Good Intentions

This is a fascinating article I found online recently about the history of Afghanistan and the US in the 1950’s. At this time, America wanted to help modernize Afghanistan to prevent Communism, but also to gain an ally in an important part of Asia. American engineers came to Helmand Province in Afghanistan, lived there, and helped build dams, roads, libraries, buildings, etc. People (American and Afghani) were optomistic and excited about the changes, and it seemed like things would succeed.

However, as the article shows, the plan was a huge failure. The dams worked too well, and the ground became flooded and too salty (which are great conditions for growing poppy plants, as in “opium”), and the attempts to educate nomadic Afghani people how to farm resulted in riots.

A long time ago, I read a book called Seeing like a State which talked about this same subject: good ideas and well-intentioned projects often have unexpected consequences.  Examples like Communist collective-farms, managed forests in Germany, “planned” cities, etc all show that ideas look really good on paper, but in reality they often encounter unexpected problems and fail, or look very different from the original plan.  Professor Scott isn’t discouraging projects, but warns people that good intentions often have consequences.  The story of Afghanistan in the 1950’s helps demonstrate this: American engineers sincerely wanted to help, but they underestimated things and the project had failures that still affect Afghanistan today.

Anyhow, I don’t want to say too much.  Read the article, it’s very fascinating.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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