If Only MacGyvering a Solution to Life’s Problems with a Swiss Army Knife and Duct Tape Worked for Global Conflicts

As first noted in a column nearly eight years ago one of my favorite television shows growing up was MacGyver.

I enjoyed the show so much that I even dressed up as MacGyver for Halloween one year. Additionally, I have carried a Swiss Army knife that I got for Christmas in my pocket for over 35 years since, one never knows when it will be needed, as noted in my first MacGyver column back in 2013.

Inspired by my love of the television show MacGyver, Old Red has been in my pocket for over 30 years.
Photo R. Anderson

Sure, it could be easy to say that I liked MacGyver because the actor playing the title character and I shared the same haircut, last name and love of Swiss Army knives, but a better explanation for the show’s appeal was the way that difficult problems were solved using simple household items, elbow grease and brain power.

To be clear I am talking about old school Richard Dean Anderson MacGyver, and not that rebooted version of MacGyver that came out a few years back.

The show was instrumental in showing that science and brainpower could often overcome firepower so there was a positive message being presented as the Cold War was drawing to a close.

As I was watching the recent news coverage of the fall of Afghanistan, I was reminded of the Season One MacGyver episode called To be a Man. You know the one where MacGyver travels to Afghanistan and battles wits with Soviet backed forces.
Photo R. Anderson

As I was watching the recent news coverage of the fall of Afghanistan, I was reminded of the Season One MacGyver episode called To be a Man.

For those readers who may be too young to remember, before the United States tried to reshape Afghanistan, the Soviet Union gave it a go back in the 1980s.

The issue of Soviet occupied Afghanistan was addressed by Hollywood in such films as The Living Daylights, Rambo III, and Charlie Wilson’s War to name a few.

In The Living Daylights, which came out in 1987, James Bond, played for the first time by Timothy Dalton teams up with Mujahadin freedom fighters to battle the Soviets and even manages to blow up a bridge by dropping a bomb from the cargo hold of a moving airplane to help the freedom fighter escape the Soviet forces.

A year after James Bond defeated the Soviets, Hollywood once again took a swing at the conflict using another film franchise. In Rambo III, Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, heads to Afghanistan to rescue his former commander and his longtime best friend, Col. Sam Trautman, from a Soviet Army colonel.

During the mid to late 80s many shows and movies took aim at the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan for plot inspirations. One such cinematic take involved sending Rambo into the rocky countryside to rescue his former commanding officer and to prove that Rambo knew how to ride a horse. If only Adrian could have seen him. Oh wait, wrong franchise.
Photo R. Anderson

This should not be confused with the plot of Rambo II where, Rambo battles Soviet troops in Vietnam and has to rescue prisoners of war.

Back to Rambo III, our hero of uttering words with few syllables manages to rescue his mentor and help a local band of Afghan rebels fight against Soviet forces who are threatening to destroy their village.

Chalk two up for the fictional good guys.

Using the fresh lens of the 21st Century, and with the United States six-years into what would turn into a 20-year war in Afghanistan, the 2007 movie Charlie Wilson’s War, starring Forrest Gump, I mean Tom Hanks, and Julia Roberts, told the true story of how the United States came to be involved in the 20th Century conflict by siding with the Afghan people in their fight against the Soviet Union through unofficial channels.

Of the three movies, Charlie Wilson’s War is likely the best reflection of the conflict between the Soviets and the Afghan people but it lacks that certain Swiss Army inspired wit.

That is where the man, the myth, the MacGyver enters the picture.  Of course, MacGyver was in Afghanistan before Mr. Bond, James Bond and Rambo. In the 1986 episode To be a Man MacGyver finds himself on a secret mission in Afghanistan to retrieve a downed satellite before it falls into the hands of the Soviets. While on the mission, MacGyver is shot and wounded. An Afghan woman and her son risk their lives to nurse MacGyver back to health.

To repay their kindness, a wounded MacGyver must now outwit the Russian Army to complete his mission and ensure the safety of the mother and her son by helping them cross the border into Pakistan.

While MacGyver was a work of fiction, I could not help but think of how so many Afghan citizens who risked their lives to help the American forces over the past two decades now face an uncertain future as they try to seek refuge in another country to avoid being killed by the Taliban.

