This morning I did what I always do on Monday mornings. I woke up with sore legs. I made my porridge. I stretched. And then my Monday morning changed.
The news. My eyes were drawn to the moving image of an American C17 Transport. It was attempting to taxi on a runway peppered with hundreds of jogging humans. Humans clutching at the aircraft’s hull, the landing gear, and any exterior door handles. I knew immediately that this was Kabul. I’d heard the Taliban were at its door. US army and air force personnel were therefore scrambling to evacuate political VIPs out of Afghanistan’s capital. Kabul airport seemed the logical base of operations to me, and so I reached a horrifying conclusion.
Oh my god. The public are that desperate to flee that they’re tying to get onto a moving plane, I texted a friend.
Indeed; this is exactly what had happened. Civilians had broken through the perimeter walls of Kabul airport and spilled onto the tarmac. There are photos of whole families — children among them — trying desperately to crowd the space around departing aircraft. Some even sit on the wings of parked jets. In videos shot at the time, American troops can be heard firing their weapons toward the sky, and seven civilians were even reported killed in various incidents.
After more disheartening reading and asking the opinion of my military-minded and well-read friends, I stumbled upon a video illustrating the aftermath of the episode involving the C17, which shocked me more. As it climbs into those warm blue skies with crowds of Afghan people looking on, suddenly two dark spots fell one after another from its grey hull. I knew instantly that these were two of the jogging humans I’d just seen trying desperately to cling onto the moving transport plane. Now they were going to die.
Switching off my phone, I felt my whole body hurt. My mind lit up in a symphony of curses. I can do nothing, can I? I am useless, and this is so, so sad.
I was upset. I was angry. It appeared the internet was united in pathos too. Some articles made mention of Vietnam, of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and of the cyclical nature of it all.
I thought back to when I was fifteen, and to the school teacher who taught me that history sometimes goes in circles. Humankind, she said, likes to repeat its previous actions and errors. And these tremendously sad events have me thinking it’s true. We actually can’t help it. A lifetime lived in this ever-changing, internet driven, socially charged world has taught me that. And for millennia, philosophers have toiled too, asking: “Is it really in our nature to repeat ourselves?” Well, they didn’t need to ask. I think they’re crying wolf.
If we take one look in the mirror, or study the vast libraries of our world, we can bear witness to the cyclical nature of things. Whether you apply this to something as simple as your appearance, to military history, or to the orbit of the stars, you’ll see there is some strange truth in it. I am more concerned with the present state of play though. With Afghanistan’s future. With what the two falling Afghan men made me feel. Current affairs you see, dominate our social feeds and our daily conversations. It is in this manner that the world has become an always-on world. The latest news is never out of sight.
Afghanistan’s tragic fate then, is one that we’ve all come to know in recent days. This heartbreaking fate – being seized by a radical force during the aftermath of a power vacuum (in this case, by the Taliban) – is an example of the historical phenomenon my school teacher referred to. And there are so many alive today who have witnessed this level of suffering and upheaval several times before. Some of them are our leaders. But now our hearts and minds are filled with the agony and confusion of our Afghan brothers and sisters.
Why? We sigh collectively.
In the lifetimes of those who came before me, they too have felt such agony for their foreign fellow humans. In 1975, Da Nang airport found itself under siege from NVA forces. South Vietnamese troops, stranded and facing almost certain death, were crowding departing transport aircraft. Women and children, supplicant, were trying to board any and all aircraft too. Then a World Airways Boeing 727 landed. The Captain opened every door, including the cargo holds, and did his level best to ensure the plane was overloaded before departing. Like the falling men in Kabul airport, the world was shocked to see images and hear stories of the very real horror occurring which they could do nothing about. Incredibly, the aeroplane, although departing under gunfire and receiving heavy damage, was the last to make it out of Da Nang. But the world remembers the people left on the ground. Many who were killed. And yet where is the justice for this? It is all left in the distant past, I ponder. It’s a devastating conclusion, and one I now I fear could be repeated in Kabul.
History repeats itself. History goes in circles.
Humankind, it seems, does not learn. But I only ask myself: What can I do? Is bringing awareness to the situation enough? Should the west intervene again? What will happen if extremist law is forced upon the frightened citizens of Afghanistan? Surely twenty years of occupation wasn’t for nothing at all?
These, sadly, are answers I do not yet possess.
~ Samuel Hodges, August 2021, London.
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