Kevin Perrin’s “The Shir Khan Bandar Bridge” blog post seems to me to have the potential to be one of those modest but telling anecdotes that succinctly illuminate the American military experience in Afghanistan, richer in specifics than a parable, but still lean and uncluttered.
Kevin Perrin was in Afghanistan 2005-2006 as a U.S. Army infantry major in an Embedded Training Team, serving eventually as acting J-3 for joint operations in the 14 northern provinces . His brief blog post recounts a quiet encounter with an Afghan border police colonel.
Without unnecessarily summarizing any lesson he learned then or realized later, Kevin Perrin reports the event as he experienced it — surely little could focus the mind more fully on the present moment than being “animal close” to a menacing, suspicious Golden Horde descendant with an AK-47.
I am especially impressed with the unobtrusive ways in which one conversation over chai is placed allusively in an enriching historical context: Roman auguries, Genghis Khan violence, and the mindset of centuries of western colonizers and interventionists (their frustrations and their contempt for those “wiry little fucks”). This encounter has happened before, and will again.
So we readers experience this scene as we experience good fiction, aware of the universals shadowing the specifics of this time and this place. We know or sense more than the central character himself openly acknowledges. Fortunately, we do not need any authorial explanation: Kevin Perrin’s reader gets the take-aways about the limitations of American intervention, the destabilizing culture clash, American soldiers’ distrust of the Other, the Other’s distrust of Americans, the corruption that distorts and hobbles poor countries at war.
And, in Perrin’s last line’s ironic fall back on western civility and polite truth avoidance, the reader gets the eventual admission of defeat and futility. Mission not accomplished. Ah, well.
John Bolton would harrumph at such defeatism, but John Bolton stubbornly lives in reality denial, 19th-century ignorance, and magical thinking. I trust instead Kevin Perrin’s experience, probity, modesty, and taste for nuance, and all those virtues are in his blog post. Kevin Perrin also writes way better than John Bolton talks.