Reporting Afghanistan

John Wendle

Archive for July 2012


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The “opinion” piece below is interesting because it clearly shows the schism that divides the U.S. right now – and that name calling has replaced laying out facts. The rebuttal is further down the page by my dad and I think it is more interesting – because it has the ring of truth to it. After living in more-or-less rampantly corrupt countries for ten years now (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia and Afghanistan) it is clear to me that very few of us pull ourselves up “by our bootstraps.”

Much of the progress any of us make in the world is based on the systems we are born into. If the system is corrupt (leading to poor school systems, bad or no healthcare, bribery, lawlessness, etc.) then it is harder for a person to do anything but live day-to-day, hand-to-mouth. If a person is born into a system that provides for a higher level of education, safety, health, etc. then those citizens can stand on the shoulders of their system and reach higher…

The choice should be clear

The joke goes like this. So a clown gets up in front of a crowd and says, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Oh, wait a minute. That’s not a joke. Barack Obama really said that to a group of people in Virginia. Perhaps it is a joke — a joke on all of us.

That socialist rant by Obama could have been lifted directly from the pages of the novel “Atlas Shrugged,” in which Ayn Rand, having fled totalitarian socialism, wrote to warn us what happens if we allow ourselves to be misled by the Barack Obama-types in society, men of limited intelligence and no ability whose only purpose in life is to convince men of even less intelligence and ability to hold a gun to the heads of life’s achievers to make them surrender their genius and ability in support of the lazy and the corrupt.

The Barack Obamas of this world produce nothing and are not capable of producing anything. But Rand’s book ends on a positive note with the promise of a new Renaissance when the achievers will return and rebuild — but no such hope exists for us if the path of Obama is followed.

The election will give us a stark choice between the lazy and corrupt (Barack Obama) and the achiever (Mitt Romney).

Joseph K. Waltenbaugh, New Castle, Pa.

My dad’s response is below:

Far too often we confuse what we’re proud of with what we ought to be thankful for

In Sunday’s Letters-to-the Editor Joseph Waltenbaugh referred to the president of the United States as a clown and a socialist, a man of limited intelligence and ability, a man who is lazy and corrupt, whose only purpose is to mislead. In quoting the president (insufficiently and out of context) – “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen” – Mr. Waltenbaugh either missed the point the president was making in that speech or purposely missed the point so he could deliver his misguided rant. What tripe.

O’Toole was an orphan raised in Los Angeles. In 1939 he joined the US Marine Corps and spent all of WWII in a Japanese prison camp after being captured in the Philippines. He eventually became a master sergeant. In 1955 he became a mentor to me – quite like a big brother.

When I was first assigned to his unit I was under the impression I had raised myself up by my own bootstraps, having gone a lot farther in life than others in my own family and much farther than I had expected just several years earlier.

Sergeant O’Toole set me straight by pointing out all of the things in my life that preceded me and benefited me – that had been put in place by people I didn’t even know – the hospital I was born in, the roads and bridges to that hospital, the school system that educated me, the effective local, state and national governments of a freedom loving nation, an economic system allowing personal progress, those who preceded me in the marines who made it the great organization it was, these among many, many other things too numerous to list.

Men who “think” as Mr. Waltenbaugh do fail to understand the important point the president was making, the point my old friend, Sgt. O’Toole, made to me so long ago.

Even though I voted for Ike and he voted for Adlai Stevens he ultimately succeeded in fostering a realization that I was born on second base – I had NOT hit a double. Folks like Mr. Waltenbaugh are often born on third base while believing (and often bragging) they hit a triple.

Far too often we confuse what we’re proud of with what we ought to be thankful for. We all deserve better than the lame tripe dished out by the likes of Mr. Waltenbaugh.

You can hear more about the hyperpartisan 24/7 news cycle at Aaron Sorkin: The Writer Behind ‘The Newsroom’.


Written by johnwendle

July 23, 2012 at 7:53 am

Hidden in Afghanistan: Soviet Veterans of a Previous War Compare and Tremble

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My latest story and photos are now available at TIME at: Hidden in Afghanistan: Soviet Veterans of a Previous War Compare and Tremble*

There are only a few of them left — deserters and MIAs of the huge Soviet Red Army divisions sent in to control Afghanistan. But they still remember how it all ended — and worry that the American war will end the same way

Even after three decades, Gennady Tseuma remembers the wavering call to prayer that went up clear over the hillside village. It floated out over the fields and river and pierced the early morning hush on the Bangi Bridge. Tseuma, then a Soviet soldier assigned to a small force guarding the river crossing in northern Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, recalls a feeling of dread when he heard the sound. Like many of the conscripts serving in the Red Army in Afghanistan, Tseuma was bored and undisciplined, and after 10 months of service, curiosity finally got the best of him.

