What Would Alexander Do?



This (geo)graphic is another WWW orphan, but is the best cartographic representation I could find of Alexander the Great’s exploits.

As I read about the growing quagmire in Afghanistan, I find that journalists and opinionmakers offer different historical premises for their narratives.  For instance, that foreign powers have tried to conquer what is now Afghanistan for centuries, and that everyone since Alexander the Great has failed. (That is, it can’t be won, so don’t try.)  Or that Afghanistan is part of a strategically indefensible Central Asian landmass, which has seen would-be conquerors come and go for millennia, with the people’s occupying the Afghan wilderness persisting. (That is, you may conquer the territory, but the people will just wait you out until you leave, so why try in the first place.)

Actually, this wilderness has been invaded and settled by many – from the Persians, ancient Macedonians (Alexander the Great), and Indians (far before Christ or Muhammad walked the Earth, mind you) to the Ghaznavid Empire and the Mongols (Genghis Khan) – each with different motivations, different strategic considerations.  Just peruse this 29 part chronology of the powers that have sought or achieved control the territories in which modern Afghanistan resides.  Many have controlled this area for as long as the US has been around.

As for the notion that the Af/Pak border peoples have persisted despite the comings and goings of conquering armies, I need to dig for some  mitochondrial population genetics results to better understand the impacts of these invasions on the gene pool of the current day Afghans with whom we are engaged in armed conflict.  Somehow, I bet genetic anthropologists have not been wondering about the Af/Pak border over much of the past decade.

What I find most interesting is that there seems to have been a higher level of religious tolerance in the region in the past than current is exercised by the folks in the region today.  Commentators often talk about how the Taliban seek to take the country back to some medieval past.  If only they wished to take the region back to its ancient past, we would all be better off.