A Joppolo for 21st Century Afghanistan

From Robert D. Kaplan’s groundbreaking piece, Supremacy by Stealth, written in 2003:

When I asked Major Paul S. Warren, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the Army’s Special Operations Command, what serves as the model for a civil-affairs officer within the Special Operations forces, he said, “Read John Hersey’s A Bell for Adano—it’s all there.” The hero of Hersey’s World War II novel is Army Major Victor Joppolo, an Italian-American civil-affairs officer appointed to govern the recently liberated Sicilian town of Adano. Joppolo is full of resourcefulness. He arranges for the U.S. Navy to show local fishermen which parts of the harbor are free of mines, so that they can use their boats to feed the town. He finds a bell from an old Navy destroyer to replace the one that the Fascists took from the local church and melted down for bullets. He countermands his own general’s order outlawing the use of horse-drawn carts, which the town needs to transport food and water. He goes to the back of a line to buy bread, to show Adano’s citizens that although he is in charge, he is their servant, not their master. He is the first ruler in the town’s history who doesn’t represent a brute force of nature. In Hersey’s words,

[Men like Joppolo are] our future in the world. Neither the eloquence of Churchill nor the humanness of Roosevelt, no Charter, no four freedoms or fourteen points, no dreamer’s diagram so symmetrical and so faultless on paper, no plan, no hope, no treaty—none of these things can guarantee anything. Only men can guarantee, only the behavior of men under pressure, only our Joppolos.

It was this passage that jumped to mind when I ran across the now-retired blog of SMSgt Rex Temple, until recently at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, part of an Embedded Training Team (ETT) tasked with mentoring the Afghanistan National Army (ANA). This blog told the story of his fourth and final Middle East deployment, although I’m glad to see that he has been home safe and sound for about a month.

The blog has great content — like his meeting with former Mujahadeen commanders, first-hand frustration with corruption, hanging out with the interpreters, and good ‘ol visits to 14th century Mongolian ruins. The blog is truly great to read through. I may be proud of my private sector trips to Iraq and Saudi Arabia over the past month, but nothing comes close to representing what Rex Temple was doing in Afghanistan. Check out his blog for lots of great stories — and for a glimpse of the kind of people we need to win the wars of the 21st century.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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