Saturday, August 14, 2010

9th Company Movie Review: A Tale Of Two Afghanistans


Revolutionary Women's Militias Of The Socialist Republic Of Afghanistan, 1979

A Rambo knockoff in more ways than one, Russian director Fyodor Bondarchuk's 9th Company not only rehashes the Hollywood war movie fantasy genre concocted famously by Sylvester Stallone, but similarly rewrites history for cash and careerist convenience as well. In the case of 9th Company, Russian music video director turned filmmaker Bondarchuk scripts history his way, related to the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and preceding and perhaps also prophesying the US imperialist fiasco in the region today.

So is Bondarchuk's beef with the barefoot belligerent fundamentalist Afghans or the beefy bungling brass of the Soviet Union? Less likely any of the above, than a battle of the blockbusters showdown with Hollywood, as to whose got the bigger bullets.

The story like the Red Army platoon in question, is stretched to the limits, taking its time with grueling boot camp, boozing and balling a seemingly brain impaired bimbo, while taking its time on the way to the Afghan combat zone. We've seen this all before, even those among us who've never served in an army. For there is as usual among the essentially indistinguishable rowdies the bully, the artist and the madman.

And all of them are fond of referring to the enemy with derogatory zeal as the 'Muj', when not stashing away that local female civilian dubbed Snow White because of the color of her hair, then taking turns having sex with her in a barn. And while audiences may recoil at the loathsome misogynistic dehumanization of what appears to be a gullible mentally challenged young woman, the filmmaker aspires to his most elevated romantic moment in the film as the the sweaty sexists out of uniform screw her in succession, to the tune of sentimental flourishes on the soundtrack. While indeed the only potentially significant white metaphor that may be at work here, is the army brass as collective Ahab, pursuing the elusive and dangerous whale.

Getting back to the narrative, such as it is, the soldiers set up an encampment on a cliff, where they're surrounded by armed Muslim peasants vastly outnumbering them, and leaving only a single Russian still standing. Blame for the defeat is heaped upon the Soviet Union - a very trendy fall guy these days - for failing to provide reinforcements in a hurry, and then abruptly retreating altogether.

Meanwhile, there is a not single past or present history at hand to provide context or meaning to it all. Aside from the falsification of what actually took place on that mountain. Which was the victory of the Red Army against the 'Muj' there, and the death of six of the thirty-nine soldiers.

So is this a case of creative expediency, denial or political opportunism? As the saying goes, we report, you decide. Though with the dismal state of historical truth in movies, the function of a film critic is seeming increasingly these days, as that of a teacher relegated to correcting bad homework.

What really transpired in Afghanistan? Marxist theorist Michael Parenti delivers more of the substance and scope of that history in his brief article, AFGHANISTAN, ANOTHER UNTOLD STORY, than the film's entire bloated, extravagant and meaningless big screen tall tale:

'....In 1973, the king was deposed, but the government that replaced him proved to be autocratic, corrupt, and unpopular. It in turn was forced out in 1978 after a massive demonstration in front of the presidential palace, and after the army intervened on the side of the demonstrators.

The military officers who took charge invited the PDP to form a new government under the leadership of Noor Mohammed Taraki, a poet and novelist. This is how a Marxist-led coalition of national democratic forces came into office. “It was a totally indigenous happening. Not even the CIA blamed the USSR for it,” writes John Ryan, a retired professor at the University of Winnipeg, who was conducting an agricultural research project in Afghanistan at about that time.

The Taraki government proceeded to legalize labor unions, and set up a minimum wage, a progressive income tax, a literacy campaign, and programs that gave ordinary people greater access to health care, housing, and public sanitation. Fledgling peasant cooperatives were started and price reductions on some key foods were imposed.

The government also continued a campaign begun by the king to emancipate women from their age-old tribal bondage. It provided public education for girls and for the children of various tribes. A report in the San Francisco Chronicle (17 November 2001) noted that under the Taraki regime Kabul had been “a cosmopolitan city. Artists and hippies flocked to the capital. Women studied agriculture, engineering and business at the city’s university. Afghan women held government jobs—-in the 1980s, there were seven female members of parliament. Women drove cars, traveled and went on dates. Fifty percent of university students were women.”

The Taraki government moved to eradicate the cultivation of opium poppy. Until then Afghanistan had been producing more than 70 percent of the opium needed for the world’s heroin supply. The government also abolished all debts owed by farmers, and began developing a major land reform program. Ryan believes that it was a “genuinely popular government and people looked forward to the future with great hope.”

But serious opposition arose from several quarters. The feudal landlords opposed the land reform program that infringed on their holdings. And tribesmen and fundamentalist mullahs vehemently opposed the government’s dedication to gender equality and the education of women and children.

Because of its egalitarian and collectivist economic policies the Taraki government also incurred the opposition of the US national security state. Almost immediately after the PDP coalition came to power, the CIA, assisted by Saudi and Pakistani military, launched a large scale intervention into Afghanistan on the side of the ousted feudal lords, reactionary tribal chieftains, mullahs, and opium traffickers.

A top official within the Taraki government was Hafizulla Amin, believed by many to have been recruited by the CIA during the several years he spent in the United States as a student. In September 1979, Amin seized state power in an armed coup. He executed Taraki, halted the reforms, and murdered, jailed, or exiled thousands of Taraki supporters as he moved toward establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state. But within two months, he was overthrown by PDP remnants including elements within the military.

It should be noted that all this happened before the Soviet military intervention. National security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski publicly admitted–months before Soviet troops entered the country–that the Carter administration was providing huge sums to Muslim extremists to subvert the reformist government. Part of that effort involved brutal attacks by the CIA-backed mujahideen against schools and teachers in rural areas.

In late 1979, the seriously besieged PDP government asked Moscow to send a contingent of troops to help ward off the mujahideen (Islamic guerrilla fighters) and foreign mercenaries, all recruited, financed, and well-armed by the CIA. The Soviets already had been sending aid for projects in mining, education, agriculture, and public health. Deploying troops represented a commitment of a more serious and politically dangerous sort. It took repeated requests from Kabul before Moscow agreed to intervene militarily.

Jihad and Taliban, CIA Style

The Soviet intervention was a golden opportunity for the CIA to transform the tribal resistance into a holy war, an Islamic jihad to expel the godless communists from Afghanistan. Over the years the United States and Saudi Arabia expended about $40 billion on the war in Afghanistan. The CIA and its allies recruited, supplied, and trained almost 100,000 radical mujahideen from forty Muslim countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, and Afghanistan itself. Among those who answered the call was Saudi-born millionaire right-winger Osama bin Laden and his cohorts.

After a long and unsuccessful war, the Soviets evacuated the country in February 1989. It is generally thought that the PDP Marxist government collapsed immediately after the Soviet departure. Actually, it retained enough popular support to fight on for another three years, outlasting the Soviet Union itself by a year....'


In other words, it might be said that the Soviet Union retreated from a war being conducted, financed and armed by the CIA. And Afghanistan consequently retreated from immense socialist progress for women and the poor, with the complicity between the CIA, the ruling class and religious fundamentalists morphing into Al-Qaeda, backwards by centuries to where Afghanistan regrettably is now.

Prairie Miller
WBAI Arts Magazine


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