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When you're a country that sits atop a crossroads of the world, you're going to have a convoluted history.  The Koreans, for example, can tell you all about incursions from China and Japan that way predate the birth of Christ, just as the Panamanians know a lot about legalistic shenanigans and 20th-century gunboat diplomacy.  Still, a special place in the annals of the human experience should be saved for those countries that sit upon the land routes over which pass caravans and armies.  Sometimes it seems like every square inch of Turkey has been a battleground at some point or another, and Poland's not far behind, but any list of such (un)fortunate lands must, by all rights, include Afghanistan.

The list of empire-builders who have swept into Afghanistan reads like a who's who of people who conquer other people.  Tonight, your resident historiorantologist turns his bloodshot eyes and quaking pen to the history of this ancient land, with its critical mountain passes and fiercely independent tribesmen.  Join me, if you will, in the Cave of the Moonbat, for yet another installment in the ongoing series, "Places You May Not Want to Visit This Year..."

Historiorant:  This diary, written at the suggestion of – and dedicated to - Never In Our Names founder and Daily Kos Rescue Ranger Avila, was originally posted at NION on December 8, 2006.

I'll be up-front about this: I've never been to Afghanistan, but I've dreamed about it since back in the days when I was known in certain circles as Morocco Mole, World Traveler of Great Renown, and tended to make epic road trips to places haunted by the Muses.  Afghanistan seemed to fit the bill: it's the kind of place so remote-sounding that Ally Sheedy, playing the weird chick in The Breakfast Club, mentions it as a potential destination, and throughout the centuries prior to that definitive film, the place has inspired some truly great writing.  We'll get to Great White Burden Guy in a little while, but one of the most travel-inciting lines I ever read about the place actually came from a contemporary traveler-cum-historian.

Back before he took to writing fawning court histories praising the WASP work ethic, John Steele Gordon drove a Land-Rover to Tierra del Fuego, and upon his return, published one of the definitive books on road-tripping at the ends of the Earth, Overlanding: How to Explore the World on Four Wheels (Harper & Row, 1975).  It was the kind of book that really shouldn't have fallen into the hands of the young unitary moonbat (kind of like The People's Guide to Mexico or any of Ed Buryn's Vagabonding series), but I read it through and through, and always got hung up on the last line - something about driving into an Afghan sunset the color of rubies and gold.  I found it so inspirational, in fact, that me and a couple of buddies back in the late 80's made plans to follow as much of the Old Hippy Trail from London to Kathmandu as we could, once we were free of the bonds of military service.

Of course, by the early 90's, the Old Hippy Trail wasn't what it used to be.  Eastern Europe might have become a little more accessible, but Iraq and Iran had spent the better part of a decade making war upon each other, and in Afghanistan, a Soviet invasion had been supplanted by an intolerant regime with contemptuous disregard for any point of view not its own.  Perhaps there's still hope, though: if there's anything I've learned from looking into Afghan history, it's that all attempts to rule and administer its peoples are as transitory as they are doomed to failure.

For the Cartographically Inclined

The Library of Congress countrystudies entry for Afghanistan

has a rather odd way of describing the country:

Afghanistan resembles an irregularly shaped hanging leaf with the Wakhan Corridor and the Pamir Knot as its stem in the northeast.

Perhaps not the way a person accustomed to writing test questions would have put it, but I suppose it'll do.  Here's a map - can you see the leaf?

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For you absolute-location enthusiasts, the country lies between 29°35' (hi, Atlanta!) and 38°40' North Latitude (hi, Korean Demilitarized Zone!), and 60°31' to 75° East Longitude.  It's roughly the size of Texas (but without the coast) and has some long borders with some surly neighbors:

  • Iran, 925 km

  • Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, combined total 2380 km

  • China, 96 km

  • Pakistan, 2432 km
  • Climatically speaking, Afghanistan is typical of your average arid and semiarid steppe, with temperatures varying by altitude as well as air mass circulation.  Regardless, it's damn cold in the winter, and damn hot during the summer.  It's also dry: annual rainfall tops out at under 50 cm, though the mountains get much more precipitation in the form of snow.  Additionally, different regions experience their own pockets of periodic weather-based horrificness - in the south and west, for example, you might encounter the "Wind of 120 Days," which brings "dust winds" that can range in afternoon-long velocity from 97-177 km (about 60-100 mph) throughout the summer months.  Then again, to escape the heat, you could always take a respite in the subarctic conditions in the Central Mountains and the Hindu Kush, where you can wade through two-meter snowpacks and compete with yaks and yetis for your food.

    As Old As The Hills?

    The website Afghanistan Online makes some pretty grandiose claims about the origins of some of the earliest achievements of our entire species:

    50,000 BCE-20,000 BCE

      * Archaeologists have identified evidence of stone age technology in Aq Kupruk, and Hazar Sum. Plant remains at the foothill of the Hindu Kush mountains indicate, that North Afghanistan was one of the earliest places to domestic plants and animals.

    3000 BCE-2000 BCE

      * Bronze might have been invented in ancient Afghanistan around this time.
      * First true urban centers rise in two main sites in Afghanistan--Mundigak, and Deh Morasi Ghundai.
      * Mundigak (near modern day Kandahar)--had an economic base of wheat, barley, sheep and goats. Also, evidence indicates that Mudigak could have been a provincial capital of the Indus valley civilization.
      * Ancient Afghanistan--crossroads between Mesopotamia, and other Civilizations.

    2000 BCE- 1500 BCE

      * Aryan tribes in Aryana (Ancient Afghanistan)
      * The City of Kabul is thought to have been established during this time.
      * Rig Veda may have been created in Afghanistan around this time.
      * Evidence of early nomadic iron age in Aq Kapruk IV.


    Granted, the site itself is a little, um, Afghano-centric, but more neutral sources also indicate that the peoples of ancient Afghanistan were at or near the beginning of a lot of zeitgeists around the time of the Neolithic Revolution.

    Plenty of evidence exists to prove that the Indus River Valley civilizations traded with those in Mesopotamia (link), and it stands to reason that settlements might develop at strategic or convenient points along the way; Afghanistan would have been among these.  These early traders must have discovered the same thing that every army and merchant since has found: There simply aren't any ways of avoiding strategic chokepoints like the Khyber Pass, which at it's narrowest is as little as three meters (about 20 feet) wide.

    Aryans and Persians and Greeks, oh my!

    Exactly where the ancient Aryans might have originated seems a little murky - most history books pick up the tale with them in the regions east of the Caspian, with the arrows indicating their southward migrations starting in northern Iran.  This Zoroastrian site places the homeland of the Aryans above the Arctic Circle in modern Russia, but in a much earlier period:

    Iran is the ancient name of Persia, and it is derived from the root "Arya" or Aryan, the Indo-European branch of peoples who settled in that land. The Aryans of ancient Iran were Mazdayasni Zarathushtris, ie. Worshippers of Ahura Mazda (the name of God in Avestan) as revealed by the ancient prophet Zarathushtra, thousands of years before Christ.

    However, all the ancient Zoroastrian scriptures speak of an earlier homeland from where our people came, the lost "Airyane Vaejahi" or seedland of the Aryans. From this homeland, the Indo- Europeans or Aryans moved to upper India, Iran, Russia and the nations of Europe such as Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Scandinavia, England, Scotland and Ireland.

    Sanskrit, Latin, Avestan are all sister languages, and the present day upper Indian, Persian and European languages are related eg. Baradar in persian = Brata in sanskrit = Brother in english. "Persia" is actually a late European term for the land of "Farsi" language ie. Iran. The Arabic phase in Iran only began 1300 years ago, and we had to escape to India to preserve our Zoroastrian religion.

    The "Vendidad" is one of the ancient scriptures of the Zoroastrians, actually called the "Vi-daevo-dat" or the law to fight against evil. In the first "Fargad" or chapter, the Golden Age of the ancient Aryans is outlined with their greatest king, "Yima Kshaeta" (Yam Raj in the Indian Vedas) who banished old age and death. Then, the ice age broke on the ancient home and the Aryans were forced to migrate southwards, to the southeast and the southwest.

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    Though more often associated with ancient Persia, tradition holds that Zoroaster himself was from the region in northern Afghanistan known as Balkh to us moderns, but as Bactriana, Bactra, or Bactria to classical writers.  Though it seems pretty certain that he died in battle at Balkh (killed at an altar by nomadic Turanians who were storming the city), what's less clear is when this might have occurred: according to Wikipedia, "modern scholarly research" points to his living sometime between 1400 and 1000 BCE - a considerable departure from the traditional story, which holds that the time of Zoroaster (and thus, the revelation of monotheism) was 258 years before the invasion of Alexander, which would have put it around 588 BCE.

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    Cyrus the Great and his progeny incorporated much of modern Afghanistan into the Persian Empire, but he and his Achaemenid line seem to have had the same problems as everyone who's attempted to impose his will upon the people of the land they called Airyanem Vaeja ("Dominion of the Aryans"): rebellious tribes that chafed under foreign occupation.  Still, the province of Bactriana stood with the Persians at Gaugamela, and like the Persians themselves, found they'd backed the wrong horse in Darius, who fled the field in the face of a charge by Alexander.  Retreating to their mountain strongholds, they awaited the inevitable, conquering approach of the Macedonians.

    Historiorant:  Back in the early days of historioranting (when the processes and terms of moonbatification were first being unearthed here in the Cave), I posted Persia, Part 1 at Daily Kos - please check it out for a brief mention of the Aryans and more stuff on the Achmenaeians.  Persia, Part 2 has a bit more to do with the conqueror moonbatified below)

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    The Man Who Would Be King

    Alexander the Great needed only 3 years to conquer a region that has proven resistant to countless attempts at subjugation by lesser men.  He entered the region in pursuit of Bessus, a Bactrian cavalry officer who had betrayed and slain Darius while the latter was being pursued by Alexander in the months after the fall of Persepolis.  Bessus probably thought that Alexander would reward him for his treachery - which had, after all, rid the Macedonian of a potential problem.  He was wrong; Alexander saw regicide as among the more serious of crimes that one could commit, and town after town was forced to submit to his army as he moved to corner Bessus.  Once his logistical lines were secure, Alexander encouraged the now-depopulated nomadic raiders to take up sedentary village life by through the founding of towns, many of which he named after himself.  (Weird Historical Sidenote:  tradition holds that "Kandahar" is a reworking of "Alexandria")

    Back in his days at the Academy, Alexander's teacher, Aristotle, had told him that from the top of the Hindu Kush, one could see the end of the world.  Alexander found out that even teachers like Aristotle can occasionally be full of crap when he climbed said range and found nothing but more mountains, plains, and deserts beyond, but he did get to see the rock to which Prometheus had been bound for the overtly-Zoroastrian act of bringing fire to the people.  Disillusionment didn't stop him from chasing Bessus, though, who had begun employing a scorched-earth policy to cover his retreat - a tactic Alexander used against him by securing the aid of local chieftains against the guy who was slaughtering their livestock. 

    The fugitive was finally captured and brought, naked and wearing a wooden yoke, before Alexander at Balkh.  The Macedonian had Bessus flogged when the latter had the temerity to attempt to justify himself, then honored Persian custom by having the guy's ears and nose cut off.  Later, after trial by a Persian court, the traitorous, unfortunate Bessus was executed.

    In the meantime, Alexander was displaying signs of what the British would later call "going native."  He began insisting that people bow to the floor in his presence, which was the status quo for the Persian types, but laughably slavish-looking to the Macedonians who'd been with Alexander from the start.  He also adopted Persian dress and court mannerisms - ostensibly to help with assimilation, but the semi-divinity of the position of oriental potentate probably didn't hurt, either.  Even more troubling to the men was his marriage to Roxana, the daughter of a Bactrian chieftain, instead of a proper Greek girl.  All this, plus the drunken murder of one of the army's most trusted generals by their great commander, led to the army refusing to march any further than about 100 miles into India, which compelled Alexander to draw the eastern border of his empire at the Indus instead of the Ganges.

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    Alexander returned to Babylon with plans to meld the cultures and civilizations of his empire under the Platonic/Aristotelian idea of a benevolent philosopher/king, but died in 333 BCE, before he could implement the most ambitious of them.  Still, his policies encouraging his soldiers to intermarry with local women (and to educate their offspring in Greek ways at state expense) resulted in a fair number of Greek settlers in Bactria and the eastern provinces, where the two cultures diffused and assimilated and did all those other anthropological things to one another over the next couple of centuries.

    When Alexander's empire was partitioned by his leading generals after his death, the eastern end fell to Seleucus, who continued the policies of importing Hellenism to the East.  Only 20 years after taking control of the region, the Seleucids lost a significant part of it (including the modern provinces of Herat and Kandahar) to Chandragupta Maurya, paving the way for the introduction of Buddhism to the area.  This was especially true under the reign of Asoka the Great, but the tides of invasion were reversed after 185 BCE, when a coup overthrew the last Mauryan emperor and India entered a long, confusing, warring-states-type period.

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    Enter the kingdom of Greco-Bactria.  It had been declared independent by a Seleucid military governor, Diodotus, around 250 BCE, and, using the growing power of the northern-Iranian Parthians as something of a shield, had gone on to resist attempts to re-incorporate it into the Greek sphere (Bactra resisted a 2-year siege around 205 BCE).  Its existence thus secured, Greco-Bactria sent emissaries as far away as China - possibly the first meeting of China and the West - and traded with Ptolemaic Egypt.  By the 2nd century BCE, they were part of Han China's Silk Road:

    "The Son of Heaven on hearing all this reasoned thus: Ferghana (Ta-Yuan) and the possessions of Bactria and Parthia are large countries, full of rare things, with a population living in fixed abodes and given to occupations somewhat identical with those of the Chinese people, but with weak armies, and placing great value on the rich produce of China"
      Han Shu, Former Han History, via]

    With the fall of the Mauryans, Greco-Bactria now made its move toward the Khyber Pass, conquering much of northern Afghanistan in the process.  Around 275 CE, a Greco-Bactrian king named Demetrius established the Indo-Greek Kingdom, which would exist until around 1 CE and become a model of Greek/Buddhist relations, but while he was doing so, he found himself usurped back home.  Though he marched back across Afghanistan with 60,000 men, he lost a showdown with his rival (a guy named Eucratides) and the two Greco-Bactrias went on as separate kingdoms.

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      Demetrius.  Note elephant-skin cap

    As it turns out, Demetrius' offshoot lasted longer than the original.  In 162 BCE, Greco-Bactria found itself under pressure from the nomadic Yueh-Chih, who were likely moving out of the path of the Huns.  It's not clear whether they were invited into Greco-Bactria the first time around (the Romans used to import refugees to serve as speedbumps and buffers; the Yeuh-Chih could have been early, eastern versions of the Goths), but forty years afterward, they were violently supplanting the order of things.  The last Greco-Bactrian king, Heliocles, retreated to the fortress of Kabul in 125 BCE, pushing before him other groups like the Indo-Scythians, and the whole of the Greek holdings in India were incorporated into the growing Kushan Empire around 12 BCE-1 CE.

    Straddling the Silk Road

    Greek influences continued to exert themselves upon the cultures of northern India both during and after the demise of the Greco-Indian state - one of the earliest representations of the Buddha on a coin bears the word "Boddo" written in the Greek script - and Hellenistic thinking may have been a factor in the development of the Mahayana school of Buddhism.  The syncretism born of religious toleration was wildly popular: According to the Mahavamsa, a Greek Buddhist monk named Mahadharmaraksita led 30,000 monks from Alexander-of-the-Caucasus (approx. 150 km north of Kabul) to Sri Lanka for the dedication of a stupa during the reign of the Greek Buddhist king Meander in the 2nd century BCE, and Greek influence is detectable in the Buddhist art and architecture of the period.  By the 1st century CE, the Kushans were using the Greek alphabet and telling each other their own versions of stories about Trojan horses.

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    The Kushans were one of the five tribes that formed the Yueh-Chih confederation, and were pretty clearly the most successful of them.  From their capitol near Kabul, they came to dominate a large chunk of modern Afghanistan, northern India, and Pakistan - which gave them control of every trade route between the Aral Sea and Benares.  Perhaps not surprisingly, they were a mercantile, urban people, and much concerned with matters of Buddhist theology and the visual arts.  By the time they added a second capitol at Peshawar, then a third in India, the Kushan Empire was exchanging diplomatic niceties with Hadrian's Rome and Han China.

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    As successful, luxuriant cultures are wont to do, the Kushans grew soft with time, and by the 3rd century CE, they found themselves too weak to defend against the two younger, hungrier civilizations on their eastern and western borders.  Between 224-240, Sassanian Persians invaded and conquered Bactria and northern India; a little less than a century later, the Gupta Empire was helping itself to Kushan's southern and eastern flanks.  The Kushans finally succumbed to Shapur II, who added most of the rest of what is now Afghanistan to the Sassanid Empire in the mid-4th century, though locally powerful Kushan strongholds survived here and there.

    Weird Historical Sidenote:  Remember those enormous sandstone Buddhas on the road between Balkh and Bamian - the ones the Taliban blew up?  Those were of Kushan origin, dating from the 3rd and 5th centuries.

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    Into this mix rode yet another warlike tribe from the north: the Hepthalites, or "White Huns," who cut a path clear to India before stopping to assimilate into the local cultures.  They seem to have fought the Sassanians for the better part of a century, but by the mid-500s, the White Huns were historical goners.  Yet another wave of fierce nomadic horsemen - the Western Turks, this time - had swept in from the north and wrested control of the lands north of the Amu Darya (the river Alexander called the Oxus) from the Hepthalites, even as the Sassanisans had caught a second wind and took control of the lands to the south.  Until the arrival of Islam, the area remained a smattering of kingdoms under nominal Sassanian control - they named their new province Khorasan - but the local lords were always Kushan or Hepthalite.

    Historiorant:  The origin of the White Huns, as well as their eventual fate, seems to the source of some pretty impassioned debate in certain circles. No two sources seem to agree on their homeland - placed anywhere from Mongolia to Eastern Iran - and the Wikipedia article (which is contested) points to the Hepthalites as, among other demographic influences, possible forebears to the Pashtun tribes.

    Peace and Blessing Be Upon Him

    About five years after the passing of the Prophet, with the Arabian Peninsula fully Abu Bakr-ized behind them, the forces of Islam faced off against the much larger army of Sassanian Persia at the town of al-Qadisiyah (near Hilla in modern Iraq).  The four-day battle that followed was epic in the way that only those battles upon which hinge the fates of empires can be, and has all the twists and plot reversals of a really well-told piece of fiction:

    • The Persians brought elephants, which terrified the horses of the Arab cavalry.  By the third day, the Muslims figured out how to spook the elephants by costuming their horses, and a soldier was able to take out the lead pachyderm.  Seeing this, the other elephants cut and ran, trampling their way back through the Persian lines.

    • Any battle like this has to have an outrageously-fortuitous arrival of reinforcements, and al-Qadisiyah was no exception.  Early on the third day, when things were starting to look hopeless for the outnumbered Muslims, they found their ranks suddenly bolstered by the arrival of veteran troops fresh from the conquest of Syria.

    • On the fourth day, as fate would have it, a sandstorm blew directly into the faces of the Persians, which gave the Arab archers a distinct advantage.  The Sassanian center began to collapse, and the whole scene turned into a rout when a Muslim soldier killed the Zoroastrian commander, held aloft the man's severed head, and shouted, "By the Lord of the Ka'bah!  I have killed Rostam!"

    Al-Qadisiyah is a defining moment for Islam - had the Sassanian lines held, the rapid expansion across Asia that has resulted in such colorful maps in our history texts might have been halted on the banks of the Euphrates.  Saddam Hussein, especially, tried to associate himself with the battle: among other things, he commissioned murals of himself surveying the battlefield (although in his version, the good guys had tanks) and constructed Baghdad's most recognizable landmark, the Sword of al-Qadisiyah.

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    With the main body of its army destroyed, the days of Zoroastrian Persia were numbered.  The last Sassinian king, Yazdgerd III, retreated to Khorasan in the hopes that he could raise yet another army while the Muslims paused to consolidate their hold on the rest of his former empire.  It didn't work out that way: Yazdgerd was assassinated, and Khorasan fell to the Muslims in 647.

    Fruits of the Faith

    The Umayyads seem to have met with rather violent pockets of conversion-resisters, and during the Abbasid-Umayyad civil war (743-750), most of the region's inhabitants backed the Abbasid challengers.  They were rallied to the cause by Abu Muslim Khorasani, a propagandist-cum-governor-cum-general who hailed from Iraq (Kufa) but administered areas further east – a guy so devoted to the Abbasid cause that he was eventually executed for reminding the newly-enthroned Caliph him just who had put him in the seat of power - and the newly-Abassidized people of Khorasan availed themselves of the perks that came with having backed the winning side in a civil war.  The region flourished under the rule of the early Abbasids (especially under Harun al-Rashid, 785-809), and peace encouraged folks to settle down.  It is during this period that Turkic-speakers began settling in the Hindu Kush region, where they started taking on the ways and customs of the Pashtun tribes that were already there.

    Abbasid control of the outlying provinces became a rather tenuous thing by the mid-9th century, and independent kingdoms started popping up wherever the Caliph's hold seemed to be weakening.  The Samanid Dynasty, originally founded (819) as a vassal of the Abbasids, eventually extended its influence from Iran to India, and transmitted the culture of the first Persian Muslim dynasty - read: Shi'aism - throughout their short-lived reign (capitol of Bukhara captured 999; last king assassinated in 1005). 

    It's only now that people start to call this the "land of the Afghans" - the first confirmed use of the term is by Hadud al-Alam in 982 CE - but it was applied more specifically to the lands of the Pashtun tribes than to the region as a whole.  The origins of the word "Afghan" itself are obscure; the Pashtuns seem to have used it to refer to themselves since deep in antiquity.  17th Century Pashto poet Khushal Khan Kattak about sums it up:

    Pull out your sword and slay any one, that says Pashton and Afghan are not one! Arabs know this and so do Romans: Afghans are Pashtons, Pashtons are Afghans!



    In some lands, cultures just sort of layer on top of one another - one assimilating into the next with the plodding certainty of historical inevitability.  Afghanistan is one of those lands, one whose traditions of freedom assertion and tribal alliances/feuds are so old, so connected to the very soil, that they may just be beyond the ken of a westerner.  Those who would invade Afghanistan would do well to remember that this is a land peopled by folks who are descended from some of the most bad-ass nomadic raiders that ever rode away from a burning village.

    Next time, we’ll meet up with the Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Mongols, and a guy called Timur the Lame – until then, Merriest of Christmases and Happiest of Holidays from the Cave of the Moonbat!

    Uber-interested speleohistorians can find entrances to said Cave at Daily Kos, Progressive Historians, and Never In Our Names

    Originally posted to Unitary Moonbat on Sun Dec 24, 2006 at 05:30 PM PST.

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    Comment Preferences

    •  Where's your tip jar UM? (11+ / 0-)

      Happy Holiday's and thank you for such wonderful diaries.

      "A child miseducated is a child lost" John F. Kennedy

      by Pam from Calif on Sun Dec 24, 2006 at 05:32:13 PM PST

    •  What a fine trek this is, UM. (12+ / 0-)

      Never too many trips into the mooncave for me.  Thanks for another good one.  Happy Holidays to you and yours.

      Never In Our Names "all you have to do to qualify for human rights is to be human."

      by possum on Sun Dec 24, 2006 at 05:37:04 PM PST

    •  Another Great Diary! (14+ / 0-)

      A few of us put together an extensive outline of Afghan history a few years back.  It goes from prehistoric to Taliban times.

      Link Here.

      Afghan history is truly a fascinating but somewhat tragic history of a very wild and woolly place.

      Merry Christmas, Moonbat!

      I like the silence of a church, before the service begins better than any preaching. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

      by Norwegian Chef on Sun Dec 24, 2006 at 05:37:44 PM PST

    •  Just FYI (7+ / 0-)

      there was a fascinating article on Pushtunwali in this week's Economist.

    •  Indian Epic Mahabharata refers to (8+ / 0-)

      the kingdom of Gandhar, from which Gandhari, the queen of kaurav empire, hailed from. It is widely believed by Indian scholars that Gandhar refers to today's Kandahar.

    •  Aw, geez, U.M., (6+ / 0-)

      you had to go and post this right as I'm headed off to wrap presents. Hotlisted! Appreciated! Anticipated!

      Thanks so much for your always-fascinating diaries. Best wishes for the holidays, and for a mojo-filled 2007.

    •  Khyber Pass (15+ / 0-)

      The wild ancestors of the apple are said to be from the mountains near Afghanistan.  So either the Garden of Eden is there.  Or the serpent tempted Eve with a pomegranate.

      Also:  At some point I got a little curious about Zoroastreanism - the world's first monotheistic religion.  I learned a few things about it during a day-long drive with a young couple, Jains from India.  Nowadays, Zoroastreanism survives mainly as a minor religion in India.  Its rituals revolve around the keeping of a fire.  Unlike evangelical religions, it's very secretive.  Daughters who marry outside the faith are exiled completely, for example.

      Reading a little, it seems the religion was founded withing present-day Iran.  And was associated with some naturally flaming oil seeps.  And so it would seem that the invention of God (as opposed to gods) was associated with petroleum.

      Perhaps Dubya's odd dual-monotheistic worship of fundamentalist Christian principles and of the petroleum products industry is more firmly rooted in history than we'd ever imagined?

      At any rate, to find its way from ancient Persia to India, the religion must at some time have migrated through what's now Afghanistan, don't you think?

    •  Morocco Mole, eh? (3+ / 0-)

      You weren't by any chance an associate of <discordant strings> Rocky Rococo?  Or was that the Giant Rat of Sumatra?

      Power lines have surges; unwinnable wars have escalations.

      by ActivistGuy on Sun Dec 24, 2006 at 06:15:35 PM PST

    •  Afghanistan (8+ / 0-)

      has such a glorius history touching all the phases of human development.  What a wonderful tribute to a place few of us will actually ever see!  Thanks for being our Historical Tour Presence with an umbrella of words we can follow.

      Today Afghanistan also has some control over the Helmand River which has not flowed into Iran in abundance since the 90's.  The control of the water and all of the Afghani dams is causing pressure to build in Iran. Afghanistan is landlocked and controls what they must - and the resolution to that traces the history you have outlined.  The continuing story of this place from Alexander to the Silk Road to now is fascinating.

      Best Wishes on whatever Holiday you are celebrating UM!  Ver Happy to see this tonight!  

      Many Thanks UM!

      Every time history repeats itself the price goes up - Anon.

      by Pithy Cherub on Sun Dec 24, 2006 at 06:16:55 PM PST

      •  Happy holidays to you, too, Pithy Cherub! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        x, Pithy Cherub

        I love doing these country studies - Libya's next - since they so often blow my mind by compelling me to more deeply research things I've probably only heard/known in passing.  In this diary, it was the Greco-Bactrians - I'd seen them as a blob on a map or two, but never really looked into just how influential they were.  Several of the sources I checked out described their profound role in the founding of Mahayana Buddhism - I mean, that's huge!  Why aren't these guys taught in school?!

        Thanks again for all the support, comments, and recs over the past year - and best holiday wishes to you and yours!

    •  Why I'm Addicted to DK (12+ / 0-)

      This is an outstanding example of why I'm so addicted to DailyKos, a diary more valuable than anything I could find in paper this weekend. Thanks!

      There's a novel, "The Far Pavilions," that I've read four times. Forget the sex and violence (or enjoy it.) But there's a subtext there, about how stupid Europeans were (are) for thinking they understand the culture in that area of the world, and how strong the people there are, that should be appreciated. (Light reading, heavy moral.)

      Read anything by anyone who really tries to understand these cultures, and you come away realizing how truly stupid American foreign policy has been for the past six years. We need to appreciate diverse perspectives.

      I'm reminded of a (supposedly friendly) remark made to us by a Chinese guide at the other end of the "Silk Road" (Xian, China) who told us: "The problem with you Americans is that you have no history." Maybe he was right.

    •  death banished? (5+ / 0-)

      hope that holds true for today, that healing be done so that all who are ill may remain with family, friends and loved ones.

    •  Random Afghanistan anecdote (5+ / 0-)
      About 20 years ago, a friend went on an Afghan adventure and I would like to share it with you now.  This man was an RN and liked to travel.  So, as I recall the story, he would volunteer to go do nursing in remote places.  He may have been associated with Medicines sans Frontiers, but I don't know exactly.

      He had been in the back hills of Afghanistan for a few weeks and was on his way back to civilization.  Unfortunately he had come down with a hideous case of amoebic dysentery.  One of the unfortunate side effects of his case was stinky gas.  I mean, REALLY stinky gas.

      Imagine the scene... he is jouncing along in a bus, full of chickens and peasants and general third world clutter.  The "road" edges along the sky with thousand foot frops at every turn, the bus is crowded and miserable, and he is suffering great discomfort.  And emiting foul odors that stood out even among the plethora of natural odors.

      He found a seat next to the stinkiest man on the bus, for some reason that seat was available.  He described the man as a drunken derelict, passed out and wearing filthy rags that didn't look like they had ever been washed.

      My firend slumped into the seat and tried to sleep but eventually let loose with some of his own personal stench.  And the derelict woke up.  Out of all the sensoray assaults taking place, that stench was enough to rouse him out of a sound sleep.  He wrapped his dirty turban around his nose and went back to sleep.

      Now THAT is a smell I am glad to have missed.

      Thanks for your wonderful series.

    •  Good God! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      x, Pithy Cherub, Unitary Moonbat

      This is alot of information requiring alot of assimulation. What a mind blow! Shows me that it's such a rich tapestry, the world, it's story, The story of people,eons years,centuries, movement, expansion all this puts into perspective our current morass. Thank you for explaining  one mystery I've pondered on, how those giant Buhhda's got there and why the Taliban blew them up. History should be called perspective.  

    •  Ed Buryn's Vagabonding! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      x, Pithy Cherub, Unitary Moonbat

      Yes, a lot of fabulous info on Afghanistan here, which will take some time to absorb. (I'm currently reading journalist/cartoonist Ted Rall's Silk Road to Ruin, which is a great overview of all those '-stan' countries, and a great travel book as well.)

      But what made me have to jump in here with a comment is your mention of Ed Buryn.   What a rush of nostalgia!  That oversized paperback of "Vagabonding in the USA" had a huge influence on me back in 1980 (and I later got hold of a used copy of "Vagabonding in  Europe and North Africa."

      Made a big influence on how I try and live my life, and sure made a big influence on my nascent travel urges.  Happy to say I've since been a lot of places in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia on trips ranging from a week to a year.

      Hmmm.  Let me know when you're ready to book that trip to Kabul.

      •  Vagabonding in the USA (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DebtorsPrison, x, cassidy3

        changed my life, too.  From the diagrams showing where to sit on the different types of cars when you hopped a freight train, to the discussion of the finer points of hitchiker ettiquette, it provided a whole new way of looking at travel.  Back in the days of my painted-up Dodge van, the book was a bible; now, it has a revered place next to the early-90s Rand McNalleys and my treasured copy of that chef's guide to cooking on one's engine block, Manifold Destiny.

    •  Correction or am I wrong about Prometheus (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      x, daulton, Unitary Moonbat

      The rock was in the Caucasus Mountains (now Georgian Republic)...Mt. Kazbek.

      Prometheus does not go unpunished. He is chained to the mountain top of Caucasus by Zeus' two tormentors, Violence and Power, (a couple of jolly fellows), and the chains are made by the great god of smiths, Hephaestus, so one can be sure of that Prometheus can not escape.


      •  That might have been the actual rock... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        but there were apparently people in Afghanistan who were showing off a cave they advertised as one in which Prometheus was bound.  Here's the source cited in the diary:

        Alexander marched into the Hindu Kush mountains, from whose summit Aristotle believed one would be able to see the end of the world. And, in these mountains, local people showed Alexander the rock where the mythical Prometheus was said to have been chained after he gave the gift of fire to humanity.

        macro history

        Those locals seemed to have a reason behind why they'd be participating in a splinter-of-the-True-Cross phenomenon:

        The Greek author Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c.275-192 BCE) was one of the greatest scientists of his age, and became librarian in the Museum, the scientific institute of Alexandria. In one of his lost works, he discussed the stories about Alexander, saying that his courtiers greatly exaggerated his achievements. As an example, he mentioned how Alexander's men identified a cave near modern Charikar (north of Kabul; founded by Alexander) with the cave in which the demi-god Prometheus had been kept imprisoned after he had given fire to humankind. Every day, the Greeks told, an eagle had come to devour Prometheus' liver. Eratosthenes did not believe that the Macedonians had seen this, and was angry that the historians of Alexander believed that the Macedonian king had really reached the mythological Mount Caucasus.

        And Hellenistic authors seemed to be aware that there might be some credit-stealing afoot:

        1. Arrian

        Eratosthenes of Cyrene tells us that everything attributed by the Macedonians to the divine influence was grossly exaggerated in order to please Alexander. For instance, there is a cave in in the territory of the Parapamisidae; according to Eratosthenes, the Macedonians saw this cave and on the strength of some local legend (which they well may have invented) put it about that it was the cave where Prometheus was hung in chains when the eagle used to come to feed on his guts, and that Heracles came thither to kill the eagle and set Prometheus free; so that by means of this tale the Macedonians transferred Mount Caucasus from Pontus to the far east, fixing it in India in the country of the Parapamisidae, and gave the name Caucasus to what flatter Alexander by the inference that he had crossed Caucasus.


        But the legend, even if it was made up for Alexander's sake, does seem like to have persisted for a long while, at least locally:   is interesting that the existence of the cave of the legendary eagle is also mentioned by a Chinese traveler named Xuan Zang (603-664). He was a Buddhist pilgrim, and in his account of his travels through Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, he tells that near Kapisa (his name for Alexander's city in the Parapamisus), he visited the cave where the bird, now named Suna, had conversed with a mountain that had attempted to be the largest in the world.

    •  Most ancient trade from Afghanistan (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      x, Unitary Moonbat

      I went to a lecture by THE scholar on beads who said it was surprising to discover that lapis lazuli from Afghanistan was being traded much earlier than anybody thought there was international trade.

      To Egypt, etc.

      I think of Afghanistan as being like Poland and like Iraq--"borderlands" that everybody wants to come through, much to the detriment of the locals.

      I'm going to read this diary more carefully when I'm more alert.

      I expect the next installment will include one of the few facts I know about Afghanistan--that it still hasn't recovered from what the Mongols did.

      •  The Lapis trade predated the pharoahs. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        x, LNK, Unitary Moonbat

        Around the time of the Scorpion King (3200 BC), there was a thriving trade of the stuff with the Sumarians.

        It's believed that the concept of writing got to Egypt via Sumarian traders who came across the pre-desert Arabian prairies with all sorts of goodies.

    •  awesome diary!! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Thestral, cassidy3, Unitary Moonbat

      but...isn't 3 meters closer to 9 feet 9 inches...than to 20 feet?

    •  Fascinating area (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Unitary Moonbat

      of the world, and its history in my experience has received too little attention.  Which is a shame since so many of our current events take place in this busy region.

      Thanks, UM.

    •  Old Hippy Trail (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DebtorsPrison, x, Unitary Moonbat

      I took that venerable Old Hippy Trail from London to Kathmandu. It's the stuff of dreams. It's hard to believe what's happened to Afghanistan over the past decades. Afghanistan is magnificent. And the Khyber Pass is out of this world beautiful. Thanks for this diary, U.M.

      •  Thanks, Anne! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        How I envy you!  My travels were in the 80s and early 90s - closest I ever got to more than half the Hippy Trail was through reading about it.  Glad you folks who did the trek were so erudite in describig it - some of the best travel writing I've ever encountered has been in descriptions of overland journeys through the Middle East.  Amazing stuff - must be truly inspirational!

        •  Say More (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DebtorsPrison, Unitary Moonbat

          I'd love it if you would list some of the best books you've read about the Trail. In case I missed some. Maybe in another diary, so more people will see it. I have a fantasy that some day we'll all meet up again somewhere. Meanwhile, the books are great.

          It was inspirational. And it should be noted that the backdrop for the travel on the Hippy Trail was the Vietnam War. That war was the reason a lot of us were on the trail in the first place. And here we are again. Masters of War...

    •  A great book.... (4+ / 0-)

      Has anyone read The Horsemen by Joseph Kessel? I read it maybe 30 years ago and I still remember it and think of Afganistan through the author's eyes. There was a movie made of it, but the movie didn't capture the feeling and colour that the book gave. For a background of the people and places and the wildness of both, try to get hold of this. A great read! The pride, tribal alliances and feuds, as you say, are connected to the very soil.
      Merry Christmas, all!

    •  I just followed your link and read Persia Part 1 (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      x, Unitary Moonbat

      Which is also fascinating.  And, I just finished reading Persian Fire by Tom Holland--I believe the first in-depth look at the Persian wars since the 1970's (since Burns, I think).

      Anyway, Holland's take on Cambyses is that Darius killed him, and then killed his son, the "false" Bardiya.

      (I found this intriguing because it had occurred to me too, since Darius had been Cambyses' lance bearer; until I read that it was probably an honorific title, and Darius was probably not an actual bodyguard.)

      It is interesting, because the story per Herodotus is that Cambyses died from an accidental self-wound   caused by the gods because he insulted the Apis god. And then Darius killed the guy pretending to be Cambyses's son, the "false" Bardiya, who had been aided by the Magi.

      And from this account, other historians (and, as I recall, Gore Vidal's novel, Creation), speculate that Darius then became a stronger supporter of Zoroasterism in retribution against the Magi. (And , by implication, there was friction btween Magi and Zoroaster followers.)

      But Holland proposes this: That Darius blamed the Magi because, for a false Bardiya to get away with his disguise, Darius needed to blame magic (from the Magi)--otherwise, who could believe that so many would accept the "false" Bardiya (especially Bardiya's wife, Atossa, who was also his sister, and should know her own brother).

      So blaming the Magi was just a ruse, and historians are probably wrong to infer from it friction between Magi and Zoroaster followers.

      Still, I'm not clear what the Magi/Zoroaster relation was. (Your thoughts?)

      BTW, didn't Darius claim Cambyses "died his own death"? Would that be suicide?

      But then, maybe I'm just being tin-hatty. (So please don't tell Kos I'm accusing Darius of murdering Cambyses!!!)

      •  I had to give the same disclaimer (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        x, daulton

        when I historioranted on the odd death of President Zachary Taylor (who was poisoned by his political enemies, but you didn't hear it from me).

        Thanks for looking back into the Persia diaries - moonbatification is a whole different animal these days, no?  I didn't know how to post pictures, thought four pages was long (HfKs nowadays are 10-12), and hadn't really seen the format evolve yet.  One of my numerous unfinished projects is to update, expand, and report those early ones...

        Not sure about the Magi/Zoroastrian connection; probably would have been a more topical subject for tonight's diary, now that I think about it, but I gotta confess: it sounds like you've already done a lot more research on this than I have!

    •  Afghanistan served as a pathway.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      of culture from the Greek Isles to Japan. By way of that land the demi-go Heracles (Hercules) transformed himseld from an arrogant figure to the guardian of the Buddah and followed him into Nippon itself.

      "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." Seneca

      by Ralfast on Mon Dec 25, 2006 at 12:17:41 AM PST

    •  Khyber tales (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DebtorsPrison, x, Unitary Moonbat

      In 1967 or thereabouts, we were sitting in line waiting to enter the Khyber Pass on the way to Kabul from Islamabad.  My Dad had a camera with a mirror rigged up on the viewfinder so he could take pictures by pointing the camera to his right while looking straight ahead.  It was a ruse he used to take pictures of locals who were superstitious/anxious about having their photo taken.  Sitting beside the road was an Afghan woman with a face of great character, and terrific native garb.  So Dad snapped a photo using his little trick.  He was fiddling with the camera and advancing the film (remember those days?) when an ancient rifle barrel came in through the window and made contact with his cheek.  A moment passed and a hand came through the window with the palm open.  Not a word was spoken, but the message was clear enough.  Dad just opened the camera and handed over the film, and the hand and rifle withdrew.  Smart, tough (very!), and savvy.  Don't mess with the Afghanis.

      Wish I'd done the Ol' Hippy Trail myself, Your Moonbatness.  But a trip through the Cave is nearly as good.  Thanks once again.

      And Merry Christmas, Sabio!

      "the Greater Good and the Greater Profit are not compatible aims" -- Yann Martel

      by baba durag on Mon Dec 25, 2006 at 01:39:58 AM PST

    •  Here's a veteran of the old Hippie Trail (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DebtorsPrison, x, Unitary Moonbat

      who wants to thank you from the depths of my dust-laden heart for the diary.  I spent upwards of six or eight months in the country in 71 and 72.  I shall never forget it. I'll relate one high point; there are many more, but this isn't the place.

      The trip from Kabul to Bamiyan, the location of the two great Buddhas that were so cruelly decimated by the Taliban four or five years ago, was unforgettable.  There are two kinds of roads in Afghanistan: excellent (built by USAID and the Soviet equivalent) and appalling.  The latter are little more than dirt tracks.  Anyway, I remember leaving Kabul about 4:30 in the morning in the back of a truck.  After 45 minutes or so on the good Russian road heading in the direction of Mazar-i-Sharif, I had to get out and wait for a bus that was going to Bamiyan.  When it came, my other two companions and I climbed up on top and settled ourselves among the various bundles of blanket -wrapped possessions of the passengers inside.  We then turned off the highway and onto one of those dirt tracks.  I doubt if the bus ever managed more than 20mph for the next 28 hours.  Every few yours, when we went through the rare village, we'd stop for tea in a chai khaneh, where, as often as not, we'd sit in a room with Afghan tribesmen who always had a rifle beside them with a hand on the stock as if it were a favorite lover.  There was no animosity or even suspicion.  They'd ask where we were from ( spoke some Farsi), nod wisely, and continue their own conversations, while we drank tea the Persian way through a crudely chiseled cube of sugar.

      Ever so slowly we made our way across a dry, rocky, and seriously rough landscape which, from the air, would have looked like an unmade bed.  Eventually, we came down into the Bamiyan Valley just after the sun came up, and out in front of us was the lush, green of orchards and vegetable fields.  In the distance beyond the town was the cliff of the escarpment in which the gigantic Buddhas had been carved in something like the 6th century.

      That afternoon I made my way to the Buddhas.  They were gigantic.  And since I knew someone with the UNESCO group that was doing some restoration and conservation of the extraordinary frescoes that once lined the insides of the niches, I was able to climb a series of ladders to get a closer view of the fragmentary remains of the paintings depicting scenes from the Ramayana.  It was such a magical place... and then there were the zillion little caves where the monks once lived.  Some archeologists believe there may have been as many as 50,000 of them living there in the early days.  

      I could go on.... but...

      -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

      by GulfExpat on Mon Dec 25, 2006 at 06:00:52 AM PST

      •  I was there (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Unitary Moonbat

        the same time you were, but only for a couple of weeks. Didn't go to Bamiyan; I put it off for another trip.... Those were the days, huh.

        •  Great days, indeed! (0+ / 0-)

          I've lived in the Gulf since 82, and it breaks my heart that I've never been able to return to either Iran or Afghanistan in all that time.  The food -- especially in Iran -- alone made it worth the trip.  Not to mention traveling on $2 or $3 a day...   It was a different world then.  So much more peaceful.  

          -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

          by GulfExpat on Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 01:13:39 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks, UM! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Merry Christmas/Holiday!

      I knew a hash smuggler who spent a year in Afghanistan in 1971-72.  The stories were wild westish.  Horses, guns, Kuchis, bushkashi...bakhshish...He brought back loads of fabulous textiles, kuchi dresses, silver, carnelians, amber &  Lapis.  

      The Afghanis are used to different people & cultures passing thru.  The Taliban/alQaeda types seem xenophobically anachronistic to Afghan culture.  Rumi was an Afghan, iirc, & Sufism is alive, if perhaps still a bit nervous, in post Taliban Afghanistan.

      It's too bad W was so shortsighted in Afghanistan.  IMO, if he wanted to create a democracy in the Muslim world, Afghanis were wide open to it.  But alas, he blew his best chance.  Hopefully the Dems won't abandon Afghanistan.  A little nation/government building would go a long way.

      A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore. Yogi Berra

      by x on Mon Dec 25, 2006 at 08:01:20 AM PST

    •  You've inspired my first ever comment ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DebtorsPrison, Unitary Moonbat

      Thank you so much for this fabulous diary.  I am an elementary teacher in a rural Hawaii school, who has been looking for easily digestible information on Afghanistan.  When I was going to school in the 60's, that part of the world was of course unmentioned, and even my high school history class barely covered Mesopotamia as the "cradle of civilization."  

      Through a long and checkered personal journey in the world of education, including a stint as a Waldorf teacher, I learned to appreciate the myths and historical role played by Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan in world history.  I am attempting to bring some of what I have learned into my public school sixth grade social studies curriculum, with an emphasis on how these cultures interacted with Indian, Asian, and Greek cultures - and on the importance of the "Silk Road" for disseminating cultural treasures and ideas. It's amazing how little information I can find that is on the readability level of middle school-age students!  I wll bookmark your series for my kids. (although they may not be able to access it - we have a "blocker" on our school internet that blocks what the DOE considers inappropriate.

      By the way, I have become much more politically aware since joining the Daily Kos community.... and ask any of you who feel inclined to support real education to please sign the petitioncalling for its repeal.  Thanks to the Kos Teacher's Lounge for turning me on to the potential for getting rid of this punitive law.  

      I find that I am not so alone in my "radicalism" here in Hawaii, since I have discovered people like you at Daily Kos.  Mahalo Nui.

      •  Thanks, hulagirl! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        barbwires, hulagirl

        and welcome to Kosworld!

        I teach high school history in Colorado, and have gotten classroom mileage out of several authors here on DKos.  aphra behn is simply awesome for women's history (especially around the Enlightenment), and knows her Canadian stuff, too.  Additionally, mkfox has a great "Forgotten Founding Fathers" series going - it even includes trading cards, which inspired a couple of card-creating homework assignments for my students earlier this semester.  Then, of course, there's hekebolos with the outrageously cool "Science Spider Friday" series, and plf515's higher math diaries, and...well, the list goes on and on, but if you've already discovered rserven's Teacher's Lounge, you're probably already aware of them.

        In short, this is a great place for teacher activism, both in terms of politics and curriculum - glad you found us!

    •  Very late recommend! (0+ / 0-)

      Wonderful as always, and about a part of the world I've always found fascinating.  Learned a bit about it from my mother, who as a linguist studied Sanskrit among many of the other Indoeuropean languages.  Her birth language was Lithuanian, and apparently there were some striking commonalities.

      Some of my personal fascination for the Afghan people comes from an Embassy family that lived up the street from us when I was in third and fourth grades.  Their son and I were great friends for a while.  He was picked on pretty unmercifully in our school, but always exercized great dignity and restraint in dealing with the other kids.  He actually was very skilled in wrestling and could have taken any of them on, and won with ease.  But he said it was against his belief to fight someone so much weaker than himself. Heh.  He's probably the first boy I ever fell in love with, though I was far too young to recognize it.  

      In any case, great diary! Looking forward to the sequels.

      Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

      by barbwires on Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 12:10:38 PM PST

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