THE KITE RUNNER—AND AMERICAN FANTASY IN AFGHANISTAN
By Kevin Anthony Stoda, the Train Runner in Bavaria
I was riding on a series of trains through Bavaria during a light snowstorm today. As I rode–and then ran through–the central terminals in Nurnberg, Wurzburg, and Aschaffenburg on my way back to Wiesbaden this below zero day in history January 2010, I took time to read through Khaled Hosseini’s THE KITE RUNNER, set primarily in pre-9-11 Afghanistan.
I started my journey westward from near the Czech Republic from one of the U.S. Military [Grafenwoehr] Bases in Bavaria and marveled at how the connections to Afghanistan were so evident around me in these particular hills of the Upper Palatinate. In just a few months, locally stationed American volunteers by the thousands are going to leave the snow country of Germany—a place of relative security globally—in order to expand American presence in snowy Afghanistan (and even into Pakistan in terms of indirect and direct U.S. military moneys, drones, and forces.)
I had picked up the book, THE KITE RUNNER, on base in Vilseck and was pleased that American soldiers and their families were familiarizing themselves with Hosseini’s Afghanistan by introducing themselves to the complex history of 20th century Afghanistan. Like Hosseini many American soldiers and their families are writers and poets, too.
[Blood ties is a major theme in THE KITE RUNNER.] Here is an example of one Army mom’s prayer for her offspring and blood.
God bless my son
As he falls to sleep,
I pray this night the peace to keep.
When he wakes to start the day
I pray that love will lead the way.
If there’s danger
And if there’s strife,
Please send Angels to guard his life.
Keep him safe and free from fear,
Bless my soldier and keep him near.
Until he’s home, Until he’s safe
Bring peace to our hearts
And strength to our faith.
Like the Himalayan residents of Hosseini’s Afghanistan and Pakistan, various soldiers have their own prayers for each important occasion in life and new mission. For example, here is the 2nd Cavalry Prayer:
Almighty, merciful, and loving Father, you are the one who hears all our prayers and grants our petitions.
We, the troopers of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment, ask you to remember, as we do, the tremendous sacrifice made by those who went before us. They have given their lives so that we might live and breathe freely.
We ask you to receive those Valiant Troopers of the 2nd U.S. Dragoons into your hands. Father, give us the strength and wisdom to learn from their examples, to uphold freedom and life at home and around the world. Keep us vigilant as we guard the frontiers of freedom.
Give our leaders the wisdom and the strength to lead well. Grant all of us courage and confidence.
Be, for all of us, troopers, a wise counsel in keeping peace and a strong shield for us against enemies.
Oh, heavenly Father, give us the determination that the peace and freedom won at such a high price be lasting!
Father, hold all of the troopers of the 2nd U.S. CAVALRY Regiment in the palm of your almighty hand and protect us in the shadow of your wings.
At many junctions in THE KITE RUNNER, Hosseini allows us to see that the religious strife between shia and sunni tribes in Afghanistan entangle with ancient tribal or newer blood feuds.
Another important historical theme has to do with modern and twisted ideologies that have motivated nations to fight wars over the last two hundred years. For example, when one reads of the life story of the main character, named Amir, in THE KITE RUNNER novel, one cannot ignore the transformation of the boy raised in the family of enlightened well-to-do business-class world of pre-Soviet Invasion Afghanistan to the man who prays regularly his prayers in a daily ritual practiced half-way across the world in Haywerd, California (a year after the 9-11 bombings in New York and Washington, D.C.) In short, the tale of the kite flyer, Amir, and his journey back to Afghanistan in 2001 is similar to the American soldiers’ journeys to do good or to achieve real manhood in the 21st Century.
THE KITE RUNNER is partially a coming of age story for men in his 30s because he has hesitated to grow up earlier. This is not a bad way to look at it because many American leaders, like the last U.S. President Bush, have to often never have grown up—and only try to grow-up with the nuclear war buttons first at their finger tips. The fact is, in a more favorable light, the kite flyer, Amir, is growing up slowly throughout Hosseini’s novel. Bit by bit, Amir very slowly becomes “man enough” to overcome his own actions of the past which have haunted him from his earliest child-hood years.
