Monday, 13 July 2009

We’ve been here before, and before, and before

A piece of family history on my mother’s side is that one of my great-grandfathers was General Roberts’ drummer boy in his youth. Who was General Roberts and what has it got to do with anything? The answer lies in Afghanistan in 1880.

political manoeuvres were being made to pull British forces out of the bubbling cauldron that was Afghanistan – not from today’s news but an account of what was happening in March 1880.

General Roberts became a popular hero in Britain when he led a forced march from Kabul to relieve the garrison in Kandahar in August 1880. British army engagements with what we would now call local militias had resulted in heavy losses and the survivors made their way to Kandahar. The garrison came under siege and needed to be rescued. The troops had to cover twice the normal daily distance on foot in the conditions we see regularly on the tv news. The garrison was relieved and the local enemy faced and routed (only to regroup and attack another army in due course). The British buried their dead and had completely retired to India in six months.

Britain had made three attempts to control Afghanistan in the 1800’s all of them ending disastrously. From 1979 to 1989 the Soviet Union also tried but in the end cut their losses and withdrew.

Do we learn nothing from previous follies? More importantly, divine and human wisdom tells us that trying to subdue people never ultimately works. There is, as St Paul reminds us, a more excellent way.

1 comment:

  1. GReetings from Lyon Simon - you can read what we're up to here at or

    HAve your read Robert Fisk's superb The Great War for Civilisation? - I amdit to only so far having managed about a third but it is absolutely brilliant - particularly about Afghanistan