Today we're talking with Oleg Novinkov, author of Afghan Boomerang
FQ: The fact that you were a Surgeon working in the combat zone of the Soviet-Afghan war put you on the front lines where you saw much suffering. How were you able to separate your work and the feelings that you had for these brave souls who you saved with your skills and, on the other hand, the enemy who inflicted the pain that they were going through?
We had to deal with the wounded and dead almost every day. Probably that is why my heart became somehow callous from the vast range of normal human emotions; I had only duty left.
FQ: I can see that you are extremely interested in comparing the two wars: Soviet-Afghan and United States-Afghan. Can you elaborate on some of the differences and also the things that were similar?
Some of similarities: Afghan terrain is still the same – harsh; lack of knowledge about Afghanistan history, people, religion, and rules; the Durand Line – a source of tribal territory conflicts; Afghani’s reaction to any occupier of their land – no tolerance of any invader; Afghanistan always was a historical cemetery for empires – and still open for the next empire; and finally the negative role of Pakistan for countries occupying Afghanistan.
Some of differences: USSR was invited by the Afghan Government to help Afghans to stabilize the internal situation; the USA invaded Afghanistan because of some terrorists – bad people in the eyes of the US – were hiding in Afghanistan; the USSR fought in Afghanistan against militants who were supported, trained, and financed by developed, wealthy countries; USA fights in Afghanistan as a part of the international coalition against the talibs who are fighting the occupiers for freedom of their country; during the Soviet stay in Afghanistan, the narcotraffic was minimal, during US presence in Afghanistan – skyrocketing narcotraffic; the Soviets provided huge – free of charge – help to Afghans, the USA provides help to Afghans based on pragmatic and geopolitical interests.
FQ: It is obvious that Afghanistan does not believe in Democracy and that apparently has not changed. Do you feel that no matter who comes into conflict with their government, they cannot change their attitude?
The long history of Afghanistan shows that it has been impossible to implant alternative ideologies in the Afghan culture such as previously attempted by the British and Soviets when they were in Afghanistan. Democracy, as understood in western countries, has been unacceptable to the Afghans.
FQ: You mentioned the film Charlie Wilson’s War many times in your book. It wasn’t a very sought after film in the United States if I recall. Do you feel that no matter what the media puts out there, that it is largely fiction instead of fact?
There is always another point of view available about the Soviet-Afghan War, which may be not as nice and neat as one told in Charlie Wilson’s War. Many stories distributed by western mass media attempt to neatly package the news, ignoring the horrors of war. It is a pity that not all people educate themselves on the facts and analyze events. Politics dictates its own terms but the results often breed ludicrous double standards in media. The movie appealed to the people who choose to believe that this womanizing, alcoholic congressman could initiate and lead an effort that would easily defeat a tremendous, slow-moving superpower – the USSR and its well trained and equipped military.
FQ: You mentioned that the United States took many actions to harm the USSR in the Soviet-Afghan war. Do you believe that there are really “innocents” when it comes to war?
No. In war, especially during combat, all the participants discard their cultural, civilized characteristics; they forget about good manners, courtesy, and respect. Life for them turns into a constant barrage of moments of survival in inhuman conditions. The ethics of a wolf pack dominate. There is one simple choice either they kill us or we kill them.
FQ: Speaking of films...have you ever seen or heard of the film Wag the Dog? That was an old movie that said and did the same things that were done in Charlie Wilson’s War but, was much more entertaining and entirely a work of fiction. Unlike Charlie Wilson's War, it was quite popular at the time. Do you feel that Americans only want to see such fictionalized entertainment?
I have heard about this 1997 movie, but did not watch it. In that movie, the war in Albania occurred, but in real life – perhaps, due to B. Clinton’s sexual scandal – the bombing of Yugoslavia happened – why not switch gears from a shameful subject to something what can be breaking news for a while – like war in Europe? Due to the new era in information technology, people want everything and now. Lev Tolstoy’s type of literature is already a history for the majority of people, including Americans. Nowadays people need more entertainment and movies deliver that, rather than deep thinking about the subject.