Insipidity Watch: The National Edition

by Joshua Foust on 5/17/2009 · 1 comment

Bagram is a very Midwestern place, can’t you see why?.

What is it with people describing Bagram Air Base as “a strip of pure Mid-West America?”

On a dusty plain between Kabul and the Panjshir Valley, lies a strip of pure Mid-West America.

Bagram Air Base is the biggest US camp in Afghanistan, a permanent home to thousands of service personnel and contractors and temporary home to tens of thousands more passing through.

Its fabled luxuries are viewed with a mixture of envy and proud contempt among unwashed grunts stuck in Afghanistan’s rugged mountain and desert outposts.

A Burger King sits across a car park from an ice cream parlour, next to a fried chicken restaurant and a shop offering a Harley-Davidson for the return trip. Supermarkets sell games consoles, magazines, clothes and DVDs, while the canteen provides trays piled high with artery-clogging US food.

Where outside soldiers see only women in burqas, inside air force women walk by in skimpy sport shorts toting M-16s.

Okay, so far we have the presence of a Burger King, a DQ (the car park there, across from Koehle DFAC, is not between the two, but adjacent), a “fried chicken restaurant” (he means the Kentucky Fried Chicken inside the PX), and a ubiquitous Harley shop. The “canteen” is the KBR-run Dining Facility, or DFAC, and the “supermarket” is the Post Exchange.

Right now, the author is describing a half-dozen bases inside Iraq, none of which I recall being described as “mid-west America.” But even ignoring the geographical bias in this sort of thing, there’s another thing that doesn’t compute. That author is not the first to, for some reason, refer to a very dusty, dilapidated ex-Soviet base clinging tightly to an airstrip that blankets the barracks with jet noise every 75 minutes as “mid-west” simply because it has four or five imported American fast-food joints.

Now, that’s not to argue that Bagram is without its very strange eccentricities and even outright annoyances, but when multiple journalists call the place Midwestern in some way, I’m curious how much of the Midwest they’ve ever actually seen. That photo above, for example, is of downtown Kansas City, Missouri—a very Midwestern town (and my now-former home).

Right down to the lack of APCs rumbling down the single road through town, there is nothing “Midwestern” about Bagram, unless you’ve never been to the Midwest. When some friends came out to see the Kansas-Missour interface area last year, they kept remarking on the lack of horse-drawn carriages and tumbleweed, despite their surprise at not even seeing that when I lived in Colorado. I love them dearly, but they are creatures of the coasts (East and West). Hell, I don’t particularly love Midwestern America, but it is a perfectly pleasant, enjoyable place to live. Quite unlike Bagram, which, once you get over the “wow” factor of being right near Panjshir it’s boring and actually kind of terrible.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing—the bad analogies to Middle America—will happen more and more as the journo-hordes descend on Afghanistan in droves. The rest of that piece—about the truly wonderful USO (seriously, donate to them if you can) and the weird celebrity cult at BAF—is perfectly fine. It’s more that analogy that has come, as I came to enjoy living in the heart of the Midwest, to deeply bother me. Reporters would benefit greatly from having a larger analogy basket to dig through when writing these golly-gee pieces.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Tyson Brody May 18, 2009 at 3:16 am

At least MCI has a Gates to round out its Burger King, KFC, and dilapidated ex-Soviet charm. Now if Bagram put in an Oklahoma Joe’s, that’d be some real Kansas City class. I’m only able to express my KC pride through barbecue.

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