Locusts, Thin Mints and Pamela Anderson Descend on Afghanistan
Juxtapositions can create discomfort, can jolt, can reveal. Here, the pre-modern real [basic food - vanishing wheat in Afghanistan] confronts the post-modern [images - an America of Thin Mints and Pamela Anderson]. The two are linked through the U.S. bombing campaign upon Afghanistan.
Plagues of biblical, though revealing, proportions have descended upon an already war-torn and weary Afghanistan, weary of Tomahawk cruise missiles, laser-'guided' bombs, dumb bombs, ready-to-eat meals, BLU-97 cluster bombs, etc.. This year augurs to be worse than last year, which was the worst in two decades. The U.S. bombing campaign which displaced hundreds of thousands and the three-year drought in northern Afghanistan have exacerbated the country's perennial locust problem, as the dry weather in northern provinces forced the locusts to migrate southward in search of food. (1)
By June 2001, the locusts were eating their way through Baghlan Province. Farmer Wali Jan watched in despair as the swarms descended upon his 15 acres of wheat near Pol-e-Khomri. Wali was forced to beg in the local market to feed his 16 family members. The World Food Program along with national and international NGOs waged a courageous effort to collect by hand and destroy the grasshoppers by burying them in trenches. Only 40% of the locusts in Baghlan had been destroyed, leaving billions of eggs to hatch in 2002 - locusts lay pods each containing about 50 eggs and about 450 pods were laid per acre. Swarms can get so dense that roads look black, reported the BBC. (2) By April 2002, Richards China, the FAO representative in Afghanistan, described the swarm of hundreds of millions of locusts now eating their way across northern Afghanistan, threatening 70% of crop output and millions of livelihoods,
"It's a problem of almost biblical proportions...we estimate that it's the worst infestation in thirty years." (3)
As locusts descended upon the impoverished farmers of Afghanistan, one of the world's most famous 'tough guys' and archetype of secular extremism, (4) Bruce Willis spent $ 36,000 to buy 12,000 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies for shipment to U.S. troops serving in or near Afghanistan. (5) According to Willis' publicist, he was inspired by his children, who "wanted to create an opportunity to bring a 'taste of home' to the military troops overseas, as a way to say thank you and show their support and appreciation for their heroic efforts in protecting our freedom." On May 8, a Defense Department spokesman said the cookies were en route to Air Force personnel and the Navy ships U.S.S. Wasp and U.S.S. John F. Kennedy in the Indian Ocean.
Bruce Willis, who represents the United States as the policeman of the world [as in the movie, The Siege], must have felt a gush of patriotic pride as the 'Thin Mints' went on their way.
The Not-so Real
Other icons of the Hollywood U.S. film and entertainment media had taken steps earlier. Last October-November, the troops received a dose of 'Pam tonic' before the Afghan winter set in. On October 29, the crew of the U.S.S. Stennis aircraft carrier was visited by one of other-than-biblical, 'revealing proportions'. To the apparently great excitement of these men about to leave for war in Afghanistan, Pamela Anderson arrived on board to entertain them and autograph her very own posters.
A poster of this most popular Playboy model of all time and star of the Baywatch soap opera, Pamela Anderson, appropriately clad only in the U.S. flag, was sent to rally the troops talking on the dastardly Taliban and their Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.(6) Even more revealing of American culture and priorities, Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy, launched his very own Operation Playmate. The effort enables American soldiers in Afghanistan -- close to Internet access points like on the Bagram air base -- to communicate with Playboy girls online. A soldier [or officer] sends an e-mail to a Playmate and in return gets her signed 'intimate' photograph with a message written on it. (7) Hugh Hefner, who launched Pamela Anderson in 1991, said the 'girls' were happy 'to do something' to help the American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Tastes of home. A gift from America's Ministry for the Promotion of Vice and Prevention of Virtue?
1. "Afghanistan: IRIN Focus on Locust Infestation in North," IRIN News, June 28, 2001. Pamela Constable, "Worst Locust Plague in 30 Years Whirs Across 8 Afghan Provinces," International Herald Tribune, May 27, 2002
2. Catherine Davies, "Afghans Battle Locust Plague," BBC News Online, April 4, 2002. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1910000/1910510.stm
3. "Locust Plague Threatens Afghanistan: UN," Dawn [May 8, 2002].
4. Tarek Atia, "Bruce Willis Versus Bin Laden," Al-Ahram Weekly no. 402, 5 - 11 November 1998. http://web1.ahram.org.eg/weekly/1998/402/focus.htm
5. "Bruce Willis Takes the Biscuit," Reuters, May 7, 2002. http://www.vizzavi.co.uk/Archive/2002/May/07-223623.html
6. "The War on Terror: Pam Tonic for Troops," Nationwide News Pty. Ltd. Sunday Mail, November 11, 2001.
7. "Playboy Girls Are Happy to Help American Soldiers in Afghanistan," Pravda.RU November 27, 2001, at 20:57. http://english.pravda.ru/fun/2001/11/27/22185.html
Marc Herold is a professor in the Departments of Economics and Women's Studies at the Whittemore School of Business & Economics, University of New Hampshire. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared at Cursor.org, an excellent website where Herold’s earlier essays can be found: http://www.cursor.org