Book – The Afghan Campaign – Into the Valley of Bones

Author : Steven Pressfield

A Macedonians soldier’s account of the long war fought by Alexander the Great’s Army in Afghanistan covering the last years of Alexander’s campaigns in Afghanistan, trying to quell insurgencies and tribal warfare. The book is told from the point of view of a ‘Mack’, one of Alexander’s veteran Macedonians.  But it could just as easily been written by Sebastian Junger in ‘War’ describing how little things have changed more than 2000 years later.

On the Afghan tribes:

It is impossible to dislike these fellows. I find myself envying their proud, free life. Labor is unknown to them. Their ponies graze on sweet grass in summer, dry fodder when the passes close. Their wives and sisters weave their garments, prepare their dal and ghee. Families shelter in stone houses, ownership of which they recite back twenty generations, whose only removable parts are the wooden doors and roofs (in case of evacuation due to feuds). Every kin-group holds two residences, summer and winter. If a rival clan raids, the khels drive them out through superior local knowledge. Should an alien power enter in force, as Cyrus in the past or Alexander now, the tribes withdraw to loftier fastnesses, sending to wider spheres of kinsmen until they assemble the necessary numbers; then they strike.

The Afghan Warrior Code:

Nangwali is the Afghan warrior code. Its tenets are nang, honor; badal, revenge; and melmastia, hospitality. Tor, “black,” covers all matters concerning the virtue of women. An affront to a sister or wife’s honor can be made spin, “white,” by no means short of death. Blood feuds, the brothers tell me, start over zar, zan, and zamin: money, women, and land.

In cases of badal, vengeance is taken by father or son. In tor, it’s the husband, except in the case of unmarried women; then all males of the family may not rest until justice has been exacted. The code of nangwali forbids theft, rape, adultery, and false witness; it prosecutes cowardice, abandonment of parents or children, and usury. The code prescribes rites for births and death, armistices, reparations, prayer, almsgiving, and all other passages of life. Poverty is no crime. Reverence for elders is the cardinal virtue, succeeded by indispensable. They crave above all to win back his love. Alexander, of course, is exquisitely attuned to this and knows how to exploit it for all it is worth. Now he adds a further element to set the country on its ear.

Corruption through Money

The wealth that has poured into Afghanistan with the army of Macedon has deformed the economy of the entire region. In the city market, a pear costs five times what it used to. The locals can’t pay. Meanwhile, a second economy has sprung up-the camp economy, the economy inside the Macedonian gates, where the pear may still cost five times its original price, but at least a man can afford it. The natives face the choice of starvation or submission to this new economy, either as suppliers or servants, both of which occupations are abhorrent to Afghan pride. Worse still, the aikas system lures their young women. Soldiers reckon every currency of seduction that can nail them dish, fig, cooch. Now they have a new plum to dangle: marriage. The native patriarchs seek to lock up their daughters. But the draw of the Mack camp is irresistible, for money, adventure, novelty, romance, and now even the prospect of acquiring a husband. For by no means are these invaders unappealing. Mack regiments parade, awash with youthful captains and Flag Sergeants, horseback and afoot, made swashbucking by the brass of their tunics and the dazzle of their glittering arms. Maids slip from midnight windows to consummate trysts in the arms of their ardent, hazel-eyed lovers. When delegations of city fathers appeal to Alexander for assistance in curbing this traffic, he makes all the right noises but takes care to do nothing. He wants the girls infiltrating. His object is to weaken, even sever, the bonds of family, clan, and tribe. He prosecutes this deliberately

Books – Alexander the Great

Steven Pressfield

  • The Virtues of War – Alexander’s story thru his own eyes.
  • The Afghan Campaign-A Macedonian solider’s account of the last years of the long war fought by Alexander’s Army in Afghanistan, trying to quell insurgencies and tribal warfare

Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy  holds up to a second reading after 40 years – her story is of the young boy who first takes control of a kingdom, Fire From Heaven.  He discovers the divinity deep within him. In the second book, victories come easily as he conquers ever eastwards, and the story is told by his servant/lover, Bagoas, The Persian Boy. Then, Alexander’s death is expanded from the previous book, the successors, Ptolemy, Seleucus and Antiochus, begin their political and military takeovers  in Funeral Games, shattering Alexander’s empire.

Freya Stark – Alexander’s Path

  • “Eighty percent of Afghans today live in the same exact landscape Alexander the Great must have beheld when he sacked Balkh in 327 B.C., and Genghis Khan when he sacked it again in 1221: walls of straw and mud, half-gnawed away by weather and age; hand-sown fields tilled by doubled-over farmers in unbleached robes with knobbly, wooden tools. Most have no electricity. No clean water. No paved roads. No doctors nearby…” Foreign Affairs, 4/28/2010 

 

In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan. By Seth G. Jones. presents the war in its historical context, beginning with Alexander the Great and the proven ability of Afghans to bring down strong empires

More on