[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-War]: Cotton on Knodell and Axe, 'The 'Stan'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Fri Nov 8 11:56:21 MST 2019

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Andrew Stewart 
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Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
> Date: November 7, 2019 at 7:57:19 AM EST
> To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]:  Cotton on Knodell and  Axe, 'The 'Stan'
> Reply-To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> Kevin Knodell, David Axe.  The 'Stan.  Illustrated by Blue 
> Delliquanti. Annapolis  Dead Reckoning, 2018.  Illustrations. 128 pp. 
> $16.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-68247-098-5.
> Reviewed by Joshua Cotton (Jackson State University)
> Published on H-War (November, 2019)
> Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
> The conflict in Afghanistan has drawn on to become the longest war in 
> US history. To date, an entire generation has been born and raised in 
> the eighteen years since the initial invasion of October 7th, 2001. 
> As a result of the near ceaseless conflict, more than sixty-nine 
> thousand coalition troops and thirty-eight thousand civilians have 
> lost their lives in the ongoing conflict.[1] The human cost of such a 
> protracted war can never truly be calculated and at best we can hope 
> to collect and curate an accurate record of the people caught in its 
> wake. Kevin Knodell, David Axe, and Blue Delliquanti's _The 'Stan_ 
> does just that in what many might find a peculiar way. _The 'Stan_ is 
> a graphic novel collection of short comics about the American 
> invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Told from the first-hand 
> accounts of US soldiers, Afghan security forces, and a Taliban 
> ambassador, _The 'Stan_ deals with multiple perspectives and 
> reactions to the conflict in seventeen short comics ranging from 
> before the invasion to Americans returning home during the 2013 
> security transfer. 
> It may seem odd to some to retell the experiences of participants in 
> such a violent conflict in a graphic novel. For many the format is 
> synonymous with fiction and whimsy, but in the hands of a talented 
> author and artist it provides a medium that injects life and vibrancy 
> into historical accounts. Shifting viewpoints and dynamic visual 
> panels can redirect narrative focus from scholarly interpretation to 
> a sense of active participation in events. Details often drafted by 
> writers are ostensibly shaded by the flourishes of their literary 
> voice and academic interpretation; whereas the medium of the graphic 
> novel allows for a writer to submit only the facts and details 
> essential to the story, which an artist must then interpret much the 
> same way the reader would. This binary revision and perspective help 
> reshape narratives by removing trace elements of bias and are 
> especially effective when dealing with primary accounts as these 
> stylistic choices remove much of the author while maintaining the 
> authenticity of the interviewee. 
> At its heart _The 'Stan_ is an attempt to humanize the conflict by 
> introducing readers to very real, very human participants in the 
> conflict. The larger politics of declining superpowers and fanatic 
> theocracies are only passing backdrops to the reactions and 
> experiences of those in the crosshairs of the conflict. _The 'Stan_ 
> begins with an account of the coming of the Americans as told by 
> Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef's 
> story begins with his involvement with the Mujahideen as a 
> fifteen-year-old boy during the Soviet occupation. His story harkens 
> back to the deep resolve of the war-hardened Taliban fighters who had 
> survived not only the Soviet invasion but also the brutality of the 
> warlords who preyed on the nation in the Soviet's wake. Most 
> poignantly, Zaeef scribbles: "Yet others were dancing to the drum of 
> the Americans. They failed to understand what the future held for 
> them" (p. 3). The next panel sees him bound and blindfolded in the 
> orange jumpsuit of a Guantanamo Bay detainee. Zaeef's story is a 
> fitting beginning for the book. It prepares readers for the sense of 
> futility that seems to permeate much of the rest of the book. Many of 
> the American soldiers display a sense of optimism about their initial 
> mission, which is quickly dashed by the constant threat of an 
> invisible insurgency, malfunctioning equipment, and an inability to 
> create a lasting peace and security for the civilian population and 
> their allies. 
> There is an absurdity in war. _The 'Stan_ does not shy away from that 
> reality and it is demonstrated again and again throughout many of the 
> stories. Multi-million-dollar equipment does not work; special 
> operations units buy their gear with Central Intelligence Agency 
> credit cards over the internet and get them delivered by next day 
> mail; and the allies who risk their lives alongside American troops 
> one day are left to rot the next. The insanity of it all is almost 
> laughable until you realize that this not a parody but the reality 
> these people live. Knodell and Axe recount the stories of Private 
> First Class Timothy James who was stationed at Combat Outpost Margah 
> during a night attack. James recounts a malfunctioning M249 machine 
> gun, an armored vehicle's remote gun that had no power, and an AT-4 
> rocket that malfunctioned in the same engagement. Two of the most 
> heart-wrenching stories are those of Abdul of the Afghan National 
> Army and interpreter Sami Kazikhani. Both men, having served their 
> nation and aiding the coalition forces, end their narratives as 
> refugees: Abdul living as an exile in Dubai and Sami searching for 
> asylum in the refugee camps of Europe. 
> _The 'Stan_ does well in its diversity of story type. There are 
> sympathetic accounts of the local people and their plight, the 
> culpability of the United States in civilian casualties, and 
> inclusion of underrepresented demographics in the theater of war. 
> Specialist Alison Parton's account of transitioning from chain 
> restaurant employee to human intelligence collector comes as an 
> insightful read of the rigors and challenges faced by modern 
> servicewomen who have to contend with not only American prejudices 
> but also cross-cultural challenges from local populations. Parton's 
> closing remarks are a stark reminder of the ongoing stigma 
> servicewomen face on the home front: "When people argue about 'women 
> in combat,' they don't get that women have been in combat this entire 
> war" (p. 54). 
> The dialogue and narrative presented in the book are simple and 
> clean. Most interpretations are left to the reader to divine 
> themselves with a few conclusions drawn by the interviewees. The 
> conciseness of the stories might be the sole drawback of the book as 
> many of the stories leave the reader wanting more. Delliquanti's 
> artwork is accessible and not overly stylized. Panels reflecting the 
> interviewees break up tense scenes and remind the reader that these 
> stories are matters of fact and that the individuals involved are not 
> exaggerated caricatures but living, breathing people who walk among 
> us. This is no more exemplified than in "War and Fireworks," the 
> seventeenth and final story in the book in which Knodell takes us 
> back to the home front where he recounts his own tale of the lasting 
> effects of war on the soldiers and survivors of the conflict. Here 
> Knodell recounts communing with returned servicemen and the lingering 
> effects of PTSD. Knodell talks about an incident on the 3rd of July 
> where fireworks trigger a minor episode for him and some of the 
> servicemen. The stark irony of using explosions to celebrate war and 
> its survivors is presented as it has been by many veterans, an 
> erasure of the plight of the soldier in favor of the myth of the 
> glory of war. 
> Note 
> [1]. Rod Nordland and Mujib Mashal, "U.S. and Taliban Edge toward 
> Deal to End America's Longest War," _The New York Times,  _January 
> 26, 2019, 
> https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/26/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-peace-deal.html; 
> and Neta Crawford, "Update on the Human Costs of War for Afghanistan 
> and Pakistan, 2001 to Mid-2016," Watson Institute, International and 
> Public Affairs, Brown University, August 2016, 
> http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2016/War%20in%20Afghanistan%20and%20Pakistan%20UPDATE_FINAL_corrected%20date.pdf. 
> Citation: Joshua Cotton. Review of Knodell, Kevin; Axe, David, _The 
> 'Stan_. H-War, H-Net Reviews. November, 2019.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54684
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.

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