Why Afghanistan?

[Image: a Roman soldier in the Colosseum,  ©2016]

Just a couple of examples of the comparative trend in which I situate my research. Why is it that the war in this particular part of the world attracts so many parallels with history – in particular, with ancient history? Even the armed forces themselves are forging this link (out of galvanised iron):

Operation Achilles | CAESAR the SP gun

The ancient Roman army never made it as far East as Afghanistan. Had they done so, perhaps that part of the world would be very different today, but perhaps not. Alexander the Great famously led his troops through the land now known as Afghanistan, en route to comprehensively expand his rule over Asia and into India (c. 330 BC). Since then, the country has suffered from a turbulently rich history of invasions, including occupation by Genghis Khan and his Mongol forces (c. 1220 AD). Since 1839, the British army has attempted to conquer/subdue/rehabilitate the vast and diverse terrain of Afghanistan, with the Americans, Russians, Saudis and other Gulf states joining in at later dates, following a catalytic political coup in 1978. All attempts ended in defeat and retreat – and the pattern continues today.

This incredible timeline of conflict is what led me (and doubtless others) to the comparison with the ancient Roman militia. Primarily, the conflicts in Afghanistan, especially the most recent occupation by U.K., U.S., and Russian forces (2001-2014, and beyond) have showcased greatly contrasting military tactics, with the invading armies well-furnished and methodical, and the ‘relentless’ Afghans using whatever tools they had and learning from every skirmish.

Importantly, out of these conflicts have poured hundreds of first-hand reports (from every side) concerning a ‘soldier’s eye view’ of the war. It was through reading or hearing these reports, in their many different forms of media, that I began to notice such significant parallels with my research into the figure of the Roman soldier.

The Afghan conflict is also the most recent military campaign to include Western forces in a corporeal capacity, as “boots on the ground.” As such, accounts from soldiers involved in the struggles are informative and useful for this project, because of their physical immediacy. Although more post-human methods will be peripherally explored as part of this project’s research, it is the first-hand experience of the combatant which is of most interest to me. Considering the bodily experience of the soldier, and comparing this with strategic discourse, allows us think about the perception of the soldierly corpus in warfare.

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