Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Alan was over at my house, oh, I dunno, three months ago, talking about how he doesn't like the portrayal of Afghanistan as a big dirt hole on the news. All you see is, well, a dusty dirt hole, when there is a culture there. There are universities and schools and cities.

A comment by The Ancient reminded me of this conversation:
Imagine how this problem [adult literacy and job retraining] plays out in Afghanistan, where we're trying to train army personnel and policemen. (Imagine Detroit, but with bigger guns.)

Anyway, what I said to Alan at the time was something like, "Sure, there are universities. And culture, some of which dates back to at least Alexander. But the average person is illiterate. That doesn't mean they're dumb, but it makes it hard to build modern governmental institutions like armies and ministries, which are run via memo. There's a huge difference in training a literate person to be part of a modern nation-state's apparatus and an illiterate one."

60 Minutes ran a piece on the difficulty the US is having training Afghan special forces, but I couldn't find the video. It's not solely because the troops can't read. Some of it is a foreign language barrier issue. But being illiterate sure doesn't help.


George Pal said...

Is this the video?

Alan Howe said...

One quarter of the population is literate, about 7 million persons. And nearly one quarter of the populations, about 6 million kids, are in school. We are rapidly moving forward. Meanwhile, direction by oral order, in person and over telephones and radio, works well.

My term is the "dusty brown images." A few weeks ago, I found this link on Herat that provides an alternative and more hopeful view.


It's a great movie, George. Unfortunately, too many do not understand it is not a modern tale.

George Pal said...

It is not modern tale, nor is it an old clichéd tale but it is an endless tale, still the same today - just with modern matériel. Afghanistan is not a country, never was a country, and isn’t likely to become a country - except by imposition. You see switchbacks, I see zig-zags. Still, I hope you’re right.

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