I was born in 1984. At the time of my birth, my parents’ tax dollars were paying for munitions shipped through Pakistan to the Afghan mujahideen. Most of what got shot at me during my deployment was hilariously ancient, which is to suggest that it might have even been the very same bullets purchased in the name of defending me as an infant. This isn’t so much true today; besides the fact that the ISI doesn’t need us to buy the ammunition for them anymore, most of the soldiers deployed to Afghanistan are so young as to have been born after the U.S. decisively disengaged from Afghanistan in 1990.

I turned twenty-six a few months after returning from deployment. My father turned twenty-six in 1979. When I think about the insane gulf between the social-cultural consensus at the time versus now, it feels like he lived on another planet. Once, during a getting-to-know-you session in an Army school, our instructor asked what we’d like to see if we could go back in time. Some people said, “The invasion of Normandy.” Some people said, “Ancient Rome.” Some people said, “A few years back when life was sweet and I had a hot ass girlfriend.”

I said 1979. I’d want to see the same West Berlin that David Bowie and Brian Eno saw when they were working on “Low,” “Heroes,” “Lodger” and “Scary Monsters.” I’d want to see Elvis Costello perform songs from “Armed Forces” or the Clash performing songs from “London Calling.” This sort of height-of-the-analog-era fantasizing is really akin to personalized science fiction, something in a similar vein to what James Murphy called “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ’80s” back when he first sang “Losing My Edge.”  I’m guilty as charged. I’ve watched “Downtown ’81” and “The Clash on Broadway” way too many times to pretend I’m not a geek for the time period.

Examples of this zenith of the analog era: the hopelessly new wave music video to Elvis Costello’s “Accidents Will Happen” (a phenomenal song in of itself) and a similarly-animated counterpoint in the Soviet propaganda cartoon “Shooting Range.” Both of these videos are worth your time, and I would recommend you take in the Soviet cartoon with enough frankness to consider a) how amazingly weird it truly is and b) how little exposure and insight the artists had when they were making it back then.

(Check the gallery below).

More importantly, however, 1979 is the pressure point affecting our modern state of affairs so drastically, and so I guess I wish I could see it and hear it. The notion of communism being on the march in 1979 seems far-fetched and pessimistic given a modern re-evaluation, but I suppose I never lived in fear of Nicaragua becoming another Cuba. I didn’t live through the initial Cuban threat, either. The taking of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan created a dynamic for the coming decade that would hedge U.S. influence towards villain states across the globe, both among the secular despots of the Middle East and the shameless brutalizers of the developing world. Reagan’s first months in office saw a massive expansion of aid to the Salvadoran military government and to the recruitment and training of ex-national guard soldiers living throughout Central America after the collapse of the Somoza regime. Time Magazine ran a story in 1981 about “human rights training” at Ilopango Air Field in San Salvador. It all seems so agonizingly tongue-in-cheek now. (That story is semi-blocked by Time’s paywall, but you can get it on archive if need be).

Our willingness to throw money and venom into various sub-rosa conflicts throughout the planet supposedly paid dividends. Savimbi and UNITA kept Angola in flux until 2002; El Salvador adopted the U.S. Dollar; Honduras kept its status quo until 2009 (and so little has actually changed there post-coup, anyway); Mobuto kept social equity and democratic representation as far from the Congo as possible; Mubarak stayed in power until 2011. The tally sheet of these conflicts is staggering when considered today. Taken piecemeal, they were miniature interventions with little to no direct U.S. military involvement. I’m too young to understand the terror and the imperative to get involved, and I think that, were I my father’s age, and were I alive in 1979 and cognizant enough of the shape and state of affairs, I might at least have the boilerplate apologia necessary to explain it away.

Because in my case, when I think of my own experience and the agonizing frustration of fighting a war in which your own government is paying both sides, I honestly feel sorry for and empathize with the Soviet soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and for every other combatant in every other G.I. Joe-era dirty war. We smirked at it in the 1980s and fist pumped to visceral war porn like Red Dawn, but what we were doing to the Soviet Army has been revisited upon us in time. My fascination with this era is twofold, I guess: first, because of the just-out-of-reach cultural influences from my dad’s young adulthood; and second, because the ramifications of that era are still felt strongly to this day, by kids even younger than me, in every country and region that they touched.

With that in mind, I would strongly suggest that you watch the forty-minute documentary entitled Afgan, a bizarre embed-journalist film made by Americans in 1988. Not only is it a fascinating document of a similarly height-of-analog period, it’s also stunningly relevant and comparable to our own attitudes in that conflict. I won’t insult your intelligence by listing them off – the parallels are staggeringly clear.

You can pay $2.99 for the film through this link.

Or, if you’re cheap, you can watch it piecemeal through Youtube uploads here.

Advertisements