Svetlana Alexievich, Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, introduction by Larry Heinemann
Afgantsi (singular Afganets): Soviet veterans of the war
Even as Ken Burns’ new documentary on the Vietnam War airs, U.S. military forces have been in Afghanistan for almost sixteen years. While Burns will likely have some focus on the antiwar movement in the U.S during the 1960s, it’s sobering that there has been nothing like an antiwar movement for this war.
Svetlana Alexievich wanted to hear the bitter truths, so she went around asking listening, recording, and creating Zinky Boys, first published in the Soviet Union in 1990. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015, Alexievich produced this work on the USSR’s Afghanistan War that even today can serve as a mirror to U.S. citizens or, in Kafka’s apt phrase,” an axe for the sea frozen inside us.”
What follows is a very small sample of the testimonies she evoked.
The author: I ask myself, and others too, this single question: how has the courage in each of us been extinguished? How have ‘they’ managed to turn our ordinary boys into killers, and do whatever they want with the rest of us? But I’m not here to judge what I’ve seen and heard. My aim is simply to reflect the world as it really is. Getting to grips with this war today means facing much wider issues, issues of life and death of humanity. Man has finally achieved the ambition of being able to kill us all at a stroke. 10
A Private: One time, our column was going through a kishlak when the leading vehicle broke down. The driver got out and lifted the bonnet—and a boy, about ten years old, rushed out and stabbed him in the back, just where the heart is. The soldier fell over the motor. We turned that boy into a sieve. If we’d been ordered to, we’d have turned the whole village to dust. 16-17
A Soldier: They killed my friend. Later I saw some of them laughing and having a good time. Whenever I see a lot of them together, now, I start shooting. I shot up an Afghan wedding, I got the happy couple, the bride and groom. I’m not sorry for them—I’ve lost my friend. 6
A Private, Gunlayer: We didn’t want to know anything about anything. We were soldiers in a war. We were completely cut off from Afghan life—the locals weren’t allowed to set foot in our army compound. All we knew about them was that they wanted to kill or injure us, and we were keen to stay alive. 118 Read the rest of this entry »