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Rec Room: David Xia: In the Graveyard of Empires

January 12, 2010


David Xia.jpgSeth G. Jone’s In the Graveyard of Empires isn’t a Tom Clancy page-turner, but it’s a great read for anyone trying to understand Afghanistan or the recent spate of terrorism-related news headlines. Jones combines human and documentary sources and a pinch of personal travel experience into this political history of Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009. In the Graveyard tries to answer, how did an Afghan insurgency develop?

Jones begins by summarizing Afghanistan’s history as a strategic location which millennia of empires and nations—from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union—failed to control. The book then describes the Taliban’s rise to power in the ’90s, their strategic alliance with al-Qaeda, and their swift overthrow by American troops after 9/11. The United States soon made important strides. Success came in the form of greater education for Afghan children and the establishment of a democratic government. These years were Afghanistan’s golden age compared to the deterioration in governance, infrastructure, and security that followed as the Iraq War siphoned off manpower and resources. In eight years, the United States had moved al-Qaeda’s headquarters a mere one hundred miles into Pakistan.

The first three chapters are buried in history and read like a textbook. Beyond the fourth chapter, however, there’s a stronger sense of narrative and pertinence to current events. Jones brings political figures and events to life with tangential details and humorous anecdotes. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is described as an “imposing figure…Barrel-chested, with broad shoulders and a thick neck, he had recently told President Bush he was still bench-pressing ‘330/6.’” Read In the Graveyard to find out how pantyhose was a strategic tool in combat operations, and why Pakistan’s president told the Japanese prime minister that Honda should launch an advertising campaign for its motorcycles starring Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban.

Bio: David Xia is an intern at Guernica.

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