The Impact of the Afghan War on soviet soldiers

              The impact of the Afghan War on soviet soldiers.

      Defense of the Socialist  Motherland  is  the  sacred  duty  of  every
citizen of the USSR.
                                        Article 62, Soviet 1977 Constitution

      Soviet invasion in Afghanistan started  in  December  1979,  when  the
first military troops crossed  the  Afghan  border.  Only  at  the  time  of
perestroyka, in the year 1988, Gorbachov, the leader of Politburo -  start
the  process  of  withdrawing  military  troops  from   the   territory   of
Afghanistan. Between 1979 and 1988, about 15,000 soldiers were  killed,  and
many others were wounded. Gorbachov wanted to stop that war. He  stopped  it
as a historical fact. But  did  he  stop  that  war  inside  the  hearts  of
thousands of veterans who came back to  their  homes?  Did  he  prevent  the
negative impact of that war on soldiers lives? The answer is simple  -  no.
My essay will give evidence in support of this opinion.
      The Afghan War changed many peoples lives  in  the  USSR.  Still,  in
present-day Russia, the consequences of that war are appeared. The  greatest
impact of the Afghan War can  be  seen  on  the  people  who  were  there  -
soldiers who had to serve in Afghanistan and  fulfill  their  international
duty. The war for which there was no need,  had  destroyed  many  soldiers
lives. Fifteen thousand of them had been killed, and many  others  had  been
injured, some having become invalids, unneeded to  the  government  who  had
sent them to that war, and to the people who were  not  in  the  war.  Every
single young man who went to  Afghanistan  continued  his  life  differently
from the people who had never been there. The effect was due not  merely  to
a war, but to the whole system of the ex-USSR. In my essay  I  will  try  to
describe both of these effects on soldiers lives.
      The new life for the eighteen year old boys began when they  graduated
from high school. Some of them became  recruits  during  the  spring  draft,
others during the fall draft. Recruits bound for Afghanistan  would  receive
8-10 weeks training before being sent to their units.[i] From  that  moment
they became subject to the subordination  of  officers  through  the  formal
channels of authority, and the informal  of  dedovshina  (discrimination  by
the older soldiers). Newcomers were kept in line, while being  beaten.  This
continued until the new soldiers agreed to acquiesce.[ii] That was just  the
beginning of soldiers lives, being sent to the war they all experienced  in
very different ways. The impact of fighting and the experience  of  killing,
dedovshina, an alien military institution, and an  alien  land  changed  the
characters and lives of the soldiers before they returned home. We were  in
an alien land. And why were we there? To this  day,  for  some,  it  doesnt
matter.[iii]
      War in Afghanistan was not exclusively a male war. Many of  the  women
who volunteered  to served in  Afghanistan  were  nurses,  others  filled  a
variety of support or nurture roles (as cooks, for example). The  rest  were
involved in paperwork or communication. For these in Afghanistan  women  the
main problem became men. They attracted soldiers in Afghanistan not only  as
sex objects but also as  mother  figures.[iv]  Often  women  were  raped  by
soldiers who had been sent to Afghanistan instead of going to  prison.  Thus
in the Soviet patriarchal society  the  belief  that  women  who  served  in
Afghanistan were whores or prostitutes took root.  Here,  a  woman  who  had
served in Afghanistan describes her feelings:
            You fulfilled your international duty in a  bed...  My  mother
      proudly announced to her friends: My daughter was in Afghanistan. My
      naive mother! I want to write to her: Mother, be quiet or youll hear
      people say your daughter is a prostitute.[v]