All adults need to do this to some degree, otherwise we end up like George W. Bush, trying to fight the wars or clean up the mess of our fathers.
Amir faces the same nemeses that Americans and their military have fought on-and-off in the 20th Century, too. For example, one reoccurring enemy in the young Amir’s childhood is a sociopathic bully, named Assif, is an avowed Hitler-fanatic. As a young teen, Assif raves about how he would like to lead a Hitler-like revolt someday in Afghanistan. Many decades later, as an adult, we see the same Assif as a leading religious fanatic leading Taliban excesses in 2001 Kabul, Afghanistan. (This only occurs after Assif joins the opposition to the Soviet occupation of both Assif and Amirs homeland in the 1980s.) In short, the narration of modern Afghanistan is that of a proxy for 20th Century’s major “isms”—fascism, communism, and fanatic End-time Islamism.
Of course, there is also racism and the shia/sunni conflict at the center of intra-personal conflicts. This racism is embedded in the blood relationships of kin and status of individuals and tribes over generations among those who make up the modern Afghani world—both in exile and at home. It was thus poignant for me that I had read this Afghani tale in the Bavarian hill country, near Nuremberg, where Hitler had found so many faithful followers on-and-off the farms just over 7 decades ago. Hitler was not only a fascist and too often a role model Islamic jihadists, but he was believer in blood kinships.
This blood based racism led to tribal Germania viciously taking on most of the rest of the continent before his dreams died in the snowy and cold winter of 1942 in Stalingrad and in the ice and snow of 1944-1945, called in Germany history as the Hunger Winter.
The U.S. base in Grafenwoehr is currently situated where the training camp for the infamous Flossenburg Concentration Camps nearby in WWII. The Grafenwoehr Base is where special commandos were trained to abuse, control and kill detainees during the last five years of the Nazi Reich.
Similarly, wherever U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan, they will land in the footprints or at ex-military bases of Taliban forces, Northern Front forces, Soviet Occupiers or other local or global imperialists, from Genghis Kahn to the British forces of the 19th centuries have fought their wars and left their genocidal marks. It is no accident of history that this very week, the most popular political magazine in Germany—DER SPIEGEL’s—cover story is called the “Cemetery of Empires” and the title refers, of course, to Afghanistan.
The subtitle for the “CEMETERY OF EMPIRES” is “Afghanistan: 200 Year War”.
The aim of that headline article is to attempts to explain why the Great Powers always collapse in the Hindu Kush highlands. In contrast, Hosseini’s novel, THE KITE RUNNER, ends more optimistically because, like Hosseini’s own life, the main protagonist, Amir, has become a bit Americanized and is hopeful in the year 2002 that 30 years of war in Afghanistan can be recovered from—“albeit slowly” [Amir recognizes this].
Now, we readers are almost ten years further down the line in the 21st Century and most Germans this cold winter do not believe that either in the middle or long term, the mission of NATO forces in Afghanistan will succeed. Similarly, Americans are not so sure either. Nonetheless, NATO and America are readying to go several more rounds with their enemies in the Hindu Kush.
Do the American soldiers and their NATO leaders really understand what Hosseini has shared in THE KITE RUNNER is that piece-by-piece the past can be overcome—however—such recovery takes decades and more importantly a will (or a strong desire) to change by all the hundreds of political and religious factions in Afghanistan?
Amir had the will to change and to do good. Do the thousands of other tribes, factions, victims, and perpetrators of Afghanistan?
Perhaps NATO and American military’s want or desire to do good, but if the other participants don’t play, perhaps it is time to go home—like the other Great Powers before them.
In Haiti we could do good—without even using many weapons. Why not do what is easier and more peaceful until the Afghanis can and actually desire to cooperate in overcoming their past sins?