Rajan Menon, The Nation - Do Afghanistan lessons apply to the AUKUS agreement?

Rajan Menon, The Nation
Do Afghanistan lessons apply to the AUKUS agreement?


“War is Hell,” is the most famous, the most resonant thing, General William Tecumseh Sherman ever said.

But the statement is demonstrably false, because Hell is eternal, burning forever as a religious punishment for evil-doers.  War, on the other hand, is temporary — a secular torment quite different from Hell in that wars come to an end.

A much truer sentiment is another epigram credited to Gen. Sherman: “War is cruelty,” he said, “and you cannot refine it.”  In fact, the general believed the more cruelly war is pursued, the faster it can be brought to an end.

And then, he told the leaders of the city of Savannah, whose evacuation prior to burning, he had ordered, “When peace does come, you may call on me for anything. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.”

A noble sentiment, but truth be told, when the Confederate forces that opposed him had surrendered, Sherman took his crackers west, to his next assignment, leading a series of genocidal “Indian Wars” against Native Americans. After that, Sherman went back East, to Washington, to become President Ulysses Grant’s Commanding General of the Army and interim Secretary of War.

Which meant, in the American Southwest as in the Confederate Southeast, Gen. William T. Sherman missed the real Hell of war, the missing and wounded fighters, the the burnt and broken buildings, the ravaged families and farmlands that warfare leaves behind.

As in Savannah and Atlanta and Dresden, Nagasaki, Mosul and Raqqa.

War damage, after 20 years of fighting, is considerable in Afghanistan, but the world has realized what needs immediate attention there is rebuilding not cities, mosques, roads or bridges but the national economy, the institutions of governance and the society both the economy and the government are meant to serve.

International intervention is necessary, says Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, even if it means helping the Taliban.  And, von der Leyen says, it had better happen fast.  Rebuilding post-war Afghanistan will be difficult and very expensive, she says, but the alternative is “a major humanitarian and socio-economic collapse in Afghanistan.” Now that would truly be a Hell of a mess.



Rajan Menon is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer professor of international relations at the Powell School at the City College of New York, a senior research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, and a fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.















Subscribe to insider notes from Dave Marash along with previews and cartoons of upcoming podcasts. You’ll be richer, taller, and if you don’t eat, thinner.


Here & There is kept afloat by wonderful sponsors and curious listeners like you. Your support is appreciated!