The Color of Law Richard Rothstein. Liveright Publishing Corporation. 2017. The New Deal Didn’t Create Segregation Richard Walker. 6 18 2019. Jacobin. https://jacobinmag.com/2019/06/the-color-of-law-richard-rothstein-review Dr. Florence Maätita – I.D.E.A. Book Club – The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein Dr. Florence Maätita. 2021
““Afghanistan,” we are told, as if this explains everything, “is the graveyard of empires.”
From Alexander the Great to 21st-century America, Afghanistan is supposed to have grievously weakened, if not ruined, all who dared to cross its borders. It’s a catchy phrase, one that evokes images of European statesmen playing “the Great Game” for Asia, Rudyard Kipling writing, “A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East,” and maybe even Indiana Jones swinging through the Temple of Doom.
The only trouble is that it doesn’t have much to do with actual history. Afghanistan, in its long existence, has sadly been more like the roadkill of empires — a victim to their ambitions. Understanding this historical reality is critical to grasping why the United States is unlikely to suffer serious long-term effects from its long and wasteful occupation of Afghanistan — or from the bloody, bumbling withdrawal. It is also vital in acknowledging how much more likely smaller powers like Afghanistan are to suffer lasting trauma than any of their larger, more powerful invaders.
Certainly, the peoples living in what is Afghanistan today have resisted mightily one haughty conqueror after another who swaggered down the Hindu Kush. Alexander the Great faced fierce opposition from locals when he invaded around 330 B.C., and received a nasty leg wound from an arrow. But he ultimately smashed that resistance, founded what became the modern city of Kandahar and pushed on to India — leaving behind the Seleucid Empire, which lasted for 250 years. Genghis Khan conquered Afghanistan. So did Timur, better known as Tamerlane, and his descendant Babur. So did the Turks and the Huns, the Hindus and Islamic Arabs, the Persians and the Parthians. So did numerous empires, peoples and tyrants you’ve probably never heard of: the Greco-Bactrians, the Indo-Scythians, the Kushans, the Sassanian Empire, the Maurys Empire, the Gahznavids, the Uzbeks, the Safavids and the Hotak dynasty. Most of them stayed for decades, even centuries.
The idea that Afghanistan was some kind of geopolitical quicksand for empires seems to have started with the First Anglo-Afghan War, which ended in 1842. An army of 4,700 British and Indian soldiers retreating from Kabul was slaughtered nearly to a man near the village of Gandamak, along with at least 12,000 civilians traveling with the army. The debacle was a major scandal back in London. It also came at a moment when England’s penny dreadfuls and its narrators of the travails and glories of empire were hitting their stride. Much like the tabloids and instant TV news of today, their reports and images served to horrify and enrage audiences at home. (They also played into the racist, Western fascination, one that lasted throughout the 19th century and beyond, with the idea of a gallant band of doomed, white warriors fighting to the last while helplessly outnumbered by “savages”: the Afghans in Gandamak or the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Bighorn, the Turks at Balaclava, the Zulus at Isandlwana.)
Less frequently mentioned in recollections of Gandamak is that Britain sent an “army of retribution” into Afghanistan a few months later, one that crushed every Afghan army sent against it, looted and razed numerous towns and villages in its path, and finally sacked Kabul — burning the dazzling Char-Chatta Bazaar there in a final spasm of vengeance. Britain would return to stomp Afghanistan in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, which ended in 1880. Far from being interred, the British Empire would reach its zenith in 1920, extending its reign more than 13.7 million square miles, or more than one-quarter of the Earth’s land mass.
The Soviet Union’s misadventure in Afghanistan was more damaging.”