The decision to investigate the call to prayer cost him the life he had known up to that point. “Our checkpoint was close to the village. Every morning the mullah did the call to prayer. It was totally new to me. I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought maybe they were killing people or something,” Tseuma tells TIME. “So, one day, early in the morning, I got off my base to take a look. When I got close to the mosque there was an old man sitting there. Then suddenly men with guns surrounded me and captured me. After that, the mujahedin told me to convert to Islam or they would kill me. I decided it was better to live than to die, so I became a Muslim.”


Possibly the most chilling comparison of all is made by Ahmad, the taxi driver, who reaches back into the history he has seen in Afghanistan, saying: “When the Soviet army left it was peaceful until the Soviet government stopped giving the Afghan communist government money. When the money stopped, the war started. Everyone only fights and works for money. People do everything for money.”

As dusk closed around Nek Mohammad’s village on the edge of Kunduz city, he invited us to stay for dinner, but he was worried about our security. “This is an Afghan village, so I can’t say anything. I don’t know what will happen here. Anything could happen. You’ll leave late and this place is unreliable for foreigners,” he says, mixing Dari and Russian. “I’m afraid. I’d be very happy for you to eat here, but …” Walking us out of the house in the gathering gloom, he recited a Russian saying, “We need to pull our claws out of here” — meaning, We need to run away from here, he explains. Says the old soldier: “I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

*I don’t have final say on my headlines. There was no trembling involved.

Written by johnwendle

July 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm

A note from my Dad on Mitt Romney

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This is a note my dad wrote to his cousin Carol as a response to a forwarded email from her on why people should support Mitt Romney. I haven’t posted the forward, because its internet forward nonsense:
You asked for my response to this e-mail you forwarded. Shame for you! Never-the-less . . . here it is:
There is no doubt in my mind that Mitt Romney is a decent man, with good personal qualities, who treats his family and friends well and wishes life could be sweet for everyone. This, as below, is not relevant, not even necessary for a man or women to be a great president.
I’m sure he also has personal faults: Being for Vietnam and not volunteering to serve in the military as a young man is a downer for me; legally putting money off-shore and out of reach of the IRS is another; saying one thing at one time and place that will put him in good with listeners and then changing the message at another time and place to fit in with different thinking held by a different group also falls short for me. Additionally, lousy critiques of an opponent’s views is a turn off. But faults are not necessarily relevant to a man or women becoming a great president either. We all have faults; we all change our minds. We all are sometimes unfair.
I could go on in this vein but won’t.
For me, here’s the relevant conjunction of qualities for electing a leader: Are his or her ideas and proposals meant to move the society in an appropriate direction? Does he or she have the temperament and intelligence to deal reasonably with contrary reasonable ideas? Does the candidate’s prior experience indicate they have the necessary strength of character, intellectual honesty and curiosity and demonstrated ability to receive and effectively deal with negative information required to be the leader of a nation? These qualities in abundance and, necessarily, in combination are what to look for. Some presidents from our past had them and some didn’t. Political party isn’t the primary factor. The acumen of the electorate usually is. And whites not liking a black guy in our white house is regrettable.
The bottom line: The president has a 3-1/2 year record that is no more than a B- and a past that’s at least a B.
Mr.s Romney’s past is a B- or C and his present (based on his campaign and policy proposals) is, at best, a D-.
Among many negative problems, the nation is in the economic doldrums and President Obama is making the same mistakes President Roosevelt did in his first term — not going FAR ENOUGH in priming the pump. Additionally, he has been far to easy on investment banks and Wall Street.
But Mr. Romney (who, if he sticks with what he says — which he often hasn’t) will take this nation way down the wrong path. For much of the last five decades we’ve been heading in a direction that has put way too much power and money into the hands of the rich (many of whom were born on third base and believe they’ve hit a triple). Four decades ago CEOs made 40 times the income of their typical employee. Today it’s more than 400. When income distribution and wealth distribution is taken into account it becomes clear we are headed for calamity, economic followed by social. It’s bad enough that Democrats are ineffective in leading us to solutions. However, putting the circus owners into all three rings will bring down the tent. And then . . . even the clowns won’t make us happy.
Let me strongly recommend that you check out the information in:

Who Rules America: Wealth, Income, and Power

Wealth Distribution

It’s the Inequality, Stupid | Mother Jones

Income Main- People and Households – U.S. Census Bureau

Income inequality in the United States

Written by johnwendle

July 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm