‘A Boy Named Mir’

The following video shows a different side of the war in Afghanistan; a side many of us are unaccustomed to seeing. The boy in the video, Mir, was an 8 year old Afghan child in 2002, just months after United States-led NATO invasion of the nation. Ten years later, with the United States military still engaged in a War on Terror in the country,  Mir is now a young man. One would hope that the world he is about to enter has been bettered by the enormous amount of international intervention the nation has received. After a decade and trillions of US taxpayer dollars spent in Afghanistan, however,  is the nation really all that better off today?

This post is not intended to be politically motivated. The United States’ initial invasion into Afghanistan was supported by nearly every American, and more importantly, the rest of the world. Additionally, the video itself, does not paint an entirely negative picture of the situation in Afghanistan. It does, however, raise an issue that deserves to be contemplated, and that is the value of humanitarian aid vs. military aid. Essentially, would it be more effective to build schools instead of bombs and provide clean water instead of security patrols? While I think the idea of “bringing democracy” to other areas of the world is admirable, many scholars would agree that not all countries are ready for it. This is not to say that democracy is not for everyone. I believe that it is, or can be. Democracy, however, is usually only successful in nations with large middle classes. The idea is that middle and upper classes concern themselves with politics and government, while the lower classes of the are concerned with survival. In a nation with a high level of poverty and a small middle class, (e.g. Afghanistan) they don’t need politics, they need infrastructure. They need roads, hospitals, and schools.

Putting a number on the cost of war in Afghanistan is not easy. Putting a number on the cost of humanitarian aid is slightly easier. The comparison is really night and day. Put the legitimacy of the war aside, lets talk about the means. An Afghan in the video claims that every bomb that misses its target creates 100 more Taliban. I wonder how many US Supporters we create by building a school?


  1. How many US supporters can be created by building a school? Ask Greg Mortensen (http://www.threecupsoftea.com). Although his reputation has been recently besmirched by some weighty allegations (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/21/opinion/21kristof.html), he quite literally has been a one man “mission to promote peace…one school at a time.” If you haven’t already read his amazing story, Three Cups of Tea, I highly recommend it. In 1993, Mortensen was attempting to climb K2, the world’s second highest mountain, located in Pakistan. His failed attempt brought him to a remote village whose people changed his life forever. He has since dedicated his life to building schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Despite the accusations against him, the students at his schools are thriving and are grateful for the opportunity to be educated. So I see it as more than a shame that it’s unlikely Mir will realize his dream of being a teacher.

  2. Agreeably, democracy might not be the perfect for every nation if it is not ready to welcome it with open arms. Whether the nation is entrenched with national or religious customs that have never acknowledged democracy or if power is placed in the wrong hands, a nation should not have democracy forced upon them if it is not exactly feasible.

    Humanitarian aid, however, might only be successfully and efficiently accomplished once the exigency of military force diminishes. Surely, humanitarian aid could bring infrastructure, better education, and healthier lifestyles while also gearing up a nation to one day because more self-sufficient. Yet, if power struggles and groups of resistance still exist, I cannot propose the appropriate amount of humanitarian aid that could completely eliminate the need for military aid.

  3. Is the solution then to build one school? Or is it to build three schools in every city? I find it just as difficult to put a price tag on humanitarian aid. What is the definition of humanitarian aid? “The primary objective of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity.” Many may argue that humanitarian aid can simply be calculated by the cost of what and how long it takes to build that one school. But, humanitarian aide is such a broad term that calculating the total cost may not be possible. So, should the US build schools, supply a military force or help establish new laws and rights to protect human rights? Or should we do it all?

  4. I agree with Amy’s point concerning the importance of stability in ensuring a nation’s healthy growth. My argument was not to advocate that we remove all military presence from Afghanistan and concentrate solely on humanitarian support. The whole point is not to abandon the military effort but to realize the importance of providing infrastructure and basic humanitarian assistance alongside the military support. In a war where it is already hard to distinguish between Taliban fighter and the everyday Afghan citizen, winning over the people is of primary importance.

    Additionally, I agree with Jenne’s comment concerning the Book Three Cups of Tea. It is an excellent read, and highlights how rebuilding Afghanistan with schools instead of bombs can do wonder’s for not only cooperation with the Afghan people, but in the United States’ image across the world.

  5. Unfortunately the questions are not as simple as democracy or not or war vs. humanitarian aid. Each has its place and it time. Education, food, medical supplies and roads all play vital roles in bettering the lives of people. And democracy, even if it doesn’t work out at first or it doesn’t look just like ours does in the US, is very important because without a government that at least has the intention on representing the interests of the people, it is not likely that such interests will be addressed. Even war has a place in attempting to remedy a situation that has gotten out of hand.

    I don’t think that you can place an exact value on any of these things alone because any one by themselves will not fix the problem. One school could help hundreds of children for the years that they are in the grade levels at the particular school. This education can provide them with more opportunities to pursue careers. However, if the families do not have enough money to support the children while they are in school, as in “A Boy Named Mir,” the education not only seems less valuable to the people at the time, but also this resource cannot be taken advantage of because first and foremost, the families need enough money and food to survive. And yet, without that education, provided by that school, it will be more difficult to break the cycle of poverty.

    But then some do receive an education and are ready to pursue careers. If the country does not have a stable economy and jobs available, this again is not of as much use as it could potentially be. Here comes the importance of a government (possibly democratic) which would function to keep society running so that there my be jobs and a productive life for citizens. And sometimes war is necessary to remedy wrongs that occur in a society and to try to get it back on track. While I dont think it is the preferred method it does have a place as a last ditch effort to fix a problem that has gotten out of hand.

    In his book Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof explained that one of the reasons that humanitarian efforts often don’t succeed in remedying problems is because each project only addresses one small portion of an issue. (ie donating clean needles to hospitals but going to a hospital not being part of the particular culture, so few people go to receive the services). Any and all approaches taken to remedy problems should be holistic in their strategy in order to be really effective since every aspect of life and its problems are so interconnected.

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