Posted by: Christian | November 9, 2008

Absurdist-Tragic-Comedy Book Review: The Truth about Afghanistan

The Truth About Afghanistan: Documents, Facts and Eyewitness Reports. 1980. Compiled by Y. Volkov, K. Gevorkyan, I. Mikhailenko, A. Polonsky and V. Svetozarov. Moscow: Novosti.

My previous university had a great collection of English-language Soviet propaganda public diplomacy books. My favorite was a certain book with numerous glossy pics from Afghanistan with captions such as “Soviet soldiers protect peaceful villagers from reactionary bandits.” All I could find here is this wonderful volume about the first years of the Soviet “presence” that consists of speeches by Brezhnev and Gromyko, excerpts of western newspaper articles proving that China and America are interfering with the will of the Afghan people, wonderfully one-sided uncredited essays and testimonials from Western leftists.

The essays include objective analyses titled “Amin, Murderer and Imperialist Agent,” “Subversive actions of Chinese Hegemonists,” and “Eyewitness Reports: I’ve Fallen in Love With You, Freedom.” The last one was penned by some genius who I will not name (why beat dead donkeys?), a “proletarian realist” writer from the US who took a trip to Afghanistan to assess the situation. Here are some snippets:

“And that is how the country felt – free. Free of oppression, free of fear, and – with the Soviets guarding their frontiers – free of the menace of invasion.”

“There was no question about this – the general feeling among the people that the new government was truly a democratic and humane government and that the Soviet troops had come, in the nick of time, not only to save the life of Ahmad and Moneer, but of the country itself.”

The author goes on to say that he met pretty much everybody in Kabul and that they are all in love with the Soviets and Babrak Karmal. He further repudiates the lies of the pro-American lackeys at the BBC who are reporting clashes in the country. He quotes Karmal in a press conference:

“Very well, you BBC correspondent! Suffice it to say, your organization is the biggest fabricator of lies in the world!”

As for Brezhnev and Gromyko’s speeches and interviews, if you have heard or read one politburo-ish speech, you’ve heard them all. They are excruciatingly boring so I’ll just skip them. You can use your imagination. I’ll just give these tidbits for you to fashion together: Hitler, perfidious British, Morrison-Knudsen, Peking propaganda, US-Israeli chariot, Afghan patriots, feudal-landlord reactionaries, T. E. Lawrence and German colony in Afghanistan.

The compilers of this volume go on to quote the western news media. The fine folks at the Daily Telegraph in the UK (January 22, 1980), for example:

“The departure of American journalists has been accompanied by a sharp drop in the stories of armed clashes and murderous incidents usually attributed to ‘diplomatic sources.’ I could find no one who has actually witnessed a military engagement, seen a body or a helicopter gunship in action. The shops are open, people queue at the cinema, and apart from the 11pm curfew – which was in force before the Russians arrived – life in Kabul seems normal.”

“…the American embassy in Kabul has been consistently putting out exaggerated reports of rebel victories which other diplomats consider reflect badly on United States credibility and provide an overoptimistic impression of insurgent capability.”

If all’s well in Kabul, then all’s well in all of Afghanistan, right? An Argentinian journalist backed up this version in 1980:

“Can it be that the American journalists or the staff of the American embassy confused bird twitterings with guns reports? …[further insistence that there is no conflict in Afghanistan]… There is only one answer to that [claim that Afghans are fighting the Soviets]: these are shameless and intentional lies. For the other journalists who were with me and myself [in Kabul] they are no more than a figment of morbid imaginations. there can be only one truth: what we saw with our own eyes.”

Aah…the joys of embedding.

A French journalist, aghast at the anti-Soviet writings of the French press, defended the Soviets after years in Afghanistan watching the march of progress and the “liberation” of “slaves” from the “feudal elite”:

“The new Afghanistan, which bold men dreamed of creating for their own people, was in danger of destruction by home and foreign reaction. This was what made it imperative for its leaders to ask for Soviet troops to be moved in.”

The editor-in-chief of a Portuguese newspaper, who in a google search was shown recently hyping Hugo Chavez and Bolivarianism, had this to say back in the day in a subtly titled article “The Devil’s Sabbath of Right-Wingers and Afghanistan”:

“Last summer I was in Moscow together with a group of Afghan [communist] officers. We often met in the park of a hospital where we were taking a course of treatment. I told them about Portugal and our revolution. They told me about Afghanistan and we became great friends.”

The article goes on to relay these officers’ versions of events in Afghanistan as if they were fact.

And the New York Times, on January 22, 1980,  wrote:

“Mr. Carter’s sudden offer of military aid to Pakistan, as ugly a military dictatorship as exists today…, makes a mockery of his longstanding policy against giving such help to such countries.”

Hey!…..That’s actually accurate.

But on to the photos. The pics are not remarkable so I’m not going to waste time scanning them. It’s the captions that are great. They read:

“These three bandits have been captured by the Afghan security forces. They were trained in special camps in Pakistan where American and Chinese instructors taught them to kill and rob peaceful villagers.”

Another photo, which I also found on the internet, is captioned:

“Zbigniew Brzezinski, during a visit to Pakistani troops positioned near the Khyber Pass, casts a malignant glance at Afghan territory through the sight of a Chinese made light machine gun.”

The book contains numerous other testimonials from western communists and leftists. The Indian and Arab left also gets in on the action with their glowing praise of the anti-imperialist goodness occurring in Afghanistan. I was quite saddened that Yasser Arafat, who enthusiastically cheered the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, was not included. The book does have its standards.

The verdict? I had the people vote on it. With a voter turnout of 99.8%, the people decided that the book deserves an 11 out of 10.

So were all leftists in the west “useful idiots?” Not really, there were many leftists who were anti-Soviet, and not just the Maoists. I even found a nice picture book/pamphlet from the mid-1980s by some western European communists railing against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

To be fair, the anti-Soviet side exaggerated as well. I’ve read about the imminent Soviet use of chemical weapons in a planned genocide, the Soviets’ drive for Karachi and the usual “Soviets drinking the blood of innocents” thing.

Thank God today we have access to voluminous quantities of objective, non-biased and well-informed assessments of Afghanistan in the media. That, of course, was a joke.

Would you like a copy? Some guy in Massachusetts will sell you one for $3.00


  1. Come on, tell us who the author was!

  2. Phillip Bonosky. Ah, the wonders of google.

  3. Thanks for that. I guess it’s too bad for Bonosky the Soviets weren’t allowed to create another perfect society in Afghanistan.

  4. I think I’d rather be a citizen of any ex-Soviet state right now than an Afghan…


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