In her book, Hume, Passion, and Action, Elizabeth Radcliffe contends that Hume is right to suggest that passion and reason are not mutually exclusive. They both are necessary to ignite people’s motivation. As it turns out, however, passion not tanks, is how wars are won and lost.
“Reason is, and ought only to be, a slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” – David Hume
Nestled between the peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains and located about an hour north of Kabul, is the Bagram Air Base. It was an impregnable fortress and home to America’s largest military base in Afghanistan. At the peak of the U.S. military campaign against Taliban insurgents, the place looked like a little America tucked in the belly of the rugged terrain of the Afghan desert. The Base was a beehive, complete with American fast-food franchises like Popeye and Burger King.
For twenty solid years since 2001, Bagram Air Base was the place were U.S. servicemen and their Afghan counterparts trained and plotted to take on the most daring mission against the Talibans – levelling mountains and destroying caves. One fateful morning early this month, however, Afghan soldiers woke up to find out that their old friends had left in the dead of the night, without even saying goodbye. According to a CNN report, among the equipment left behind were more than 700 vehicles, including, “Humvees, pickup trucks and 4 x 4s, some still littered with half-eaten American snacks like Oreos and partially consumed soda bottles.”
The last U.S. troops left the base on Friday, July 2, with President Biden promising a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of August. He plans to leave only a small contingent of soldiers to guard the American embassy in Kabul. The most powerful country on earth, after deploying the most sophisticated military force the world has ever known and spending close to a trillion dollars, parked up and left hurriedly. At last came the sad realisation that the war in Afghanistan is simply not winnable. What happened? Well, Russians were the first to learn this the hard way, after fighting the Talibans in a ten-year war that dragged between December, 1979 and February, 1989.
The U.S. fired the first shot of Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, and with a coalition of over 40 countries in tow, unleashed unparalleled firepower that sent the one-eyed Mullah Omar, the Taliban ruler of Afghanistan and Commander of the Faithful, with his lieutenants, parking. It was a move meant to oust the Talibans, whom they said were harbouring Osama bin Laden and other key al-Qaeda elements that masterminded the 9/11 terror attacks on American soil. The war, however, dragged on year after year, such that even after President Barack Obama announced the end of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan after 13 years, on December 28, 2014, Taliban insurgents continued to mount a strong resistance, albeit in a guerrilla fashion.
As with every war, things tend to get messy. There were blackmails and intrigues in high places. Pakistan, a country that was supposed to work alongside the U.S. in the war, turned it into a cash cow and showed no interest in helping the U.S. bring the war to an end. It was later discovered that Osama Bin Laden, the most wanted Al Qaeda operative, was hiding in plain sight and lived close to the Pakistani Military Academy in Abbottabad. The relationship between the two countries subsequently deteriorated so badly that Americans were conducting raids on Pakistani soil with the nation’s government blindsided. As the war dragged on, Americans in the homeland started getting tired and inpatient, as dead bodies of young men were brought home wrapped in caskets from overseas. Congress also began to question the government’s war strategies and how long it sought to keep troops on a foreign soil.
Between 2010 and 2012, the cost of the war in Afghanistan grew to almost $100 billion a year. That was at the time when more than 100,000 American soldiers were stationed there. As the number of troops were drawn down, the cost got a little lower but never less than $40 billion a year.
It turns out that passion, anchored in a deep belief, can survive even a nuclear attack. Even though prosecuting a warped and toxic ideology, the Talibans are convinced, beyond doubt, that they are on the correct path ordained by their creator and so are very determined to resist any power that could derail them in that mission.
According to a report made available to Congress by a senior Pentagon official, when you add the total spending from October 2001 till September 2019, including payout to Pakistan to support the war effort, the total amount was $822 billion. This is much lower than what was reported in a study looking at war spending, commissioned by Brown University in 2019, where the number was $978 billion, although this had included the budget for 2020 fiscal year.
To put things in perspective, the National Assembly approved the Nigerian government’s 2021 budget of N13.6 trillion ($35.66 billion). That means that the U.S., at some point, was spending an equivalent of three times the Nigerian budget, every year, fighting a war in a country with a population whose size was just a little bigger than South-West Nigeria.
In terms of the human toll, since the war against the Taliban began in 2001, U.S. forces have suffered more than 2,300 deaths, with about 20,660 soldiers injured in action. Of course, the Afghan casualty has been much worse.
I did not wake up this morning feeling like Plato, Socrates, Archimedes or determined to wax philosophical. But I am forced into deep introspection about how a rag-tag and poorly-funded army was able to defeat two of the world’s biggest super powers. It turns out that passion, anchored in a deep belief, can survive even a nuclear attack. Even though prosecuting a warped and toxic ideology, the Talibans are convinced, beyond doubt, that they are on the correct path ordained by their creator and so are very determined to resist any power that could derail them in that mission.
They were chased out of power, carpet bombed, killed and utterly dismembered. Their leadership was decapitated, and yet, they persisted, waited it out and prevailed in the end. Again. You could say that there is still a secular Afghan government in place at the time of this writing, but the mere fact that we got to a point where the U.S. is now negotiating with the Talibans, is in and of itself a huge victory for the group. In war, your enemy is only willing to negotiate when victory is not within sight.
Have you ever wondered why citizen-driven (not military coup) revolutions, akin to the Arab Springs, often fail to materialise in Africa, even when the continent plays host to the largest contingent of political criminals than elsewhere? A Nigerians will look at how #EndSARS protesters got shot and decide that it makes more sense to sit back and watch others take the lead.
Have you ever wondered why citizen-driven (not military coup) revolutions, akin to the Arab Springs, often fail to materialise in Africa, even when the continent plays host to the largest contingent of political criminals than elsewhere? A Nigerians will look at how #EndSARS protesters got shot and decide that it makes more sense to sit back and watch others take the lead. Somehow, he has come to believe that Nigeria’s salvation lies with everyone else but himself. Of course, he knows that such revolution is necessary, but what is lacking is the passion to follow it through.
Katharina Paxman, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario, believes that all actions, reasonable or unreasonable, are dictated by passion. Her belief draws heavily from the work of David Hume, a Scottish philosopher of the eighteenth century. In one of her presentations titled, “Reason and the Passionate Mind”, she argued that, “Reason can’t tell us what to prefer, it is only once we have a propensity or aversion towards something that we can use reason to direct our action, and this requires passions.”
Many centuries ago, there wouldn’t have been anything sane or logical about conjecturing about a three-ton man-made bird with a huge payload floating 30,000 feet above sea level, yet on December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright flew their first powered flight in the beach town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Today man has not only conquered the skies and the cosmos, but has ventured into the outer space, pushing the frontiers of science close to the realm only reserved for gods. That is the power of passion.
Between reason and passion, it is difficult to make a case of the superiority of one over another. Reason is overly cautious, weighs the pros and cons of an intended action, which is truly required of a rational mind. However, it often subjects the mind to analysis paralysis. Passion, on the other hand, runs on steroid, pushing one to overcomes the inertia of inaction, but on the other hand, could operate well beyond the boundaries of rational thought. Passion when unattended to, is like a flame that could burns to its own destruction. That was almost the case with the Talibans.
In her book, Hume, Passion, and Action, Elizabeth Radcliffe contends that Hume is right to suggest that passion and reason are not mutually exclusive. They both are necessary to ignite people’s motivation. As it turns out, however, passion not tanks, is how wars are won and lost
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