Hidden War: A Russian Journalist’s Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan” by Artem Borovik.
Book report on Hidden War by Artem Borovik
Title of book: “Hidden War: A Russian Journalist’s Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan”
Author’s purpose in writing the book: This book contains three documentary stories: “Vstertimsia u Zhuravlei,” “Spriatannaia Voina,” “Kak I Byl Soldatom Amerikanskoi Armii.” The first two stories are about the Afghan war, while the third story is about how the Soviets destroyed the image of the American soldier as an enemy for decades. The theme of the book deals with military conflicts and the wars fought. The writer uses the current political and ideology style of writing.
Borovik was born into the Soviet elite and went to prestigious Moscow English School, then to New York, since his father, Genrikh, who worked as a correspondent for the Novosti press agency, was given a job there.
Borovik became famous as a writer in the late 1980s, when he was writing articles for Ogonyok, the leading magazine of the glasnost years, on Afghanistan. He also founded the Sovershenno Sekretno, a newspaper that reported the scandals in modern-day Russian political life.
He soon gave up diplomacy for journalism and worked for Ogonyok, as a foreign editor. He gave a series of honest reports from Afghanistan that brought him a lot of fame. In his book “Hidden war” he took several interviews with top Soviet generals directing the war, and Babrak Karmal, the Afghan communist puppet leader in Kabul, as well as reports from the frontline, for the Soviet people to see the brutality of the fighting and the hopelessness of attempting to bring the country under Soviet control. Ten years after the invasion, Borovik was in Afghanistan to cover the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989. Artem Borovik died at age 39 when the plane taking him to Kiev crashed after take-off from Moscow’s Sheremtyevo airport. He is remembered as one of Russia’s most distinguished investigative journalists.
Afghanistan was invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union in 1979 and remained under the Soviet control for ten years. The Mujahidin forces pressurized USSR to withdraw from Afghanistan. The anti-communist Mujahidin forces were provided arms from and given training by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other countries. Also fighting along with the various Mujahidin factions, was the support of the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban movement that was able to take over most of the country causing the country to go back in time, more closely to a prehistoric era. With the on-going civil strife, the country still continues to suffer from abject poverty, a deteriorating infrastructure, and never-ending problem of widespread land mines
Afghanistan is an extremely poor, landlocked country, basically dependant on farming and rearing livestock such as sheep and goats. Due to their economic state they have had to play along with the political and military invasions for nearly two decades of war, including the nearly 10-year Soviet military occupation that ended on 15 February 1989. While the country was under the Soviets more than one-third of the population fled the country, going into neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran, which provided refuge to more than 6 million refugees. Statistics show that in the year 2000, 2 million Afghan refugees were found to be living in Pakistan and about 1.4 million in Iran. Meanwhile, Afghanistan suffered miserably as their gross domestic product fell substantially over the past 20 years mainly due to the loss of labor and capital and the disruption of trade and transport, as well as the severe drought making it more difficult for the nation in 1998-2000. The majority of the population continues to suffer from insufficient food, clothing, housing, and medical care. Inflation is still a major issue throughout the country. International aid is the only way to improve the humanitarian problem, and also promote economic development. In 1999-2000, with the on-going internal civil strife it impeded both domestic economic policies and international aid efforts. Also, Afghanistan was rated to be the largest producer of opium poppies in 2000, and has the problem of narcotics trafficking which serves as a major source of revenue to the country.
The author narrates that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a sequel to their invasion of Czechoslovakia. Even for several months after the invasion, not a single political or military expert in the world had a single doubt that Afghanistan was now forever a part of the Soviet Empire and that not even a huge global war could alter the new status it had acquired. Also the Russians were in a good position with their new invasion since they new that a global war was most likely inevitable because both of the super powers intended to avoid it. At that time some Westerners were of the view that with the British stay in Afghanistan, they were waiting for the Soviet “Vietnam” to emerge, but at the same time many Westerners believed that the Soviets would ultimately succeed in their aims with the new invasion. Others were of the view that with the European failures in southern Asia, the Russians would probably use a strong Soviet strategic weapon that would be activated from southern Afghanistan and go on till the Persian Gulf, to challenge Western strategic interests and take over the Western hold on the Middle Eastern oil.
