August 6th, thirty U.S. fighting men were shot out of the sky in Afghanistan. If you believe -- like I do -- that history repeats itself then there's nothing to gain by investigating how or why that happened. Sure, it'd be interesting to know just exactly how all those lives were lost. And it's likely that their family members are searching for meaning in their sacrifice. Still, a glimpse at our past shows us exactly what the result of our imperialist actions is and always has been -- and more importantly -- explains why these warriors were in harms way in the first place.
I spent this past week in the Spokane, Washington area. Washington state has a lot in common with Afghanistan. Both are rich in natural resources and both were -- for centuries -- populated by tribal peoples.
When the Europeans invaded what would become the northwestern corner of the United States many people lived there. Most were nomadic and many roamed along the Columbia river. Twelve of these distinct -- once autonomous -- native tribes are now lumped into one group called the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
Respect demands that we use their tribal names: Methow, Chelan, Wenatchi, Entiat, Moses-Columbia, Okanogan, Lakes, Colville, Sanpoil, Nespelem, Nez Perce, and the Palus. According to the literature I picked up at their museum, all the tribes combined now number less than 10,000 individuals, with half of them living on or by the reservation.
The most interesting aspect of their tribal accounts detailing conflicts and the subsequent loss of their land is that their battles with the U.S. military took place before Washington became a state. Our soldiers were ordered to fight and capture resources outside their own country even though their government had no ethical claim to the land.
Both the websites Historylink.org and Stories.WashingtonHistory.org tell tales of battle and land forfeiture. And with that land came the natural resources upon and beneath it. Even after the natives were forced to give up an area about one-fifth the size of modern-day Afghanistan, the original Colville Reservation was cut in half again because gold was found on the northwest corner of the property.
Gold is one of the natural resources available in Afghanistan too. A June 2010 New York Times article detailed that "The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan." And it's not just gold. There are "huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium." The article goes on to explain that these deposits "are so big and included so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world."
But important to whom? It should be important to the tribal peoples who live there but that doesn't match historic precedent. If history repeats itself, the Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Aimak, Turkmen, Nuristanis, Baloch, and other tribes are unlikely to benefit from the bounty that lies beneath their soil.
Historically speaking a glut of natural resources coincides with military intervention. That would explain why the information in that report came from the U.S. Military. "An internal Pentagon memo, for example states that Afghanistan could become the 'Saudi Arabia of Lithium,' a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys."
It's hard to miss the glaring coincidence between the rights the military fought to protect in 19th century Washington territory and those at stake in the Afghani conflict today. In both cases the soldiers protect the corporations that profit from the military removal and control of local populations.
The most striking information I learned at the museum -- and the most prophetic when considering our involvement in Afghanistan -- was the derivation of the name of these Confederated Tribes. They are named after Andrew Wedderburn Colville, a rum and molasses runner from London who had never once journeyed to the territory. The remnants of 12 distinct peoples that once populated 39 million acres of land in the pacific northwest are named after a corporate big shot who never saw their land but profited greatly from it's exploitation.
We don't know just how many Afghanis have died since the U.S. began waging war in their country. But if history does repeat itself, then the majority of our population won't give it a second thought.
By the way, Washington became a state on 11 November 1889, 73 years after Colville's corporation first began extracting wealth from the territory.