But at the moment the hijackers rule, and there is no argument to be made against the crying child sitting in the dust. Strange to think of that child as the dupe, the ally, of George W. Bush, but that's the way the bedfellows crumble. The Westerners who are deciding Afghanistan's fate will impose a moral code every bit as stifling and anti-pleasure as that of the Taliban they have overthrown -- and the most Puritanical, culturally insensitive and imperialist of them all are the so-called Leftists.
The Leftists hate the Afghans even more than the conservatives do -- because the Afghans, like the Somalis and the Serbs, subscribe to the older notions about war: they like it. They always have. The Afghans were considered a bit too boisterous even in Alexander the Great's time, when Westerners were still willing to admit they too enjoyed the occasional massacre. Now that the West has been taught not to admit such a thing, the Afghans stand out even more, as the last people on Earth who could listen to Homer's poetry and nod their heads, enjoying those page-long descriptions of brains and guts spewing the battlefield without shame. To the Afghans, those Toyotas are Homeric chariots, AKs are heroic weapons, and every day of battle produces tales worthy of another epic poet.
And even in the suburban landscapes where Achilles and the heroic life are supposed to have been purged, the dream of war persists. You know how many target-cam videos of the Gulf War were sold? Over twenty million.
The war videos function much like National Geographic specials on the Amazon or the tundra. They are a mournful tease, a quick glimpse of the gone world. And they are as hard to justify as the national parks were, when they were founded at the beginning of the twentieth century.
What value was there in places like Yellowstone? Worthless land that needed stripping, the sooner the better. It took decades to develop an ideology which encompassed the desire for some remnant of the older, wild world to remain. At the time the parks were established, the advocates of clearcutting and stripmining had right on their side. It was then as strange to plead for keeping a few sad bits of the forest as it seems now to plead that Afghanistan be allowed to remain free, a remote corner of the world where the Homeric life can endure a little longer.
Every plan for Afghanistan's future takes for granted that the warrior life must go, instantly if not sooner. And not one voice has been raised in the most culturally-sensitive corners of the Western press against this most gross of cultural imperialistic invasions. It seems to go without saying that we all want the Afghans to punch a clock, assume a mortgage, and start watching ESPN as soon as possible.
What if we consider -- just for a second, right? -- what if we just consider, for a little while, the bizarre and frightening notion that THEY MIGHT NOT WANT THAT. Whooa! We're in pretty scary territory now, huh?
And let's also entertain that other, equally heretical notion that perhaps SOME OF US might not want the Western life either -- at least not all the time, all day every day with all alternatives forbidden by law. Because that's the situation: the people who run the world, the Rumsfelds and their so-called "liberal" critics, agree completely that not one part of the world must be left free.
A recent piece by a so-called liberal commentator, Ted Rail, brought this home to me. Rail is in Northern Afghanistan, hanging around Taloqan seeing the Afghans having some fun now that the Taliban is gone and disapproving of every bit of pleasure he finds. The return of pleasure to Afghanistan, to Rail, means that "the bad old days...may be coming back."
The "bad" things are, above all, drugs. Rail's trusty native bearer has taken advantage of the Taliban's overthrow to score some opium and bliss out. This appals Mister Rail, who sees it as a sign that "there are no longer any rules." And that, of course, is something he can't abide.