      After coming home, soldiers organized the form  of  a  community  that
they had been accustomed to in  Afghanistan,  with  their  own  customs  and
jargon. Coming back to  normal  life  was  enormously  difficult  for  them,
because of the reasons that I will explain in  next  paragraph.  Thus,  from
the beginning they separated themselves from the surrounding  society.  Many
veterans became  members  of  Mafia  groups.  The  lives  of  the  returning
soldiers differed from each other, but on one point  it  was  the  same  for
every veteran: they could not live normal lives in society,  as  they  would
have without having experienced the war. In the words of a veteran  who  had
served in Afghanistan: You never really come home.[vi]
      One of the main reason for veterans  holding  back  from  society  was
that civilians met soldiers coming back to homes  without  honor.  Forty-six
percent of civilians said that the Afghan war was a Russian national  shame,
and only 6% of them said that they were proud  of  their  soldiers  who  had
fulfilled their international duty in Afghanistan.[vii] Veterans  felt  that
their efforts and endurance had not been  wholly  in  vain.  Often  veterans
became the object of criticism by media and public opinion.  People  thought
that the war had made warriors of the men, and,  in  fear,  kept  away  from
veterans. The media blamed them - not the government - for  taking  part  in
the war and partly for losing it. Thus, after coming back, soldiers  started
to look with new eyes upon the society that had sent them  to  their  death.
While they had been in Afghanistan,  the  public  and  media  had  expressed
contempt  for  the  soldiers;  after  they  returned,  this  sentiment  only
increased.
      Disrespect to the people and to the governmental system became  common
among soldiers who were experiencing discrimination after  having  fulfilled
their duty. This situation galvanized  potential  men,  unhappy  with  their
political system into striking. During the putsch  of  1991,  many  veterans
supported  Mayor  Sobchak,  who  supported  the  putsch  against   the   new
democratic government in Leningrad.
      The long-term impact, and one of the  most  terrible  consequences  of
the Afghan War, was the addiction of soldiers to alcohol and  drugs.  Death,
drinking, and drugs became part of the veterans lives forever.  Drugs  were
essential to the survival of the soldiers. Drugs helped  them  to  carry  40
kilos of ammunition up and down the mountains, to overcome depression  after
their friends deaths, to prevail over the fear of death. Drugs and  alcohol
became the usual  procedure  of  self-medication  when  other  options  were
denied. The abuse  of  drugs  created  a  generation  of  drug  and  alcohol
addicts. According to the official reports  of  the  Russian  Department  of
Health Services, 40 millions medically certified  alcoholics  in  1985  were
registered. Consumption of alcohol had increased 20,4% from its  consumption
in 1950-79.[viii] If these were official reports then it  is  possible  that
they were only a part of truth, and another part is like the bottom part  of
an iceberg - it cannot be predicted.
            There wasnt a single person among us who did not try  drugs  in
      Afghanistan. You needed relaxation there, or  you  went  out  of  your
      mind.
                                                   Veteran of Afghan War[ix]

      Coming back home, veterans found employment in many different  fields,
from driving buses to banking. But most of  them  started  to  work  on  the
field which was closest to what they  had  done  in  Afghanistan.  Emergency
services such as the firemen, militia and rescue departments had a  shortage
of workers at that time and many of the Afghan veterans  continued  to  work
there. Finding a job was one of the privileges which the government gave  to
the veterans. This was maybe the only privilege which was really  fulfilled.
But this was a strategic maneuver for  the  Soviet  government:  to  prevent
veterans from assuming employment  in  the  Union  of  Afghan  War  Veterans
Society. The government was afraid of this Union because it united the  most
dangerous and prepared warriors in Russia.
      Another major impact of the Afghan war on soldiers lives was injuries
and mental disorders.  Most  of  us  came  home.  Only  we  all  came  home
differently. Some of us on crutches, some of us  with  gray  hair,  many  in
zinc coffins.[x] Although a medical service was  established  on  a  modern
and highly effective level ( 93% of the troops received initial medical  aid
within 30 minutes and the attention  of  a  specialized  doctor  within  six
hours), many  soldiers  became  invalids  during  the  war.  Fifty  thousand
soldiers were wounded in action, of whom 11,371  became  invalids  and  were
unable to return to work, while 1,479 veterans  received  the  most  serious
category of disability.[xi] These veterans were unable to  continue  working
and leading normal lives. These circumstances forced them  to  live  on  the
earnings of their family members and on the  governments  invalid  benefit.
But even these benefits were paid inconstantly and were extremely  low.  One
of the privileges which Afghanistan veterans received was a flat in a  newly
built house. In the Soviet  Russian  system,  which  recognized  no  private
ownership of property, every single  citizen  had  to  wait  in  a  line  of
thousands of people before getting a flat. Afghanistan veterans were put  at
the beginning of that line, but corruption in the  Russian  bureaucracy  had
widened the process of granting new flats  to  the  invalids  and  veterans.
Thus when the free market economy was established  in  Russia  and  all  the
lines for the flats were canceled, people had to buy  them  with  their  own
money, and many veterans and invalids of the  Afghan  War  remained  without
their flats. Thus the bureaucratic system in Russia had  left  most  of  the
veterans without their privileges and benefits.
      One mother wrote in the letter to Politburo Why did you ruin my  son,
why did you spoil his mind and his soul?.[xii]  While  physical  disability
was relatively easy to prove and to cure, the psychological damage  was  far
more complicated to diagnosis and to treat. Modern  counter-insurgency  wars
involve a particularly high incidence  of  psychological  damage;  generally
Post-Traumatic  stress  disorders,  symptoms   which   include   flashbacks,
emotional numbness, withdrawal, jumpy  hyperalertness  or  over-compensatory
extroversion. This was caused partly because of  the  critical  stresses  of
combat and injury. In most cases mental disorders  were  caused  by  unclear
front-line zones. Soldiers had experienced mostly road war  without  clear
front-line meant that no place was safe. Soldiers were always ready for  the
battle alarm; there was no time to rest. Knowing their  terrain  well,  the
resistance fighters can move with ease at night and night  vision  equipment
would  enable  them   to   train   accurately   their   weapons   on   enemy
targets...[xiii] And how could soldiers relax,  knowing  that  an  unguided
rocket could penetrate almost all security perimeters, that even a ten  year
old boy could carry and use a pistol or a grenade? One veteran recalled:
            ...the leading vehicle broke down. The driver got out and lifted
      the bonnet - and the boy, about ten years old, rushed out and  stabbed
      him in the back... We turned the boy into a sieve.
                                                  Veteran of Afghan War[xiv]
       Another  historical  testament  to  that  violence  was  found  in  a
different source:
            ...in early May 1981 they killed a number of  children  in  the
      village of Kalakan, the stronghold of SAMA. The Russian soldiers  were
      stated to have said, When the children grow  up  they  take  up  arms
      against us...[xv]

      How can people who killed a ten  year  old  boy  live  normally  after
coming back  to  the  motherland?  Without  safe  place,  restless  -  these
circumstances may cause a healthy adult to become mentally imbalanced.  What
can it do to nineteen year  old  boys,  who  had  been  drafted  just  after
finishing their school and who had not seen life yet? They can  easily  lose
their minds. But psychological disorders  became  classified  adequately  to
the status of invalid only later. Yet, no category of invalidity  was  given
to that  disability.  Thus,  mentally  sick  veterans  had  to  live  almost
entirely on support from friends and family.  In  this  way  the  government
ignored the impact  of  the  war,  which  was  started  by  its  decree,  on
soldiers lives.
      In a normal society the killing  of  another  man  is  not  permitted;
killers receive the death penalty. During the war this  situation  had  been
changed and in Afghanistan soldiers had received a  license  to  kill  their
enemies, who were also human beings. With a  machine-gun  soldiers  received
the power of life and death and the feeling of authority  to  do  what  they
wished became common among Russian soldiers in Afghanistan. Problems  ensued
when soldiers were unable to overcome that feeling once they has left  their
guns behind. Some soldiers, unable to square the demands  of  war  with  the
demands of their conscience, were  stamped  with  amorality.  Others  became
compulsively violent. ...they  killed  thirty-one  villages,  slaying  them
inside  mosques,  in   lanes,   or   inside   their   homes.[xvi]     These
circumstances created another impact of the Afghan War. By the end of  1989,
about 3,000 veterans were in prisons for criminal  offenses,  while  another
2,540 soldiers  were  imprisoned  for  crimes  committed  while  serving  in
Afghanistan.[xvii] Thus the Afghan War created criminals  who  were  trained
to kill. Among the crimes committed by soldiers  in  Afghanistan,  the  most
common were hooliganism  12,6%,  rape  11,8%,  theft  of  personal  property
12,4%, robbery 11,9% and murder 8,4% (these percentages were taken from  the
total number of 2,540 soldiers convicted of crime).[xviii]
      Thus the war had affected all of  the  soldiers  who  experienced  it.
Some became criminals, others became invalids  without  any  actual  support
from the government. The rest had to face the psychological  impact  of  the
war, which was called as afghan syndrome  by  the  media.  Most  of  these
people decided to dedicate their lives to helping the victims of the  Afghan
War. In Leningrad, several organizations were created with the  aim  to  aid
physical and psychological victims of the war. LAVVA (Leningrad  Association
of Veterans of the War in Afghanistan), K sovesti  Leningrad  Information-
Publication Organization, Modul Cultural-Leisure Center  for  Veterans  of
the Foreign War Association - these are just a  few  of  many  organizations
created throughout the USSR.[xix] Left and unsupported  by  the  government,
these organizations aimed to provide extra facilities for the  treatment  of
injured veterans, to compensate veterans fully or partly  for  the  expenses
of necessary treatment, to develop sports  for  invalid  and  to  force  the
government to support the invalids rights.
      Thus the experience  of  the  Afghan  War  had  a  twofold  impact  on
soldiers lives: first, the impact of the war itself and second, the  impact
of returning to a peaceful life after the war. In the words of one  veteran:

            What did the war give to us? Thousands of mothers who lost sons,
      thousands of cripples, thousands of torn-up lives.[xx]
While in Afghanistan,  soldiers  experienced  discrimination  by  the  older
soldiers and by the officers. The foreign land, the experience of  fighting,
the death of friends, the highly difficult conditions  of  living,  and  the
absence of a stimulus to fighting made most  of  the  soldiers  addicted  to
drugs and alcohol.  Drugs  became  an  easy  source  of  relaxation  because
Afghanistan is one of the  biggest  suppliers  of  marijuana  on  the  black
market.
      The term lost generation can be applied towards the veterans of  the
Afghan War. This war  had  created  a  generation  of  alcoholics  and  drug
addicts. It also made many young people invalids unable to work and to  earn
money on their own. The other creation of the war in Afghanistan  was  the
increased rate of violence and immoral behavior among soldiers and  veterans
of the war. These circumstances had made criminals out of 19 year old  boys.
Discrimination by the public opinion and media,  and  the  unwillingness  of
the government to help victims of the  war  even  increased  the  number  of
criminals, alcoholics and drug addicts among  the  veterans  of  the  Afghan
war.
Footnotes:

-----------------------
[i] Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam (San Francisco: Mercury
House, 1992), p.156.
[ii] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War (London:
Bookcraft (Bath) Ltd., Midsomer Norton, 1995), p.35.
[iii] Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam , p.64.
[iv] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.41.
[v] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.41.
[vi] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.45.
[vii] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.47.
[viii] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.51.
[ix] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.52.
[x] Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam , p.164.
[xi] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.68.
[xii] Diego Cordovez, Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, Inc., 1995), p.247.
[xiii] Nasir Shansab, Soviet Expansion in the Third World (Maryland: Silver
Spring, 1986), p.171.
[xiv] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.69.
[xv] M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan (Los Angeles: University of California
Press, 1995), p.241.
[xvi] M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan , p.241.
[xvii] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.71.
[xviii] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.72.
[xix] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War , p.81.
[xx] Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam , p.164.



Evaluation of the historical sources:

      The book Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last  War  by  Mark  Galeotti
were used a number of materials written both  in  English  and  in  Russian.
Mostly the references I have used were taken by the  author  from   articles
from newspapers with the interviewees of veterans. I count  this  source  of
information as reliable because the author showed the point of view  on  the
Afghan War of both veterans of Soviet military forces and  from  the  United
States, which supported Afghanistan during that war.
      Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam was written by a Soviet veteran who served
in Afghanistan for two years. Of course he supported the  Soviets  military
forces, so I used this source only to show  the  general  mood  of  soldiers
during the Afghan War. The authors personal opinion was taken for this.
      Afghanistan, by Hassan Hakar, showed the Afghan War  from  the  Afghan
side. This source was predisposed against the Soviets, so I used it to  show
the other side of soldiers characters - the violence  and  murders  of  the
civilian population of Afghanistan. This source would  be  not  reliable  if
the facts were not proven by the other sources I used.
      Out of Afghanistan, by Diego  Cordovez  and  Selig  S.  Harrison,  was
interesting  because  it  supported  both  sides  of  the  Afghan  War  with
historical facts and documents. The books  facts  were  based  on  official
documents of both the Soviet and the Afghan governments.  This  source  gave
me a whole, truthful picture of what happened in Afghanistan.  According  to
this information I built my opinion of what  was  the  real  impact  of  the
Afghan War on the personal lives of soldiers  while  they  were  serving  in
Afghanistan.
      Soviet  Expansion  in  the  Third  World  by  Nasir   Shansab,   whose
nationality is afghan, was useful  because  showed  the  tragedy  of  afghan
people without insulting the Soviet military  forces.  It  also  showed  the
Afghan armys dangerous force of resistance.

      All these books after critical analysis gave me the information needed
for my essay.



Bibliography:

1. Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam (San Francisco: Mercury
  House, 1992)
2. Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Unions Last War (London:
  Bookcraft (Bath) Ltd., Midsomer Norton, 1995)
3. M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan (Los Angeles: University of California
  Press, 1995)
4. Nasir Shansab, Soviet Expansion in the Third World (Maryland: Silver
  Spring, 1986)
5. Diego Cordovez, Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan (Oxford: Oxford
  University Press, Inc., 1995)