What I saw with my own eyes in Pakistan and Afghanistan was of course too little to tell a really coherent story of the war, so from the start all my conclusions have depended on what other people told me and the accounts I read. Language was the key to direct knowledge and my Pashto was, in the main, sketchy. That meant I couldn't usually overhear things, that is, catch them unrehearsed in their natural register.
Not knowing what the Afghans were saying, what hope was there of getting anything right except by accident? Judged most harshly, the result is a crude portrait lacking fine detail which tends to make its subjects look simple-minded; that was not my goal at all. The only way to counter this frightening undertow toward a superficial, American-biased account was to work hard to measure my own experience at every point and compare it to other testimony. The best history of the war, the real history, will be written by an Afghan, though at this point it is not clear who it will come from or how.
The fact that so little “objective” information about Afghanistan is available leaves us dangerously dependent on personal biases that incorporate large chunks of national prejudice. Although subjective judgment may be the real source of our conclusions on political matters, that is still not adequate. If the big judgments are recognitions of patterns, insights into behavior and assessments of value (all subjective functions), then the task must be to balance these conclusions against those of other people and against whatever numbers we can scrape together. Which is not easy. No complete figures seem to exist on anything in Afghanistan. I had to be on guard all the time against facts floating in from nowhere and great little stories that were just too great.
In one sense, and not ignoring the powerful, pervasive influence of economic forms, history has to be written novelistically. Even allowing for all the elements of unknowability and accident, the recent history of Afghanistan from arrogant aristocrats to communist coup to final uprising could be recog-