All that was old, is now new again. That may be the best way to describe the updated edition of Ted Rall’s graphic travelogue, To Afghanistan and Back. I hadn’t read the original version, and I found no explanation as to exactly what it is that’s been “updated” about the book, but I’m guessing that one thing might be the introduction by Bill Maher. Despite Maher’s (the host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher) often diametrically opposed viewpoints on politics and perspectives on global issues and the wars in which the U.S. is involved, he has had Ted Rall on his show several times and seems to get along with him fairly well, proving that one can disagree with another person and still like him or her in other ways.
Aside from being an updated version of a graphic travelogue originally published in 2002, To Afghanistan and Back can also be considered “new” because of President Obama’s interest in boosting the troop numbers in Afghanistan and “winning” the war, if it can be won. Former president George W. Bush diverted America’s attention from (or divided between) Afghanistan to Iraq. Unfortunately, most of the “reasons” the American public was given for either war were and are lies: WMDs, bringing Democracy to these countries, and the desire to fight them “over there” so we wouldn’t have to fight them “here.”
At least one of the main reasons for the continued war in Afghanistan likely has more to do with the fact that its neighbor, Kazakhstan, has the world’s largest oil reserves, “of up to 260 billion barrels.” The shortest possible pipeline route for the oil to the port of Karachi runs from the Kazakh oil fields through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many complicating factors might make any such proposed pipeline either extremely difficult to impossible to construct, but obtaining control of all of that oil is a tantalizing objective indeed.
Rall, whose journalistic writing and witty cartoons I’ve always enjoyed, is often criticized by people on the right and those who considered themselves to be “Bushies” as being a liberal, and who slants his POV in his writing. I personally don’t care whether this criticism has any truth to it or not - Rall writes from his heart, giving accurate portrayals of the people in the countries he’s visited, and has never dogmatically proclaimed that his viewpoints are the only ones out there. He makes you vicariously experience the same things he is without personally having to undergo being bitten by fleas as you try to sleep, nights of freezing temperatures (where the only heat comes from a benzene heater and you have to decide between breathing in noxious fumes or freezing), and getting your door knocked on in the early morning hours by members of the Taliban who have the intention of shooting any unfortunate journalist who comes to the door.
When he writes about the so-called “precision bombing” of America’s planes being mostly propaganda, a lie perpetrated by the Bush administration, CNN, and other major news organizations, and that the truth is that our planes often engaged in carpet-bombing runs - because he saw this happening - what he says has the air of validity about it that can only come from having been there and lived through the experience. Rall writes with what can be termed a jaundiced eye, but he has been to Afghanistan, has endured its harsh (to Western standards) living conditions, has seen for himself members of the Taliban who shaved their beards, joined the Northern Alliance forces, and sometimes switched back to the Taliban. He has had his door knocked on and, had he answered it, would probably have joined a Swiss journalist that he writes about in death.
To Afghanistan and Back has held up over the years. The United States’ apparent renewed interest in winning the war in Afghanistan is one major reason, but another is that Rall reported the truth about what he saw and experienced, despite the possibility that he would be labeled unpatriotic or anti-American. What a journalist sees firsthand isn’t the whole truth about something as complex as a war or a country’s reasons for engaging in one, but the journalist’s words hold a validity and an importance because he or she was there. This book is as entertaining and as pertinent as it was when Ted Rall first wrote it and drew the brilliant, biting cartoons in it. I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in why the U.S. went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq.