Essay: The Consequences of the Soviet-Afghan War.
“What did the Afghan war give us? Thousands of mothers who lost their sons, thousands of cripples, and thousands of torn-up lives” (qtd. in Tamarov 156). These are the words of a veteran of the Soviet-Afghan war. The Soviet war was against an internal Afghan problem – the Mujahideen, an Islamic Fundamentalist group that was trying to overtake the ruling Afghan government. Even after nine years of intense fighting, the war left nothing but thousands of lost innocent lives, and an undefeated Mujahideen. The Soviet Union established diplomatic relations with the ruling Afghan government in the early 1920’s, and sustained that relationship until the government crumbled. They provided both military and economic aid (Lester, par 23).
The Soviet Union had its own reasons for helping Afghanistan. Their intention was to make Afghanistan the first Muslim state to become part of the Soviet Union. By doing so, they would show the world the power of the Soviet Empire, because no non-Muslim empire had ever included a Muslim state. But they couldn’t succeed; on the contrary they created haters of non-Muslim states called the Taliban, who teamed up with the Saudi terrorist Bin Laden. This team has destroyed many innocent lives.
In 1979, more than 50,000 soldiers from fifteen Republics of the Soviet Union entered Afghan territory. More than 20,000 of those soldiers died during the nine-year-long war (Lester, par 37). The Soviet Union, and especially the news media, blamed this failure entirely on its youthful soldiers.
Military service was mandatory. The boys, who averaged 18 or 19 years of age, had no choice but to serve for 2 to 3 years. Recruits for Afghanistan would receive 8-10 weeks of training before being sent to their units. This training, of course, didn’t cover all the necessary preparation. They received some basic information on how to operate weapons, but no information on how to fight effectively in the war situation they would face in Afghanistan.
Did the Soviet government think about the ruined lives of the Afghan veterans? No. Instead it blamed them for the failure of policies that were not their fault.
Coming back to normal life was very difficult for the Afghan veterans. After they came home they started organizing the sort of communities they’d become accustomed to during their long stay in Afghanistan. This was their way of isolating themselves from ordinary people. In these communities they tried to do almost everything they used to do in Afghanistan. Here they could do drugs, and talk about the war. But the government shut down the communities because of the illegal use of drugs. (Galeotti 41).
One of the veterans said, “We never came home. Our minds were always at war.” (qtd. in Galeotti 45). But the soldiers did come home, and all soldiers came back differently. Some of them were on crutches, some had no hands or legs, some had prematurely gray hair, and many of them returned in zinc coffins. Many soldiers, who were injured during the war, were never able to find a job, because of their physical condition. Thus they had to rely entirely on relatives for the rest of their lives. These people hated the government for not assisting them financially, because when they needed help, the same government that had sent them to war turned away from them. Sick of their lives, and sick of being an extra burden to their relatives, many invalid veterans committed suicide.
While many veterans were physically injured, others suffered from complicated psychological disorders such as flashbacks, emotional numbness, withdrawal, jumpy hyper-alertness or over-compensatory extroversion. (Cordovez 247). One Afghan veteran recalled that when their leading vehicle broke down, and the driver got out, a boy about ten years old ran out of nowhere and stabbed him in the back. He added that they turned the boy into a sieve (Galeotti 69). Soviet troops killed a number of children in Afghan villages. A commander who ordered one massacre said, “When they grow up, they will take up arms against us.” (qtd. in Shansab171).
So how can a person who brutally killed a ten-year-old boy lead a normal life after coming back home? Killing children, knowing that anytime a bullet can hit you, knowing that no place is safe, can drive any sane person insane. What could this have done to an 18-year-old boy, who was drafted into war right after graduating from high school, who had never seen any hardship in life?
In normal society the killing of another person is punished, sometimes by the death penalty. But during the Afghan war, Soviet soldiers received the power of life and death over others. The tendency of treating people however they wished became common among Soviet soldiers. This triggered the official imprisonment of 2,540 Soviet soldiers by the Soviet government, for atrocities against Afghan civilians. (Galeotti 81).
This created another problem when they returned home. They were unable to overcome the feeling that they had the authority to treat people however they wished. Some veterans, unable to square the demands of war with the demands of conscience, were locked behind the bars of mental hospitals. Other became compulsively violent. By the end of 1989, more than 3,000 veterans were in prison for criminal offenses. Of the 3,000 prisoners, more than half were convicted of murder or rape. (Galeotti 52).
Another consequence of the Afghan war was drug addiction and excess consumption of alcohol. Because combat in any area wasn’t safe, the soldiers had to be always on high alert. In order to relax, many relied on drugs. Afghanistan was the major supplier of poppy to the world during those times. Drugs became part of the Soviet soldier's lives. Many felt that drugs were essential for survival. Drugs helped a soldier to carry 90 pounds of ammunition up and down the mountains. It helped them to overcome the depression resulting from their friend’s deaths, and to overcome their own fear of death. Drugs and alcohol became the usual procedure of self-medication, because other options were unavailable. One veteran said “There wasn’t a single person among us who didn’t do drugs in Afghanistan. You needed relaxation, or you went out of your mind.” (Galeotti 51). This created a generation of drug addicts and alcoholics. According to the Soviet Department of Health Services, a 20.4% increase was registered from 1979 to 1985, compared to 1950-1978. (Galeotti 53).
Today we have witnessed the gravest consequence of the Soviet-Afghan war. It created the monster the world called the Taliban. This harsh fundamental ruling body came to power in the vacuum that came about after the Soviets pulled out and returned home. The Afghan government was weak and lacked national power. It soon collapsed giving rise to the Taliban, who turned Afghanistan into world's terrorist center.
Even today, the Afghans and Soviets still suffer the results of the war. Clearly there were no winners. Perhaps today that has changed, because the Afghan people, the Soviets, and the US this time are all on the same side. Perhaps this time all will be winners, and only Bin Laden and the Taliban will be the losers.