FFPC10 - Rambo III

Intro by John Roderick, edited for legibility

In order to properly interrogate Rambo III we need to first ask: "Why Afghanistan?" Why does Afghanistan play such an outsized role in our recent history in the 20th century, the 19th century, and all the way back to Alexander? Let's pull up a map of the region!

The Soviet Union takes up the entire Northern half of (the continent). I don't have to tell you guys where the Soviet Union is. Toward the bottom you got your Kazakhstan and so forth and then you got Afghanistan. This area here that looks like a purple ocean is actually Iran. This is a very weird projection, this map.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country while Pakistan has a coastline on the Arabian Sea and it borders with India. India and Pakistan were once part of the British empire, and in the mid-1800s the British were very afraid that the Russians, pre-Soviets, had designs on the route to the Arabian Sea. The Russians do not have a warm-water-port across their whole breadth, except for the Black Sea region, but that requires that they go through the Dardanelles at Turkey.

The British were very concerned about this and instituted what they called The Great Game, the geopolitics of this whole region, trying to block the Russians from getting a port on the Arabian Sea. The Russians actually had no designs on this region and the British were in a great game with themselves, but at a certain point in this time period, in order to control the Pashtun-group of Afghanis and the Baluchi-Afghanis, they created a border called the Durand Line, which now forms the official border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and cuts the population of the Pashtun people and the Baluchi people in half.

There were a lot of kings and various different kinds of governments for about 150 years. In the 1970s we had a situation in Iran where a Shah was deposed and a Muslim government was installed. In 1947 there was a partition between India and Pakistan, creating two separate countries, and the Afghanis did not recognize some of the Durand Line because they felt it had been imposed by the British, which it had.

During the Cold War the Russians started to have an interesting strategy: They believed that the Baluchi people were not loyal to Pakistan and that if they could supply these people with arms and get a rebel movement going, and if Afghanistan became a Soviet socialist republic, they could create a condition where the Baluchi rebelled against Pakistan, formed Baluchistan, and then the Soviet sphere of influence would go all the way to the Arabian Sea.

In the geopolitics of the 1970s the Americans did not want the Russians to have authority over the Persian Gulf and it became a contested area in the Cold War. You may have been asking yourselves: "What did Jimmy Carter do?" He needed to contain the Russians and there had been several coup d'├ętat until the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

Carter, in maybe the most hard-line thing he did in his presidency, boycotted the Olympics, which shamed the Russians into prolonging the war for another 10 years. It turned out the Baluchi people were not interested in rebelling against Pakistan and the Russians became mired in what is called their Vietnam, which was trying to control the various different tribal-agencies in Afghanistan.

This is the setting of our film today, 1988's Rambo III, and we are going on a journey with our friend Rambo to see what the conditions were on the ground right before Glasnost made all of this irrelevant, and with that, let me welcome my co-hosts to the stage for Friendly Fire: This is Rambo III!

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