Haven't we seen this movie before?
It's the one where the US invades a country with the very best intentions. Where we are ignorant to or ignore the culture we are invading and assume that everyone will magically get along and want to be just like us when we stop bombing them. Where we think we'll be seen as liberators and friendly helpers, not occupiers.
It's the one where we assume that citizens of a country would be better off fighting each other than fighting an occupying foreign army (us). Where we figure our new subjects will easily forgive the fact that we occasionally kill scores of innocent civilians and never quite say we're sorry. Where we think everyone will love the puppet government we install for them. It's the one where we attempt to win hearts and minds with soldiers, bullets, and bombs, and when that doesn't work, we try sending more soldiers, more bullets, and more bombs. Where we fail to improve the lives of those we claim to liberate, causing them to yearn for the relative stability of the oppressive past we claim to have rescued them from. Where we don't realize that the people fighting us are not the fringe, but a popular movement committed to repulsing a foreign army that kills civilians.
We saw this movie when it was called Vietnam, and again in the sequel called Iraq, which repeated the mistakes of the original — no plot, a muddled message, poor direction, over budget, and no ending. Yet now we find ourselves in pre-production on another sequel that follows the same losing formula and is sure to be an awful, lethal, costly flop. It's called Afghanistan II — and we need to pull the plug on it before it literally bombs, taking untold numbers of Americans, Afghans, and our economy with it.
Sadly, Afghanistan is also having a slightly different but equally ugly, ill-conceived sequel forced upon it — one it knows all too well. It's the one where western empires (England, Russia, the US) occupy Afghanistan so they can use it as a battlefield to fight an ideological proxy war. Where promises are broken and Afghan civilians die by the thousands. Where the proud, independent, ridiculously tough people of Afghanistan beat the odds using guerrila tactics perfected over centuries and drive out the forces of the most powerful militaries in human history, leaving Afghanistan a shattered, chaotic, but proudly unoccupied mess.
In fact, this is the only movie most Afghans have ever known, having endured decades of wars and attempted occupations. They know the plot backwards and forwards, and they know exactly how this movie ends. In fact, the invading empires haven't yet figured out that the movie only ends when the Afghani fighters say it does, and they'll stick it out until the very last credit rolls and the lights come up on an unoccupied Afghanistan. Until then, the US can expect to waste more blood, more money, more time, and more influence.
But it doesn't have to be this way. We can say that we are not going to be the co-producers of another crappy sequel we know won't work. We can demand a better story — one about the country that refocused its priorities and pulled itself from one of the darkest times in its history, reinventing itself with optimism, intelligence, and creativity. One about learning from mistakes, listening to your friends, and breaking vicious circles. A movie about facing up to challenges and finding the best in ourselves. Something original and modern that speaks to our generation.
The problem is that we, as a nation, can only afford to make one of these films — the formulaic, predictable, pointless sequel based on a shaky premise or the smart, inspiring movie that you're proud to be a part of.
Which would you rather watch?
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