If we were able to stand back - right back in time and space and view humankind through a prism of positive good, of kindness - of little steps toward a more generous and understanding civilisation, what would we be thinking now?
In the last two thousand years, say, (half the age of a Bristlecone Pine tree) - from all the wars and shocking cruelty humans have inflicted on each other, on the defenceless, on other creatures we share this planet with - would we say our civilisation has moved forward? If we were counting all the kindnesses people give to others, would they out-weigh the unkindness?
Yes, we have cell phone technology - when I was born, we had a party line. We shared a telephone line with six or ten other houses, and you cranked a handle to speak to the local village operator who would have to connect you to whoever you wanted to talk to, and that could take some time. Now we can have instant communication. We can play games, watch movies in an instant. Long gone are the days of a black and white one-foot square tv screen and a test card.
But I keep wondering, we have all this "stuff" - but are we better, kinder, happier - more fulfilled? Have we learned any lessons from the past? Have we, as so-called civilised human beings become more civilised because of our "stuff" - technology?
And what is "civilised"? What does it mean?
Civilised = "Develop out of a primitive state - Cultural development - Polite - Decent - Refined - Enlightened".
We have developed the knowledge to launch a thirty-ton rocket into space. We can destroy, with the touch of a button, millions with chemical or nuclear weapons. Yet, we can't agree on simple kindness and common decency to each other - as so many of our leaders demonstrate daily.
It is now twenty years since the World Trade Centre and Pentagon came under attack from Al-Qaeda. I still don't fully understand what Osama Bin Laden's beef was with the west - other than trying to turn the western world Muslim. And I think it is entirely right to stand up to bullies.
The question is, in terms of being civilised - who is the Bully? That perhaps sums up the ghastliness of war - when the oppressor becomes the oppressed.
I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Al-Qaeda launched their demonic attack on the USA back in 2001 on the 9th of September. Having been up to the top of the World Trade centre myself, exactly, to the day and time precisely - two months before; I remember hearing on the news that a plane had flown into the North Tower. I had thought to myself, having held a private pilots licence, "poor bugger - probably got lost in the mist - poor guy." I was sitting in my car munching a sandwich, listening to the news. And then they said - "it was a jet plane". I went back to my office and watched the whole ghastly, murderous affair play out on my office TV. Colleagues piled into my office, agog with disbelief - just as I was. I recall feeling many different emotions that day; fear - on behalf of those trapped in the tower and on the planes. Anger, the need for revenge - but more than anything, utter disbelief at what I was witnessing - the sheer terror that those poor people went and were going through. Like many - I had already seen and witnessed a lot in my life - and like others, seeing this premeditated destruction in peacetime - the innocent lives lost on live tv - it shook me to the core. There had to be a strong response - you just can't turn the other cheek to something like that.
President George Bush's immediate "folksy" response, where he was visiting a school and obviously hadn't grasped the magnitude of what had just happened, soon changed to talk of "shock and awe". We now know that the invasion of Iraq was a set-up. But the invasion of Afghanistan was more logical. But it still lacked clarity in terms of "what was the mission?" In British military jargon - "selection and maintenance of the aim". It was hazy at best and drifted and changed over time.
But, led by America and supported by many other nations, including Britain, The Taliban, and Al-Qaeda, were contained a decade later. Afghanistan was on the road to democracy and freedom. Women were liberated from the cruel, backward and harsh treatment they received under sharia law, and Afghanistan was on the road to a brighter future.
A future without the random beheadings, stoning and depraved treatment of human beings, a country where the seeds of democracy were slowly taking root.
So out of all this evil perpetrated by all sides during the last twenty years, it seemed that something good and wholesome - something civilised had resulted from all the carnage. But it was still in its infancy and needed to be nurtured still.
And then America decided to quit, and the whole adventure crumbled, and Afghanistan reverted, more or less overnight - to where it had been twenty years previously. And here we are - back to women being treated as second class beings - random beheadings and the strictest interpretation of sharia law with all the inhumane ghastliness that comes with it. And all those precious human lives, from so many nations, not least, Afghanistan - lost during the last twenty years - so many families devastated, and for what?
But that is what happens when you surrender - when you give up. You lose everything. America is now a shadow of itself, but us Britts too. All those innocent Afghanistan people who helped us, who trusted us, who grew to support democracy, will pay the price while we ran away and left them to it. We went against our British psyche - we let them all down. That is why we, as a nation, are shamed and unable to look ourselves in the mirror. That shame is like a shadow - there is no escaping it.
Eighty-one years ago today, Adolph Hitler gave up on operation Sealion, which was the planned invasion of Britain. Britain had been fighting for its very existence, and it was a very close run affair. Fortunately, then, we didn't quit even though the cost in human life was immense.
What it all boils down to is the difference between the finite and the infinite. Do we understand the difference? A war is finite - there is a winner and a loser, but civilisation is infinite. Do we believe that civilisation is a never-ending road, or is it simply a win or lose - you have it, or you don't? Does it matter?
It all comes right back to our personal beliefs. Why are we on this earth - why are we alive? What is the point of life? Is it only to fill our bellies with the best and most we can - screw everyone else, it is only me who matters - or are we here to help others and make the world better in some small way because we were here?
So if we are all inter-connected, if part of the reason for life is to play a small role in knocking civilisation forward a couple of notches - why the heck did we desert the Afghanistan people?
Nothing is for nothing - Everything has a cost - especially civilisation. As politicians (who are only elected officials - elected by us but still human beings) have clearly demonstrated, wearing suits and ties does not make you civilised. It is not our words but our actions that determine our civilisation.
It is what we see and hear - how that makes us feel and think, the words we say as a consequence to convince others and what we are prepared to do about it - standing up for the weak - helping those in need - fighting tyranny - sacrifices made for the good of all. It is about truth and kindness, understanding and acceptance - Enlightenment.
So the question is, leaving Afghanistan to the brutal and corrupt regime of the Taliban - does it matter?
To the average person living in a western democracy - I suppose not. But to the Average Afghan person - and our planetary civilisation as a whole - yes - it matters. Afghanistan was moving forward - to a fairer and more democratic, and gentler society. That takes time to take root, and all those involved in getting Afghanistan to that place had paid such a heavy price. In the midst of what once looked like a very bleak situation, after all the adversity and conflict, giant strides had been made - only to then callously and selfishly quit and throw it all away with an inane, selfish and introverted decision made by a naive President.
The lesson that I take is that civilisation, like everything else, comes with a price-tag. And if we are not prepared to pay that cost - if we fail to recognise that we are all connected, then we can only look forward to more conflict and less civilisation.
Rick - Suffolk - UK - 17th September 2021