Paleo Retiree writes:
Really good. This two episode British doc is billed as “a personal view” by Rory Stewart — in other words, it isn’t a wannabe-objective news feature. But it supplies a lot of worthwhile and interesting information anyway. If that part of the world is a bit of a blur to you, this show ain’t a bad way to start bringing it into focus. It’s about how three different empires — the British in the 19th century, the USSR from 1979 to 1988, and the USA and its coalition in the post 9-11 era — invaded Afghanistan and came a-cropper.
Despite the overt topic, Stewart (who has a lot of experience in the area) is very good at reminding us that Afghanistan has its own existence independent of our interests and invasions, as well as its own story to tell. He supplies lots of solid stuff about Afghanistan itself — geography, history, culture, tribes and people — and he returns over and over again to the experiences of the Afghan people.
As for the stories of the imperial invasions: In each case, the campaign was inspired by conference-room geopolitical calculations and abstractions as well as public passions, then turned in practice into something humiliating, unwinnable and near-impossible to withdraw from. Why on earth do we do these things? Why can’t we learn? Why are we so in love with our scheming and dreams and so blind to the simple human factors — the death and destruction we inflict on others as well as on ourselves?
Stewart and his Afghan interviewees ask over and over: Why do we outsiders carry on as though the Afghans (awesome warriors and cool-looking people, btw) should enjoy being invaded and occupied? Why don’t we have the sense to understand that our actions make them hate us, let alone to realize that with each interference we drive them further into Islamic extremism?
My bullshit meters didn’t detect any partyline ideology, and not for the first time, I marveled at how crisp, confident and stylish-yet-informal British TV documentaries can be. Watching the show is like reading a really good long feature (in the “personal essay” mode) in the Sunday supplement of an upscale British newspaper. It makes for quite a contrast to what we’re used to as intelligent journalism in the States — the slow and mournful house style at PBS, and the (let’s be frank) self-consciously, self-importantly thoughtful pieces that run in the NYTimes and The New Yorker. Good as our American docs and articles sometimes are, there’s really no reason something smart, provocative and informative shouldn’t also avoid lugubriousness and pomposity and move at a wide-awake pace, is there?
The skinny, dark-haired Stewart — dressed in a rumpled dark sport coat and slim-fit jeans, he’s like an offbeat hipster friend who ran a punk band back in the day — sometimes seems like an unlikely TV-show host. But he’s also intelligent, articulate, helpful, informed, confident and open. I’m eager to watch more of his work. Stewart was fun to research too. He’s had such a breathtakingly, almost comically adventurous career that he’s like a character out of the Flashman novels.