Saturday, June 03, 2006

Another Reason to Hate USA: We're Rude Assholes

From the Boston Globe, via Commondreams: US Soldiers Creating Road Rage in Afghanistan

This piece is written by the editor of the Northeastern (University) Voice, a college newspaper:

Although born and raised in the Boston area, the bad-driving center of America, I've nonetheless been screaming mad in traffic only three times in my life. All three were in Kabul, and all were at the American military.


On my second day with ISAF [NATO's International Security Assistance Force], I found myself staring down a US machine-gun barrel -- my driver had gotten a touch too close to a Humvee. Numerous times after that, we were cut off in traffic by American military convoys, sometimes holding Afghans back with dismissive waves of the hand, more often with weapons. I watched dumbstruck one afternoon as the lead Humvee in a convoy pulled out to block a highway for its followers -- and trained its gun on an approaching ISAF convoy.

One morning at an intersection, a pair of Humvees raced through downtown Kabul with a soldier leaning out the top of one while yelling at Afghan drivers to ``get the [expletive] out of the way."
That's when I first yelled -- in spectacularly vulgar terms -- as the soldier gawked and my driver snickered. But bad American driving in Afghanistan isn't funny. Imagine, if you would, Afghans speeding around Boston in military vehicles, bellowing at other drivers and pointing guns at anyone who tries to pass. Then imagine how we'd respond the first time an Afghan vehicle killed a civilian -- and what would happen after the 10th, or the 20th.

An American major said it is impressed on soldiers during training that they're headed to a hostile country where everyone is a potential car bomber and their best defense is aggressive driving. After that chat, a German captain said, with a straight face, that he tells his men: ``Your best weapon is a smile."

That sounded hopelessly silly. But in January, I was rolling down a main road in an ISAF pickup. A US convoy pulled ahead of us, and we watched, amazed, as the vehicles slammed through a heavy puddle and serially soaked an elderly Afghan man on a bicycle. We drew alongside him, slowed down, avoided the water, and waved, and the sodden man brightened up momentarily to grin and wave back. The smile works.

The United States is spending a lot of blood and treasure in Afghanistan, with hopes of remaking the country after decades of war and vicious poverty. We're doing work that's underappreciated here and in the rest of the world. But daily, petty discourtesies -- more than poverty, more than battles, more than bombings -- have built enough resentment over the years to rip Kabul apart. The path to Afghan hearts and minds has a lower speed limit and a few yield signs, and Americans are desperately in need of driver ed.

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