s decapitated head. The Strategist provides the updated analogy:

For modern readers, ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ is a caution not just against imperial hubris, but also against ill-conceived and poorly planned foreign military expeditions. As Dan and Peachey find to their cost, getting in is easy, getting on and getting out is damned difficult.


  1. I also highly recommend the other Man Who Would Be King, the one about the American on whom Kipling’s story was probably based. If for no other reason, it’s valuable as another point of data indicating that no one has ever really liked the Uzbeks.


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