Steven Pressfield Blog
By Mark Safranski—aka “Zenpundit” Steven Pressfield invited me to do a guest post here at “Tribes” and give my assessment of the vigorous debate that greeted the entry of “It’s the Tribes, Stupid: War & Reality in Afghanistan” into the blogosphere. Or, at least the corner of the blogosphere that is concerned with COIN, military affairs, foreign policy, terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq. The following opinion is my own and does not necessarily reflect that of Mr. Pressfield.
The “It’s the Tribes, Stupid” series launched just over a month ago.
It’s been one month since the June 8th launch of “It’s the Tribes, Stupid.” One month since I stepped into the blogosphere, sent my first “tweet” and was introduced to more sites, blogs, and social media participants than I knew existed. It has been a real education. As I move forward, every Friday I’d like to offer a mashup of what I’ve been introduced to and learned during the previous week. I’d like to see what you’ve learned too—spread the education wealth.
One of my favorite writers, Patrick Devenny, wrote an article recently for Foreign Policy that’s not only fascinating and fun, but also has much to teach us about, in Mr. Devenny’s words, “one of the most complicated problems in Afghanistan today: the training and oversight of local defense forces.”
A week ago I ran a post about two young Army captains—Jim Gant and Michael Harrison—who served in the same valley in Konar province, Afghanistan. Their service was six years apart, yet the two were linked by their bonds with a tribal chief named Noorafzhal and by a gift of honor—a shotgun that Capt. Gant and his Special Forces ODA 316 had presented to the tribal elder in August 2003. Just three weeks ago, June 2009, Noorafzhal was still showing that gun off—this time to Capt. Harrison.
In the coming weeks, I’ll start posting on regular days, probably Mondays and Thursdays (I’m working on it), probably a long piece and a short one. On other random days I’ll post “I take it back” pieces, highlighting how comments or correspondence have changed or expanded my thinking. I want to share what’s gotten knocked into my head; that’s the whole point of this enterprise. Meanwhile here’s what I’ve learned in three weeks: Blogging is fast
First, many thanks to all correspondents and contributors for the tremendous and very thoughtful response to the previous post, “A Tale of Two Captains.” More to come in a couple of days about Capt. Harrison’s work, including an update dispatch from him in Konar. But first, here’s a strikingly apt flashback to 2006—when Army Times journalist (and author of the excellent Not A Good Day To Die) Sean Naylor and I did an interview together for C-SPAN’s “BookTV.” The topic was “The War in Afghanistan.”
One of the acts that tribes frequently practice is ritual scarification. Tattoos, circumcision, mutilation of the flesh. The purpose is to draw a line between who’s a member of the tribe and who isn’t. This is Us … this is Not Us. Non-hereditary tribes–criminal organizations, elite military units, certain religious or social orders–often have initiations. The candidate undergoes an ordeal. Sometimes he’s obligated to break the law or commit some act that severs him permanently from the larger society. The initiation says, “The line has been crossed, there’s no going back.” Again the purpose is to define who is One…
I was in Frankfurt a couple of summers ago and there was a young man at the hotel named Kaitet Olla Kishau. He was a Masai from Kenya. Kaitet is a big, tall, good-looking guy; he speaks English and German; he’s married to a European lady; he’s a writer and filmmaker. He also goes home to Masai Land two or three times a year, or whenever his father gets word to him that he’s needed. Kaitet dons the robes, tends the cattle, lives the full-on Masai life. He says he feels sorry for his European friends, who don’t have the…
I like very much Gen. McChrystal’s idea for a new Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell (cited in Max Boot’s article yesterday in the Wall Street Journal). This entity would be an ongoing “corps of roughly 400 officers who will spend years working on Afghanistan,” even when they are not actually in-country.
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