In fact, in each of the films and television shows from the 80s dealing with Afghanistan the Americans, and in James Bond’s case, the British were the clear good guys helping  rescue people in need. Sadly, reality is often not as noble as Hollywood scripts.

According to government officials there are plans to provide safe haven for thousands of people who worked with the United States troops over the past two decades, but the speed of the retreat and leaving of Afghanistan has many wondering whether there is enough time to get everyone out according to the timeline laid out in those plans.

As the graph above illustrates, the more things change in Afghanistan, the more they stay the same. With the withdrawal of US forces, the Taliban once again are there to fill the void as the did following the retreat of Soviet forces in the late 20th Century.
Graphic R. Anderson

While there will likely be future movies that address the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, and all of bad optics that followed, one need only watch the news each night to see the accounts of so many people suffering as the vacuum left by the departure of the United States gets filled by the Taliban.

I am not going to get into the politics of whether we should have gone to Afghanistan in the first place, or if we should be leaving when we are. There will be plenty of time to cover that in the years ahead.

The United States joins a short list of world powers who tried and failed to change Afghanistan.

In the 19th Century it was the British. In the 20th Century it was the Soviet Union, aka modern-day Russia.

And, in the early 21st Century it was the United States trying to imprint a vision of a path forward on a country that seems like it does not really want outside help.

While the world continues to battle a health pandemic it is now faced with a potential expanded refugee pandemic brought about by the rapid fall of the government of Afghanistan and the return to power of the Taliban.

Although I am steering clear of the politics, and the blame game, following the departure of United States forces, I feel I must comment on the stories being floated in certain circles about the refuges from Afghanistan “invading people’s towns.”

The “they are coming for your jobs and your wives” narrative is a common response from people who are trying to sow fear about anyone who doesn’t look and talk like them.

It is not based in reality, and only shows the ignorance of the people who both peddle in such nonsense, as well as those who fall for it.

There are bad people of all races, creeds and religions, so trying to lump all refuges from any place as criminals and rapists is just flat out wrong.

In terms of knowing refugees from Afghanistan, I have some experience on that subject.

When I moved to Florida in the third grade, I met Omar. Omar’s family fled Soviet occupied Afghanistan and settled in Florida, which could not have been easy for them.

Omar was in Ms. Taylor’s class with me and was one of my best friends from third grade through high school. Omar lived a few streets over from me and was someone I spent a lot of time with.

We sat together on the school bus through middle school and freshmen year of high school. Once I started driving to school, I would often give Omar and other friends rides home.

Sadly, as is too often the case, I lost touch with Omar shortly after college.

I had many friends from many different backgrounds throughout my life and they helped share their cultures and traditions with me which in turn made me a more rounded person as a result.

Sadly, too many people seem to only want to hang out with people who look, talk and think just like them. That isolationist approach helps lead to breeding grounds of group speak and misinformation where someone on TV can claim that all refugees are bad, and the sheep will believe it without giving it a second thought.

As a quick history lesson, unless someone is 100 percent Native American, everyone living in the United States comes from an immigrant and/or refugee background. Some people’s ancestors immigrated here by choice, while others were forced to come here against their will.

Regardless of what brought them here, the simple fact remains that the United States was built by immigrants and refugees.

On the big and small screen, James Bond, Rambo, Charlie Wilson and MacGyver all fought their battles and won for the most part in under two hours.

In the current unfolding story, the quest for a crisp solution and happy ending for the good guys in the latest Afghanistan chapter seems a little cloudier and more complicated.

In a pinch, tweezers from a Swiss Army Knife can be used to fix loose screws on a pair of sunglasses. Unfortunately, they are not as good at solving geopolitical issues.
Photo R. Anderson

If only, reality was as simple as being able to solve the problems of foreign conflicts with gadgets from Q Branch, a bow and arrow and some grunted dialogue, a secret slush fund for black ops, or a Swiss Army knife and some duct tape.

If history is any indication there will likely be more outside forces that come to try to tame Afghanistan in the coming years. Of course, it seems unlikely that they will succeed where so many others have failed.

The current conditions in Afghanistan are both troubling and a tragedy, but they certainly should not have been a total surprise to any students of history. After all, those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the urge to watch some old episodes of MacGyver after reaching out to an old friend. Where did I put that MacGyver wig anyway?

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

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