A Gangrenous Growth

A Soviet helicopter in Afghanistan



Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev called the conflict in Afghanistan a “bleeding wound which can result in gangrenous growth on the body of mankind” in a statement in 1988. Stagnant wars and conflicts are suffered by most aggressive world powers. Ancient empires such as Rome spread their resources so far that they could not control the outer edges of their empire and the focus on the wars with northern barbarians led to instability at home eventually ripping the empire apart. The British empire was stuck in a conflict with its American colonies for over 40 years until after the colonies had rebelled, won a war against the British, and formed their own state all the way until the War of 1812. The American Revolution inspired other British colonies to fight for their freedom and accelerated the governments shift toward constitutional monarchy. The U.S. lost international support during it’s extended war in Vietnam and again with the invasion of Iraq both of which (have) created unrest at home.

The Soviet Union’s foray into Afghanistan turned out much was similar to the above. In an attempt to conquer new territory, for socialism rather than previous empires quest for physical territory but the same as America’s goal of spreading democracy, the USSR got stuck in a war that nobody wanted a part of. The invasion of Afghanistan had no support internationally and was almost immediately condemned by the U.N. Soviet Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev and high Soviet officials wanted to stabilize a new socialist government in Afghanistan that was being attacked. That government had little support in the country and the Soviets found out that they were not welcome as the socialist revolution they thought was happening was not. Brezhnev would not back down from his goals in Afghanistan and the instability and leadership turnover after his death did not allow for the war to end.

A stagnant war with no victory in sight and goals that don’t directly affect people at home don’t end well. Soldiers always come home scarred physically or mentally, and many don’t come home at all, but the losses are accepted as necessary in a war that protects the homeland from invasion or destruction, such as WWII. But when young men die abroad, or come home missing arms, legs, and souls, asking ‘why are we fighting?’ and are answered with an ‘I don’t know’, those losses become unacceptable. The ‘I don’t know’ also doesn’t help with questioning why all the country’s energies and resources are being diverted to a war instead of helping citizens, the government loses support and dissenters creep out of the shadows. When Gorbachev rose to power, he knew this, and tried to figure out why the Soviets were stuck in Afghanistan and what the cost of the war was. As word came out of the intelligence misinformation and lack of any progress in nine years in Afghanistan dissent increased, assisted by Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika. Gorbachev pulled out Soviet troops in 1989, but the message had been sent: the Soviet Union was corrupt, mismanaged, broke, and could not take care of its citizens. In two years it would dissolve, caused by a combination of events, many that had a root in the invasion of Afghanistan.








4 thoughts on “A Gangrenous Growth

  1. A good post on the dysfunction of the Soviet handling of the Afghan war. The similarities to the examples that you stated are right on. We even see it today in are own country. I would argue maybe not to the extent of lets say Vietnam but its a underlying issue. Never good to get bog down in a war that is unwinnable. The Afghan war is a factor when looking at the collapse of Soviet Russia.

  2. Its pretty interesting how Afghanistan has yet to be conquered by a foreign power despite how technologically advanced their military is and how in the end the invading force has always suffered such great consequences aside from just losing soldiers. Good post.

  3. It’s really important to talk about the experience of veteran’s, but even more interesting to compare it to the experiences of the American soldiers in Vietnam. Good post!

  4. Good post! Really interesting how many seemingly distant factors attributed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Also interesting how although Gorbachev’s policies were intended to improve and strengthen the Soviet Union it seems that everything he did (although in many cases genuinely succeeding in improving the nation) led to the opposite of his intentions. I also agree with the person who first commented on this that it seems strange that countries like Afghanistan and Vietnam can inflict such damages on the superpowers that stir up wars in them- it seems to point to a new phase in warfare post-WWII, since both the USSR and the US had atomic capabilities but instead of utilizing their full forces they restrained themselves to a more painful, drawn out war.

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