The initial fight by the Afghan military was in a short battle against the Soviet Spetsnaz unit where they raided the Presidential Palace. However, the stunned population of this land-locked geographical area immediately came to action in defense of their land. Instead of taking up traditions warfare, the citizens armed themselves with the latest weaponary provided by the U.S. And other neighboring countries; they also formed groups with individuals deployed at different positions to attack and sabotage the super-powers occupying force’s personnel, installations, depots and transport with the available weapons. The open resistance was so successful that within only two months after the invasion, exactly on the night of 23 February 1980, the entire population of Kabul went on their rooftops and chanted with one voice “God is Great.” This open rebelliousness of the Russian generals who could physically destroy this city was widespread throughout the countryside. With this going on throughout the country, the Afghan warriors were dispersed to fight against their northern invader.
The Russian foot soldiers perspective is about the horror, trauma, and insanity of war and being torn apart from their families. Soldiers’ young as 19 years were asked to work as minesweeper in a country littered with mines, many of them died because of one misstep on the landmine. Many of the soldiers served their country fighting in Afghanistan doing all that was necessary for day-to-day survival, but many of them were unable to ever return home after the deadly cold war.
In the book the author tells the reader about his most intimate, personal, painful feelings about his experiences, both during and after the war. There are also pictures of young soldiers little older than boys forced into a war that was not really necessary. The incidents of death are really distressing. As a matter of fact, this book is not for those who are sensitive at heart because it contains real life experiences of the journalist. The author provides the reader with eye-opening accounts of the insanity of war that should be read by those who greatly favor outbreaks of war in Iraq and the fight against terrorism in which many innocent people are dying and languishing in jail at the expense of the super-powers.
“The Soviet concept for military occupation of Afghanistan was based on the following: stabilizing the country by garrisoning the main routes, major cities, airbases and logistics sites; relieving the Afghan government forces of garrison duties and pushing them into the countryside to battle the resistance; providing logistic, air, artillery and intelligence support to the Afghan forces; providing minimum interface between the Soviet occupation forces and the local populace; accepting minimal Soviet casualties; and, strengthening the Afghan forces, so once the resistance was defeated, the Soviet Army could be withdrawn. ” [Taken from Hidden Wars, page number unknown]
This book was widely read when troops were being deployed to Afghanistan in 2001. Americans read the Russian translated “The Hidden War” by Borovik, to understand the nature of the war that was on its way in Afghanistan. AS a reader I felt that personally the book lacked organization of material even though all the details are very accurate, with important information especially for the new soldiers.
The author’s personal experience and talent as a literary journalist, his acclaimed work is priceless evidence that gives us an insight into the Red Army and what combat was all about in the Soviet Afghanistan. The book contains several interviews with officers, soldiers, statesmen, and deserters. This is probably because Borovik was himself working as a writer for a Soviet magazine at that time. This is why the writing style of the book is similar to a big magazine article.
The weak areas of the book are that there were only descriptions of two brief actions in the book, one was in the first few chapters and the other was at the end of the story. Besides this, Borovik goes on and on about bloodshed, nightmares, and the countless horrors of war he personally witnessed, but makes it less interesting because he fails to give any details. This makes its less imaginative for the reader.
Originally, the book was written in Russian, since it was written primarily for the people who had been living in a society without freedom of the press. This book broke all barriers when Borovik wrote the story about how Moscow was not telling the truth about the war, and also that the Soviet soldiers did not believe in the communist cause, or that corruption was extensive in the Red Army.
As a religious reader of wars and international relations, I have been a very enthusiastic follower of all the Russian events, especially the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and why their occupation of Afghanistan failed miserably. This book picked up business post-September 11, and it certainly is a phenomenal read. The first original print also has a different cover picture and was written from a Russian point-of-view, through Russian eyes, but not entirely with a military perspective. Artyom Borovik was working as a journalist when he was providing coverage of the war. This book is a must read for all those who are wondering how the Soviet Union was dismantled and lost its power as a super-power and what were the causes and event that ultimately leads to the fall of the Soviet Union and also to September 11, 2001 and the World Trade Center tragedy. The September 11 tragedy was in the making since a long time since the mujahadeens were aiming to destroy the Western powers for many decades, that is where the recent wave of fundamentalism in the Islamic world takes it’s roots from. They are still fighting against an imperialist super-power- America! However, just as the Vietnamese fought against the Americans, the Afghans especially the Mujahadeen and Taliban in Afghanistan are stillk fighting against the present super-power, although the situation is under better control.
Guardian | Artem Borovik, available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,3979635-103684,00.html, accessed on: April 14, 2004
Artem Borovik, The Hidden War: A Russian Journalists Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, published: 10 May 2001
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