The eminent historian Max Hastings and I have not always seen eye to eye. (Example:
I have spent a lifetime resisting my father's prejudice, that men who affect beards should be regarded with the gravest suspicion. Yet every time I read the rantings of Mark Steyn about what he perceives as decadent European hostility towards the US, I have to fight down an ignoble sensation that daddy was right.
He didn't fight it down that hard.)
Be that as it may, Sir Max is spot on in this poignant opening:
All over the world, from Vimy Ridge and El Alamein to Rangoon and Rorke's Drift, stand memorials to British war dead, most of them places of pilgrimage for descendants and tourists.
Future travellers, however, will find no such proud relic at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. When the Army lowered the Union flag there on Sunday, our memorial — etched with hundreds of names of the fallen — had been dismantled and flown home.
Had it remained in war-torn Helmand province, it seemed certain to face desecration and destruction. There could be no more vivid manifestation of the failure of Britain's Afghan mission.
In my new book, The [Un]documented Mark Steyn, there is a section called "September 12th". Beginning with my first sight of "Ground Zero", it's a series of snapshots that chart over the years the remorseless evaporation of western will, descending bumpily in its latter stretch through our reliance on drones, the disgrace of Benghazi, and some thoughts from me on the man at the Trebil border crossing between Jordan and Iraq - contrasting the US soldier who glanced at my Canadian passport when I crossed a few weeks after the fall of Saddam with the Islamic State goon who occupies the post today. That's a profound image of total defeat. But so too are those last soldiers dismantling the British war memorial. As I wrote two-and-a-half years ago:
In the last couple of months, two prominent politicians of different nations visiting their troops on the ground have used the same image to me for Western military bases: crusader forts. Behind the fortifications, a mini-West has been built in a cheerless land: There are Coke machines and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Safely back within the gates, a man can climb out of the full RoboCop and stop pretending he enjoys three cups of tea with the duplicitous warlords, drug barons, and pederasts who pass for Afghanistan's ruling class. The visiting Western dignitary is cautiously shuttled through outer and inner perimeters, and reminded that even here there are areas he would be ill-advised to venture unaccompanied, and tries to banish memories of his first tour all those years ago when aides still twittered optimistically about the possibility of a photo op at a girls' schoolroom in Jalalabad or an Internet start-up in Kabul.
The last crusader fort I visited was Kerak Castle in Jordan a few years ago. It was built in the 1140s, and still impresses today. I doubt there will be any remains of our latter-day fortresses a millennium hence. Six weeks after the last NATO soldier leaves Afghanistan, it will be as if we were never there. Before the election in 2010, the New York Post carried a picture of women registering to vote in Herat, all in identical top-to-toe bright blue burkas, just as they would have looked on September 10, 2001. We came, we saw, we left no trace. America's longest war will leave nothing behind.
What did I say? "Six weeks after the last NATO soldier leaves"? In Helmand province, it's not yet six days, and it's already as if we were never there.
~Ah, well. At least the Afghans are back playing cricket. The thwack of leather on willow briefly reared its unAmerican head during my conversation with Simon Conway on WHO in Iowa. Once upon a time, WHO's on-air announcers included Ronald Reagan. Now they've been reduced to hiring some bloke from BBC Radio Leeds. However, unlike me sneaking across the Canadian border in the trunk of a jihadist neighbor's Honda Civic (I was hidden under the rusty scimitar and dirty nuke), Simon is a fully legal, fully credentialed, documented-up-the-wazoo immigrant. So on his show yesterday he put me through a grueling round of "Documented vs Undocumented". I think you'll enjoy this interview. Click here to listen.
Among my other ports of call yesterday were a trip to The Schilling Show in Charlottesville, Virginia (I turn up about halfway through) and a reunion with my old pal and piano-playing imam Andrew Lawton in London, Ontario. Click below to listen:
~Today, Thursday, I start another round of media interviews bright and early, with AM Tampa Bay on WFLA in Florida at 8am. Later, I'll check in with the great Dennis Prager live coast to coast at 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific, followed by Kelley & Company on KNUS Denver at 1pm Mountain Time, Kate Dalley on Fox News 1450 in Utah at 2pm Mountain Time, and Chris Daniel on KMJN Fresno after 2pm Pacific. I'll round out the day keeping my weekly date with Hugh Hewitt, nationwide at 6pm Eastern/3pm Pacific. Full details of each day's TV and radio appearances can be found in our On The Air box at right.
~As for The [Un]documented Mark Steyn, you can buy it right now all major US retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, and all major Canadian ones, too, including Indigo-Chapters, Amazon and McNally-Robinson. It's also in eBook - via Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks. We're currently the Number One political humor bestseller in America, because, notwithstanding that gloomy "September 12th" section I mentioned above, much of the book is actually pretty funny. At any rate, apparently funnier than Russell Brand. Or Stephen Colbert.